From Bucks County, we drove to the Please Touch Museum using the interstate (I-95). It was straightforward enough and we got there without any fuss. Of course we couldn't leave these two fellows behind.

The award-winning Please Touch Museum is specifically designed for families with children and provides learning opportunities through play. The exhibits promote the philosophy that hands-on, self-directed, open-ended experiences facilitate learning and, importantly, are fun!

The museum is set up in Memorial Hall, which is a restored 19th century building. It is the only major structure remaining from Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition (in honour of USA's 100th birthday). It is considered one of America's best examples of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. I also found it interesting that, as graceful as it is, it is also completely fireproof, being fashioned from glass, iron, brick and granite, which I thought was remarkable for that era.

Here's a shot of the building. We didn't get a shot of the huge statues in front so do check out the shots on the internet to see those.

The exhibits are spread out over two wings and two floors - here's a map. All the exhibits in the museum are meant to be touched and played with in an open-ended manner - there is no right or wrong way to play!

The first section we went to was River Adventures. There are a few exhibits in this section, Ryan was most absorbed in this one.

Like a river, there is water flowing through the whole structure which snakes and curves around the hall. At various sections, there are  rubber ducks, boats, pumps, wheels, paddles and blowers. The children are encouraged to touch and play with the toys, the mechanisms, the structures and of course the water.

Ryan was able to see how the boats/ducks behave in the water, why some float and some sink, how the waves are generated, the patterns the waves make and how the waves affect the objects in the water. There was a miniature canal lock (like the canal lock in the Panama canal) which I found pretty cool. There is also a Water Wheel and an Archimedes Screw. Great introduction to basic concepts about engineering and mechanics, properties of water, a bit of math, nature, problem solving, critical thinking, and just plain fun. Gives a whole new dimension to the term "water play" and "sensory play"! We were there for a long time!

Off to one side of this water attraction was a section for younger children and infants to play, which was called Nature's Pond. There were animals hidden in the high grass, some logs and stepping stones. In addition to climbing up and down the structures, the children could also create nature's sounds by stepping on the lily pads in the pond and they could crawl inside the hollowed out log. There was also some educational information on eco-living for those who were interested. Of course, it was not a real pond with real animals, etc. Everything was cushioned or covered with PVC - all very safe for toddlers. We didn't venture into this section because Ryan wouldn't leave River Adventures.

Next to that was a giant musical keyboard which was placed on the floor for people to play by stepping or dancing on the keys. Anyone could step up and play if they felt like it. There were people playing with it when we were there so we gave it a miss. If you've seen the 1988 movie "Big" starring Tom Hanks, you'll remember the scene where he and Robert Loggia played "Heart and Soul" on a walking piano in the middle of a New York City toy store. This is the exact same keyboard from that movie. It was donated to the museum in 2009. Here's a link to a Youtube video of that scene.

After we tore Ryan away from River Adventures, Richard took him for a ride on this beautiful vintage carousel - the Woodside Park Dentzel Carousel.

This gorgeous carousel made its debut in 1924 at Woodside Park (although many of the animals on the carousel date back to 1908).  It is in the shape of an octadecagon (18-sided polygon). The animals are lifelike and were handcarved. They stand three abreast, the outer ring fixed while the inner rings rise and fall in a slow gallop. There are 2 chariots and 52 animals, including 40 horses, four cats, two goats and four rabbits. William Dentzel was so proud of the carousel that he had his initials carved on the lead horse. Some of the animals are quite rare - the "flirting rabbit" (where one paw is lifted as if waving hello) on the original carousel is one of only three known to exist in the world.

Eighteen beveled mirrors are attached to the outside rounding board, each surrounded by a clown head, decorated with acanthus leaves. There are 1278 light sockets lining the cross beams and decorating the entire lower edge of the outer rim, the clown shields and the mirror frames, leading The Smithsonian to note that they were "one of the most fantastic illuminated designs ever seen". I thought it was just beautiful!

After the ride, we had a quick lunch at the Please Taste Cafe. There is a dining hall adjacent to the cafe, which is a lovely sunlit space with a double-storey high ceiling and huge colourful artwork on the walls. I don't know if it was the intention but the proportions in the space - the windows, the high ceiling, the art - were so huge that I felt really small, like a child.

Ok, that's it for this post, I'll finish off the rest of our museum outing in the next instalment!


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