Almost every town in America has a museum of some sort. An art museum, a natural history museum, or one devoted to local lore. And there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of oddball collections of curiosities, from barbed wire to funeral paraphernalia.
But there's another kind of museum that has grown rapidly in popularity. It's the children's museum, usually a romper room where kids can not only look at, but also touch, a myriad of objects, and where they are challenged to solve problems: ones they find interesting, not tasks assigned by a teacher.
According to the Chicago Tribune newspaper, the very first children's museum opened in Brooklyn, N.Y., more than a century ago, in 1899. The largest is in Indianapolis, Ind. It covers 41,000 square meters. The Association of Children's Museums has about 300 member museums, most of which started within the past 15 years.
The Tribune writes that children's museums have grown like weeds because they give families a safe place to spend some structured time together, perhaps discussing dinosaurs, or tackling a tricky puzzle, or taking apart a model automobile and putting it back together.
It should be noted that not everybody thinks children's museums are ideal for kids. Older people, especially those who grew up before there was every ultra-realistic electronic toy and game imaginable, cling to the idea that a simple crayon and paper, or an empty patch of dirt, does more to stimulate imagination and creativity.
But most children's museums are prospering. And it's probably due, in part, to their secret allure. The truth is that a lot of big people like to sit in the little chairs and escape to the world of toy cars, interlocking blocks, and game pieces as much as their kids do.