One of the many pleasures of having a 5-year old granddaughter is that my wife and I get to do fun things that we couldn’t as unaccompanied adults. Last week our granddaughter took us to the new Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine that just opened on Thompson’s Point in Portland. It’s a winner. And it’s not just for kids.
The building itself, easily seen from I-295, is attractive, though it sits in a bit of an industrial site.
The theater on the first floor will open later with classes and performances. A large outdoor space with a playset, sand area, and gardens gives kids plenty of room to run.
But the fun now is in the many exhibits on the second and third floors: aquariums, a climbing wall designed to balance safety and thrills, an elaborate water park with a variety of devices for water play, a maze of pipes and tubes where kids can send colored plastic balls whizzing. And more: a medical clinic for treating ailing Teddies, a train, airplane, firetruck, lobster boat, lunch counter. A room dedicated to illumination contains several walls with intriguing light games and the iconic camera obscura brought from the old building on Fore Street and placed in an open area that makes viewing easy. A maker space provides paper and various materials and tools and markers on large tables where kids can create objects under careful but helpful supervision. Most striking are the murals, paintings, and colorful art throughout. Large windows make the spaces light and airy.
When you watch the kids, mostly in the 2 to 7 year range, dance happily from exhibit to exhibit you appreciate the sheer joy they’re having, but as you look closely you also see that the museum is all about learning. How does gravity work? What patterns can light allow you to create? How do sea creatures survive? How do humans work and transport themselves? How should we live with respect to the environment? How do we sort objects into patterns? What can we learn from cultures other than our own?
Seeing the underlying educational purposes of the exhibits enhances the pleasure that adults can experience as they chase their children and grandchildren around the floors. And watching how adults treat the kids is another pleasure as they balance caution with the need to direct and supervise. It’s all good fun—and more. We are lucky to have such a terrific new attraction for families, residents and tourists alike. If you have the opportunity to visit, go enjoy the new Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine. And let yourself be a kid again!