Dinos on the Prairie
BROOKINGS – A dinosaur on the prairie.
That’s exactly what I came back to, when I returned to Brookings for school this year. For the first couple weeks, rumor had it that the 20-foot dino actually moved and roared so loud, you could hear it within a one-mile radius.
On September 12, the Children’s Museum of South Dakota opened its doors to the public and introduced ‘Mama,’ the T-Rex with maternal instincts. Mama will roar and move if kids get too close to her, just like a real T-Rex would. Her baby T-Rex stands a few yards away, nameless, waiting for the children to name it. It also has feathers, because the most recent studies show that premature T-Rexes had feathers.
Everything in the museum is meant to stimulate the imagination and senses.
“Everything is interactive. Children are encouraged to touch,” said executive director Suzanne Hegg. “There are thousands of loose parts here that children can use to solve problems and stimulate their imaginations. They can build, do nature studies, play in the water, learn about music; all through play. The entire time they’re playing, they’re learning.”
Children have the opportunity to find their own baby T-Rex with the museum’s Dino Dig. Children and parents can excavate bones and fossils just like a real paleontologist. After a long, hot day of digging, kids can cool off in the stream. Or if they’re hungry, head over to the ‘Mud Pie Kitchen.’ The outdoor prairie has a little bit of everything to stimulate a child’s (or adult’s, in my case) imagination. And when the snow and ice comes in just a couple weeks, the prairie will morph into a skating rink.
One particular exhibit I enjoyed was the Cloud Climber. I remember always being in awe of clouds as a little girl, thinking one could sit and walk around on clouds. Well, the Children’s Museum has finally allowed me to walk on a cloud. Not a real one, of course, but one that was engineered especially for this museum. Children also can learn about wind and its uses and affects on the environment around them.
Another large part of prairie life, and South Dakota’s livelihood, is centered around agriculture. The farming exhibit allows kids to milk a cow, plant and cultivate vegetables, and then bring them to the market next door.
The Market, Café, Post Office and Car Garage are all connected by telephone, where kids can actually call each other and order food and ask for special deliveries. Under the Hood actually lets kids change tires on a car, or put radiator fluid in it; just like a real mechanic.
The museum isn’t just for kids either. The vertical leap in the fitness room had records of up to ten feet. Those are either talented children, or maybe some dads are testing their skills.
“The adults are requesting a big kids’ night,” said Hegg. “The college kids come play, the high school kids come play, mommies and daddies and grandmas and grandpas all play.”
The Larson family of Brookings provided a generous donation for the capitol investment in the museum. Carmelle Larson Jackson had visited numerous museums across the nation with her children, and she wanted to bring a piece of that back to her hometown in Brookings. Once the decision was made to build a museum, the family brought together a board of directors, toured the nation looking at the best museums, brought back ideas and made them their own. The rest is history.
When I asked four-year-old Sami what her favorite part of the exhibit was, she pointed to the room she was standing in — a dressing room — and said, “this one.” She was in the process of taking off her princess costume after putting on a news broadcast in the production studio with her brother, Ethan. Ethan, 7, liked the post office. He had fun delivering cards and packages to all of the different businesses in the museum.
There is a special room for toddlers and infants, complete with frog and chicken costumes to play dress up with. The walls are painted with poems from local fourth graders. One of the poems was written by Isabella Kappenman, and is entitled “South Dakota?”
It is the wind in your hair
And the snow in your face.
It is the howl of the wolves
As they leap with grace.
It is you by the fire
All cozy and warm
And the wind outside
In the midst of a storm.
Admission to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota is $6 for everyone age one and up. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 pm.