Tampa's new children's museum sparks young imaginations

TAMPA -- If your children are driving you crazy taking things apart to see how they work, playing make-believe or using every scrap of paper for art projects, there's a new place in downtown Tampa that will let them channel their energy.

The Glazer Children's Museum, which opens Saturday, is designed to fire a kid's imagination. They can splash in the water as they learn how the Port of Tampa works. Do you have a landlubber? Let them play in the sandbox instead. They can't get dirty; this sand is made of rubber.

There are more than 170 interactive exhibits in 12 themed areas, all with one focus: teach kids how things work by making it fun.

"He's painting, drawing, acting, climbing," said Sharon Montero, who brought her 3-year-old nephew Wilson to the museum's sneak peek Golden Ticket event on Sunday. Wilson loved the Art Smart play area, where kids can paint with light, twist pool noodles into a sculpture and create a kaleidoscope. In the Twinkle Stars theater, he dressed up and joined other children to put on a quick show.

Dressing up isn't limited to the theater. In the Fire House, children ages 2 to 11 suited up to fight invisible flames.

Five-year-old Thomas Leaver of Odessa loves fire trucks so much, his mom rented one for his birthday party. On Sunday, he beamed from beneath a fireman's helmet while his Crocs -- decorated with firefighter pins -- peeked out under his firefighter costume. He slid down the firefighter's pole again and again, stopping only to hop behind the wheel of the pretend fire truck.

Kids can also dress up as dentists and race against the clock to put together a puzzle made of huge teeth or as doctors and put X-rays of various body parts in the right order.

In the veterinarian area, designed with input from several local veterinarians, kids diagnosed the ailments of stuffed animals, listened closely with a stethoscope, and almost always had to administer a shot.

"There's so much hands-on stuff. They can touch everything," said Erika Wilson, 36, of Clearwater, who brought her 6-year-old daughter, Ashlyn. "So far everything's been age-appropriate."

Michael Nova, 12, raced to Water's Journey, a 35-foot structure that lets kids follow the path of water from the aquifer to the clouds while climbing up and down through nets.

"It was like climbing a tree," he said. "I felt like I could touch the sky."

Older kids also liked climbing up the rock wall, putting on a newscast, making paper airplanes and building a house permanently under construction. Another huge favorite: racing animals in the Get Moving play area.

"This place is awesome," said Nina Bell, 53, of Odessa, as she watched her 4-year-old son, Jaylin, drive the fire truck. "He loves the Legos. I had to drag him away. He was building a spaceship."

For toddlers and preschoolers, there's a dance studio where they can choose the music, a giant water tub with boats, buckets and pulleys, the sandbox, the bow of a cruise ship and the cockpit of a plane to explore.

Zachary Barrera, 4, looked through a telescope aboard the pint-sized cruise ship while his 6-year-old sister Ava dug for pirate treasure in the rubber sand.

Their mom, Karen Barrera, loved watching them play. She also loved the layout of the museum.

"I like that most of the areas are contained with one way in and one way out," said the Tampa mom. "It makes it easier to watch them by myself."

Abby DeFilippis, an 11-year-old from Clearwater, loved the Publix Super Market play area.

"I want to work at Publix. My brother used to work there," she said as she used a scanner to see the nutritional information for the toy food she had placed in her bag.

Sarah Cole, the museum's director of education, used to run the science gallery at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, which is rated the number one children's museum in the country by Parents Magazine.

"We expect to get a lot of younger kids, because once kids are in school and sports, it's harder for them to come," she said. The museum has diaper-changing stations in the restrooms and plans to create a lactation room for nursing moms.

Cole said future plans call for bringing in guests such as farm animal veterinarians, chefs who roll sushi and boat captains.

"It's been so odd working in a children's museum without children," said Cole as she looked around at Sunday's sneak peek event. "More than a few of us cried a little when we finally saw kids playing."

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