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.
On the bottom floor of Crown Center, next to the Coterie Theatre, your kiddo can pretend to be all sorts of animals in the Animal Tales & Trails exhibit, running through May 6, 2012. There are different habitats for kiddos to play in, ranging from frozen tundras where they can be slip-sliding penguins or polar bears snoozing in their den to savannahs where they can bounce like a kangaroo or climb atop a lion’s back for a photo. There’s a huge table shaped like a sea turtle where you can perch with your child to read a book, and there’s even a porch-style swing where parents can relax to watch their little guys and gals run around.
This exhibit is easier to navigate than some that have been featured here previously: the walkways are fairly wide open, so you can stay with your child if you wish, and there are openings cut into walls so you can keep a fairly good eye on your kiddo even if you let him explore on his own. The settings are naturalistic rather than fantastic; I would say there’s not as much visual noise because each habitat tends towards 1-2 colors, such as greens in the jungle or greys and whites in the tundra, so there’s not as much fighting for attention as there was in the Under the Sea exhibit, for example. The area does get overwhelming when it’s crowded—there were kids running around like little madmen and madwomen for part of the time when we were there—so I’d suggest avoiding it on weekends and during lunch time.
There are all sorts of surface changes for kids to explore, so it was a great challenge for Peanut to get around. His absolute favorite area was the bugs: he climbed on top of the caterpillar; crawled through tunnels as an ant; and bounced through a honeycomb, buzzing as a bee. The push-buttons in the walls for different animal sounds were definitely a hit here: when the bees started buzzing, the noise would fill the hive, and Peanut definitely enjoyed that. He was not as fond of the chain spiderweb that he needed to walk across to get to the slide in the tundra area: the black floor under the spiderweb isn’t the same distance from the web in all spaces, so I think he felt really uncertain with it. Also, being 3, his feet are smaller, so it wasn’t as easy for him to just run across the web as it was for some other children.
Peanut crawled into just about every space he could, including snuggling with stuffed black bears in a black bear den and checking out the polar bear noises in the polar bear den with another little boy. He was absolutely fascinated with the trampoline set in the floor by the kangaroo, but, like many other children who tried it, he had trouble balancing/staying on the trampoline as he bounced. He liked the rope swing in the jungle, but he liked grabbing the rope and walking back and forth with it rather than actually jumping up to swing on it. The monkey bars set into the ‘ceiling’ so kids could pretend to be monkeys swinging through the trees were a hit—but Peanut did get jostled a time or two by kids who were eager to play and not so good at waiting for their turn.
There are tons of stairs in the exhibit, so you have to be fairly mobile to really be able to explore it. We were told—somewhat tersely—to park our stroller in the area outside of the exhibit space, so I’m not sure how friendly they would be to assistive devices (Peanut didn’t take his cane in the exhibit space, so I didn’t have a chance to test this out for myself). I think I would skip this one if your kiddo is wheelchair-bound.
As usual, the exhibit is fairly visually oriented, but I do think it’s workable for VI kids–Peanut certainly enjoyed it. There’s no braille, and there aren’t any brailled or twin-vision books on the story-telling table. There are red buttons here and there to push for sound effects; sometimes the effects are delayed, but they do seem to work fairly well, and the bee sound effect definitely added something for Peanut.