Entertaining children is not my strong suit.
Where I come from, children entertained themselves or they were sent outside with the coyotes.
If you were very good, you got to play Atari for 30 minutes after dinner. The rest of the time you either read a book or fed bugs to the cat and that was that.
Yet somehow I ended up with five young people in my care last Wednesday morning, all of them looking expectantly at me as if I was supposed to do something fascinating, such as pull gold coins out of my ears or morph into a unicorn.
It was a daunting audience: Three eight year–old girls who can shatter glass with the combined power of their shrieking and two moping Facebook–obsessed preteen boys whose only source of solace is the knowledge that they will one day be old enough to drive themselves to the mall.
As a pack, they can ravage a person of her hearing and any coolness that person might have thought she had. I almost panicked, since the last two weeks before school starts is when they’re at their most feral.
Then I remembered: The Savannah Children’s Museum opened the doors to one of its exhibits this summer. I was saved!
“A museum? Ugggggh. I don’t want stand around and LOOK at things,” mewled Liberty.
“Yeah, we wanna TOUCH stuff,” demanded Charlotte.
“And not have people telling us to be quiet,” said Ella pointedly. “Like you do when we’re playing Rock Band.”
I winced. “Well. What if I told you this was a place where not only could you touch everything, you can be as loud as you want?”
The girls squealed, causing the windows to tremble in their frames.
Abraham and Luke rolled their eyes so hard they fell backwards. “Is there wi–fi?”
“No, but there may be a trip to Hot Topic in your future if you cooperate.”
With everyone on board, we headed downtown to Tricentennial Park, where the Coastal Heritage Society oversees a veritable compound of historical delights, including the epic Georgia State Railroad Museum (trainheads can still call it the Roundhouse if you like) and the Savannah History Museum. (CHS also has Old Fort Jackson under its umbrella and recently acquired the Pin Point Heritage Center, open to visitors starting Sept. 1.)
Upon arrival, the children stood gap–mouthed, looking up at the ancient towering smokestack used by the Central of Georgia Railroad. Even the boys dropped their jaded tweenish veneer for a minute to ogle the steam engines.
As we traipsed to the west end of the property to the site of the museum’s Exploration Station, there was a moment of solemnity as we read on the markers that the Revolutionary War was fought right under our feet.
“That’s kind of the crazy twist that sets this apart from other children’s museums,” said CHS Marketing Director Patricia “Kiki” Guerrero–Knight. “You actually get play in ruins. You get to touch history.”
This sounded fantastic to the girls, who ran past the gates and immediately began sticking their hands in the nearest exhibit, a rushing watertray that turns making a mess into an archaeology dig.
Then everyone scampered over to a rack of giant blue building blocks that the girls used to build up giant towers and then knock them down. Like forty times. The boys built their own man cave and plotted their takeover of the world.
We wandered over to a table of drums and shakers and other instruments to fulfill their noise–making promises. Still thinking I had a chance to impress this group, I grabbed a mallet.
“Look, a cowbell! More cowbell!” I cried. I pounded out a beat, reveling in my own hilarity.
Abraham eyeballed me with disgust.
“It’s a gogo bell, Mom. From West Africa. Duh.”
To underscore my musical idiocy, he and Luke began picking out the strains of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” on the mammoth xylophone. I reminded him that he once tried to eat a Native American shaker pod at Kindermusik.
Situated on an acre of soft green grass, the Exploration Station drops down inside the reinforced brick arches of an old CofGA carpentry building, where international children’s museum designer Lee Skolnick has created world of wonder: A wooden maze to get lost then found. A cooling mist shower embedded into an old chimney. A cozy reading hideaway tucked under the brick arches sponsored by Live Oak Public Libraries.
“No Harry Potter,” sniffed Abraham, yet then settled into the pillows to reread a few childhood favorites.
The girls took a breather in the no–spaz zone of the tranquil Frogtown Garden, lush with marigolds, basil, eggplant, peppers and lavender. Giant checker boards lend a certain Alice in Wonderland vibe, and the color scheme is a blend of natural hues — as opposed to your typical kid–themed primary–colored sensory overload. Kiki relayed that special needs parents are particularly appreciative of this element, though any parent would approve of a spot that marries nature and play.
“I bring my son here once or twice a week,” writer Christopher Berinato tells me as his toddler, Max, stacks giant blocks. “He has fun every time, and I also like being here. That’s pretty important.”
The outdoor Exploration Station is only the first phase of what the Children’s Museum will become: When it’s finished, the $17 million project will certainly be a big bright feather in Savannah’s tourism cap, offering 40,000 square feet of hands–on “edutainment” for the juice box–and–Goldfish set, including an indoor ship to climb aboard. Though 70 percent of the project is financed, there’s a bit more fundraising to do.
“Once we get that last five million secured, we’ll be up and running in about 18 months,” figures Kiki, adding that the Exploration Station portion was able to open this summer because of a $200K grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation. (So nice! Keep buying that salad dressing, folks!)
After several hours, lunch beckoned and I seemed to remember a promise involving the mall, so I went to round up my posse.
The girls seemed to have shrieked themselves out and were reading quietly. I found the boys at the Whimsical Wardrobe area, trying on hats.
Luke swung around wearing an elephant nose and holding up a pair of drum mallets.
“I give this place two drums up! Badabump!”
“Nice. Time to go, guys,” I called.
“What? Already?” groused Abraham, sporting a chef’s hat and giant sunglasses. “But we just got here!”
Kids. You just can’t win.
The Exploration Station is extending its afternoon and weekend hours starting Sept. 2 so locals can play after school. More info at savannahchildrensmuseum.org.