Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"You Take A Risk When You Go Anyplace"

"Remember that time you were really careful and nothing happened?" --Unknown
I'm pretty sure that City Museum in St. Louis is the one of the best man-made places on earth. I'm saying that having never been, and basing my opinion on a few pictures, the recommendation of Charlie L.'s mom Shelly, and the powerful idea behind the place. It is evidence that we are part of mother nature and can create as brilliantly as her other tools like rain and wind and earthquakes.





All photos from the City Museum website

No, really, stop reading. Click on the link and explore that site. Watch the video, take the photo tour, look at the attractions, read the "about" section. 

I'm inspired by what one artist with a clear vision can create. As a boy I know I would want to live in City Museum -- I almost want to live there now. Over 700,000 people visit there annually, twice the population of St. Louis. This is an urban for-profit enterprise designed around honest to goodness play. They earn enough to afford their $600,000 per year insurance premium and also settle, one way or another, the dozens of personal injury law suits they've faced since their opening in 1997, according to this Wall Street Journal article. (And watch the video over there as well. I’m so annoyed that I was actually in St. Louis a few summers ago and no one told me of the existence of this place.)

I sympathize with the people who have been injured at City Museum, just as I do with the children who have been injured at Woodland Park or anywhere else for that matter. Believe me, I would be outraged if my own daughter had lost 2 fingers, although it would mitigate my sue-the-pants-off-the-bastards instinct if I discovered she did so while climbing into a cage containing a metal drum shaped like a pig, that continuously fills with 150 lbs. of water until the weight causes it to tip violently forward, vomiting (the exhibit is called the “Puking Pig”) it into a pool below, then tried to touch it. The fact that the girl attempted this tells me that her education was lacking before she went into the City Museum. I’m sad that it cost her two fingers to learn something that she really should have learned long before arriving at the City Museum, and I’m angry at all the people who “protected” her up to that point.

From the Wall Street Journal article:

“I slipped on the edge and scraped my leg, said Garett Vance, 11, sitting atop what the museum bills as the world’s largest pencil with a museum-provided ice pack taped to his leg. His Mother, Mindy Vance, says a friend warned her that the museum was dangerous but she wasn’t deterred.

“You take a risk when you go anyplace,” says Ms. Vance, a nurse-practitioner who live in Springfield, Ill., about two hours away.

As founder of The Tinkering School and author of Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) Gever Tully says in his fantastic TED presentation, "When we round every corner and eliminate every sharp object, every pokey bit in the world, then the first time that kids come in contact with anything sharp or not made of round plastic they hurt themselves with it."

As I see it, a part of our job as educators, especially those of us working with young children is to provide experiences that are not devoid of “pokey bits.” It’s not that we want children to get hurt, it’s that we know they are going to get hurt – it’s an essential part of their education. Good judgement and common sense can only be learned through experience.

As I’ve written here before:

Bumps and bruises are one of our most powerful learning tools. They are the A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s of the law of natural consequences. Of course, we try to help children avoid injury, but I’m convinced that every owie we help them avoid is really just an owie we’ve pushed off into the future.

Like that poor girl with the Puking Pig. And this doesn’t go for physical owies, but psychological and emotional ones as well. Owies are facts of existence and avoiding them at all costs is depriving children of the opportunity to learn about them, to learn from them, and to be prepared for the real world in which they live.

The master-mind behind City Museum, Bob Cassilly is now planning an adventure park called Cementland where he says he’s going to “take all the cool things in the world like airplanes and giant machines and mounds of dirt and big industrial buildings and I’m going to make an adventure park where you get to climb on top of buildings and through tunnels and slide down giant hills and do all the things that are normally illegal, I guess.”

I’m so going there.

If you’re interested, here are some of the other things I’ve written on danger and risk-taking:

Dangerous Play
Dangerous Easter
Dangerism
Learning From Bumps And Bruises
I Wanna Live In A Turquoise House

(Note: Thanks to Lenore over at Free-Range Kids for making me aware of City Museum in the first place.)

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8 comments:

Life with Kaishon said...

That place sounds fantastic! I would love to take Kaishon and friends there : ) In a heartbeat.

jenny said...

Wow, my boys would go nuts for that place. Our local museums are fairly hands-on for kids and the boys enjoy them, but nothing compared to this one.

Noah said...

ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh wow.
Tom - that is deeply awesome - I was just looking at Arcady's Playscapes blog (via you) and have been totally excited by the City Museum and Bob Cassilly's genius. AMAZING!
Via Matt and Mrs Mimi, I found out that it's Teacher Appreciation Week in the states, so...Tom I appreciate you! Thanks for being a teacher to me!

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Wow, what a cool place, thanks for posting. And it looks like there is no commercial cartoon figure in there!
Too bad it's such a litigious world, but it looks like the museum is taking it on with gusto.

Sherry and Donna said...

Oh my good golly gosh we would LOVE that place Tom it looks awesome!
Donna :) :)

kristin said...

"Bumps and bruises are one of our most powerful learning tools. They are the A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s of the law of natural consequences. Of course, we try to help children avoid injury, but I’m convinced that every owie we help them avoid is really just an owie we’ve pushed off into the future."

i love this. and i agree completely.

i have friends who were just at the museum and echo your enthusiasm.

Scott said...

"And this doesn’t go for physical owies, but psychological and emotional ones as well. Owies are facts of existence and avoiding them at all costs is depriving children of the opportunity to learn about them, to learn from them, and to be prepared for the real world in which they live."

Well said, Tom. I so hope that I can help kids take some risks--physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally--and not try to "protect" them too much. You've started me thinking. I may need to post about this now.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Kansas -
I am a daily (anonymous) reader of this blog and had to chime in regarding the City Museum. My family went there 2 years ago - we have talked of returning ever since! It was truly an absolutely amazing place for adults and children.

Keep up the awareness campaigns, Teacher Tom - you are able to spread lots of good news to lots of people.

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