Location: 5700 King Street, Shawnee, KS 66203 (It’s North of Johnson Drive behind a swimming center)
Infants under 1 year: Free
Ages 1-2: $4
Ages 3-63: $7
Ages 64+: $6
Wonderscope does offer memberships for around $85; check their Web site for more information. They also sometimes issue coupons; there’s a buy-one-get-one in the current Entertainment book that enabled Peanut and I to get in for only $7.
Web site: http://www.wonderscope.org/
Wonderscope is housed in a former elementary school in Shawnee. There’s plenty of parking, and the exhibits are all on the ground floor in converted classrooms. The flyer I got when I entered said to remember the following as we explored:
- “HANDS ON! Touch and play with everything, learn about everything. Then put everything away before you go to another activity or exhibit.
- KIDS NEED TO KEEP TRACK OF THEIR ADULTS. While at WONDERSCOPE, adults and kids are here to play together!
- REMEMBER TO WALK! It’s safer and you won’t miss all the cool stuff in the hall!”
“ADULTS: Let us know if something or someone needs help……kids’ museums are designed to be self-guided, self-paced tours. We are here to help with anything you might need. Please ask!”
For the sake of simplicity and my own sanity, I’m going to review Wonderscope by exhibit rather than as a whole. It’s my understanding that the exhibits change periodically, and Peanut wasn’t interested in exploring all of the exhibits that were there currently, so I’m going to focus on what we actually saw.
First, we headed to the Farm to Market exhibit. It’s a wide-open space with a garden plot, barn, and farmer’s market that’s all toddler-sized. Peanut loved the faux fruit and veggies that he could put in his little cart, and he really enjoyed the faux chickens at the barn–he kept bringing over the chicken puppets and clucking. The fruit and veggies are all accurately sized and have great textures to them, so they’re a tactile delight for little ones who don’t see well. The farm set-up would be easy for parents and their kids to explore safely, where a ‘real’ farm might be dangerous for blind and visually-impaired kids.
When it was chock-full of children, this room was a little overwhelming, especially for my little guy. Bigger kids aren’t always aware of their littler brethren, which is problematic even in the best of situations. We skipped out of this exhibit to explore the rest of the museum, then came back when the madness had calmed down a bit so Peanut could enjoy it.
Next, we briefly checked out the Tinker Space.
It’s big and open, but it wasn’t so much Peanut’s cup o’ tea. There are large PVC pipes in a bin on the wall that can be used to ‘tinker’ large-sized constructions. There were also big faux rocks–I’m not sure what the rocks were for. The PVC pipes and fittings could work well for kids with limited manual dexterity who still want to build. The constructions would be big, and the pieces would be easier to manipulate than Tinker Toys or regular-sized Legos.
The racetrack portion of the Tinker Space would be difficult for kids with no or very limited vision–it was challenging for Peanut. Once he figured it out, he kept handing me balls to put at the top of the starters (the yellow triangle-like apparatus in the photo) to start down the track; he even climbed one to start his own ball once or twice. He wasn’t interested in building his own tracks, and I think this is because they’re so hard to see: the tracks are black rubber, and the room has black carpeting. The track pieces are all over the place in no particular order, depending on who’s played there last, so there’s lots of visual noise, and they’re easy to trip over, even for this sighted parent. The bright orange balls were high contrast against all the black, however, which is why I think Peanut liked watching them roll so much (that, plus he’s ball-obsessed).
Since Peanut loves, loves LOVES his water table, we headed to H2Oh! next. If your kid likes water, this is a great exhibit to check out. There are multiple water tables with water moving in different ways, so kids really get to play with hydrodynamics (even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing!).
There are rubber mats on the floors to help keep slippage to a minimum, but the tile floor outside of the rubber mats can get pretty slick. The large pool at the back has small PVC tubes you can put together to try to make the water go different ways, and you can feel how the water moves in the wave-pool like extension next to it. There are movable steps to help smaller kids reach the water, towels for drying off and plastic aprons to keep kids dryish. The aprons are definitely sized for bigger kids, so if you’ve got a toddler, you might want to bring your own apron or a change of clothes, just in case.
The Small Wonders room was excellent–my only complaint is the lack of seating for us large people who must accompany our Small Wonders to the room. It’s a big play area that’s only for kids ages 2 and under. Everything’s sized for that age group in mind, so the hand rails are the perfect height and width for Peanut’s little hands and arms. There’s a gate to the room so kids can’t escape without their parents, and there’s a gated changing area at the back.
This room is perfect for kids like Peanut who need to work on depth perception. There’s a rolling-hills-style walkway, a hanging bridge, a slide, and tons of texture changes in the walking surfaces. It was a good challenge for my little climber. The floor has regular carpeting, so there’s limited padding for falls, but as long as you keep up with your toddler (parents can walk outside the structures fairly easily), it shouldn’t be a problem.
There is also a wall at this exhibit with all sorts of textures for kids to touch and play with. Peanut wasn’t particularly interested in checking it out–he was having too much fun climbing–but it would be a lot of tactile interest for lower-vision kids.
Finally, we checked out the Raceways exhibit. Essentially, this exhibit uses golf balls to help you understand motion: how high on the ramp do I need to put the ball to get it to do X? What will it do on this size of ramp? It might be hard for blind and visually-impaired kids to appreciate the science of this exhibit, but the noise the stations make is fabulous.
Peanut got so excited at the toddler-sized gravity well that he was dancing. We sat there and put golf balls down the well for ages–he tended to have me to it for him because I could get them to spin around the edges better than he could when he tossed them in. We explored the differences in the noise they made when rolled singly, or in groups, or en masse. Because of the golf balls, every station makes noise, and it was fun seeing the different noises that they made. This area would need to have close supervision by a parent, however, both to help your kiddo figure out where to put the balls, and to help him or her navigate balls that have fallen and rolled across the floor. The golf balls are difficult to see and track, but the sound is really easy and fun to hear.
All in all, my impression is that Wonderscope is a hands-on science museum for kids. Since Peanut is a see-with-his-hands kind of guy, that element of the museum was right up his alley. The exhibits were hit-and-miss for us: some worked really well, some we could adapt to, and some weren’t so hot for my visually-impaired kid. I didn’t see any braille, but I didn’t ask, either; they may have something available.
When it’s packed with kids, Wonderscope isn’t friendly for a blind or visually-impaired kid: kids, being kids, aren’t good at being aware of those who are smaller, slower or less able than they are, so Peanut got knocked around a bit and pushed out of the way in busier rooms. When I sought out less-crowded spaces, he did fine.
In my opinion, Wonderscope is expensive for what you get, especially if you go as a family: without a coupon, it would cost $18 just for the three of us to walk through the door, and the cost will increase as Peanut ages and we (hopefully) have more children. You do get to play as long as it’s open, however, so you can take your time to make sure you get your money’s worth.