Why just ride a rollercoaster at Rye Playland when your child can build one at the newly opened pay-what-you-wish Westchester Children’s Museum at Playland?
Well, “new” is a loaded word when referring to the museum—the idea was conceived in 2001, and since then, the museum has been gathering funds, dealing with damage from Hurricane Sandy, and waiting for approval to transform the historic Rye boardwalk bathhouses. Now the development is moving faster, with 4,000 of their 22,000-square-foot property filled with stimulating and creative interactive exhibits. Yes, one of these exhibits does include a “build your own rollercoaster” space where kids can connect different tracks with various spirals and dips, and then test them out by rolling a ball, leading to almost accidental lessons in physics.
And accidental lessons are hidden everywhere at the museum. Kids will suddenly become experts in electricity, gravity, design, sculpture, architecture, drawing, and story telling—all without even realizing it. All they’ll notice is the cool light and buzzer going off when they complete a perfect electrical circuit at one of the stations. Or that they completed the “Design Challenge” by keeping their pipe cleaner-feather-egg box-streamer concoction hovering in a wind tube. They’ll become actors for a day wearing costumes or working with a projector behind a black scene to create a “shadow play.”
After, they can skip to a nearby window looking out on Long Island Sound to channel their favorite artists by outlining the beach or any other creation with Expo markers right on to the window’s glass. Small wooden planks, called Keva planks, are there to stack, knock down, and build with. Children will giggle in one of the museum’s Spun chairs—a chair with a deep circular seat and wide brim over a pointed bottom that will send riders ever-so-slightly spinning around without falling out—before being distracted by other tantalizing gadgets, but it will be the parents who will be caught sheepishly riding those things for hours (they’re just too fun!).
And, with all of that, there’s still more to come. Imagine a jungle gym, and now imagine a floor-to-ceiling climbing structure with a variety of platforms in different shapes and sizes, scattered with small crawl spaces. Designed by Tom Luckey, the climber will take up about half of the open space gained when the museum took over the old bathhouses. The museum will need about $1,000,000 to create this massive structure, and it’s planned for the next two years. Another wing in development will serve as a toddler zone where there may be a café and a “take one and leave one” library to help instill a love for reading in young visitors.
Executive Director Tracy Kay is proud of the museum’s progress and can’t wait for what’s more to come. “We’re just really delighted to be open this summer and to see people’s reactions to the newly created exhibit space,” Kay said. “Our expectations building off of this summer are that we hope to stay open [into the fall] with the improvements we are going to be making to the building…and to expand our space…that will eventually fill out the 22,000 square feet.”
More than just taking in all of these great gadgets and activities, at the museum, you notice most the electric creativity coming from all the children; it feels almost palpable. In a time when kids can recede to the confines of an iPad or video game at the dinner table or during long car rides, it’s beautiful to watch children’s imaginations grow literally right in front of your eyes with the simple objects provided at the museum. On Westchester Magazine’s tour, it was incredibly special to see a four-year-old fixated with the way a streamer was floating in the wind tube, get inspired, and then join streamers with another child to create a new design to fly.
Imagination is truly everywhere you look, and the museum is the perfect comforting, supportive, and fertile place for children’s inspiration to spark and maybe even potentially turn into life-long passions. The current museum was worth the wait, and the wait standing between finally filling the whole space will be a productive and rewarding one.
Update: After several months of construction spanning last fall and winter, the Museum opened its doors in April, boasting a 6,000-square-foot exhibit floor. Activities for kids include Toddler Beach and a KEVA Planks construction area, and plans are still in motion to restore and occupy the site’s remaining 16,000-square feet.
Westchester Children’s Museum
(914) 421-5050; discoverwcm.org
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