Location: The bottom floor of Crown Center by the Coterie Theater. Crown Center is at 2450 Grand Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri.
Cost: Free! They can validate parking for the parking garage, too.
The Rainforest Adventure exhibit is open from May 28 – September 5, 2011.
This exhibit is “on loan from Stepping Stones Museum for Children of Norwalk,” Connecticut, and you can definitely tell that it’s a museum exhibit designed for children from the minute you walk in. The exhibit components are well made, and the space is fairly open, which makes it easy for children to navigate. Unlike some exhibits in this space, it’s inviting rather than overwhelming, and I’m fairly certain that special-needs children of all sorts of abilities could navigate it fairly easily.
The exhibit highlights rainforests all over the world, such as those in Vietnam, Queensland and Costa Rica. There are small stations around the periphery of the exhibit that highlight each area and display four or so items associated with that area, such as a soccer ball and cleats for Ghana. There are several interactive touch screens with educational materials, “field journals” for kids to explore and many audio elements, such as rainforest sounds and an educational talk. Nothing is brailled, however, so some of the educational aspects aren’t as accessible as they could be.
For his part, Peanut was obsessed with the steps at the base of the tree. He went up the stairs and down the ladder; up the ladder and down the stairs–over and over and over again. I can’t say that he looked at a great deal of the rest of the exhibit because of his stair obsession.
The rainforest tree also has a chair at the back that you can use to see one of the ways scientists haul themselves up to study the rainforest canopy. Once we got Peanut to try it, he loved it; the chair’s rigged so that it will descend slowly when you release the rope (clearly, this was designed with kids in mind!), and the seat has a safety belt to help prevent accidental falls. With a little help, any blind or vision-impaired kid could interact with this part of the exhibit.
There are some interactive elements that, like the chair, will work for blind/VI children. There’s a colorful weaving loom that anyone with reasonable tactile senses can use, and there’s a bridge to “repair” with recycled elements that’s basically a simple puzzle. You can compare the size of your hand to a silverback gorilla’s at a station that includes five rather cute plush gorillas, and an exhibit that has you match sounds to animals has animal prints to find and what looks like scat to explore. (It’s plastic scat, so it’s at least moderately hygienic, unlike the real thing.)
Although Peanut loved the stairs, the climbing chair and coloring with Mama and Dada, this exhibit was a bit over the head of my two-year-old son. If you have slightly older children and time to navigate the parts of the exhibit that work for you, it might be worth checking out. If your kids are really independent, the exhibit might be disappointing, because so much of the educational elements are sight-oriented and not accessible for braille readers.