KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue, WA has just moved to a new location – from Factoria to downtown Bellevue, into the building next to the library that used to be the doll museum (1116 108th Ave NE Bellevue, WA 98004). The grand opening was today, but we were able to check it out last Thursday night. Here’s what we saw (Note: you can click on any picture for a larger view)
When you enter, you pass by the gift shop and the front desk – within moments of entering the building, my son was already trying out the new climber.
There’s one path for the littler kids (age 4 and under). The entrance looks like this, and it leads to a little path that tucks around the corner into a little nook – I think it’s all walkable by a toddler, and looks like a parent could follow them in. (My 6 year old didn’t spend much time in there, so I don’t know details.)
The main climbing structure is much more adventurous! It says on the bottom that it is a challenging climber for ages 4 and up, and that’s definitely true. When they enter, they have to step onto ropes to make their way up the tower, till they reach the mesh tunnels. The tunnels carry them up to a mesh platform far above the lobby:
My son (a big climbing fan) LOVED this climber! It was hard to get him out of it!
I have to confess that I, as a mother, felt a little nervous seeing him 25 – 30 feet above me… partially because I couldn’t see what the tops of those mesh tubes looked like… when you’re walking around on the platform, is it obvious where they are so no one just accidentally steps in the hole? And if they step in the hole, what would happen? Is the slope of the tube gentle enough to catch them? I’m sure it’s fine, really. My husband wasn’t worried at all… but I’d feel a little better if when I’m at the bottom I could see a photo of what it looks like from the top. They did have an employee up on the platform all evening helping keep an eye on things.
While he was on the climber, I took a quick peek at the classroom / birthday room (I think they called it the learning lab). They had a few toys set out now, and a sensory tub filled with pompoms. It looks like a nice class space.
Then it was on to….
The Water Zone.
Stream Table and the Big Splash. There’s a bucket at the top that fills and dumps, making a giant flood down the chute. The lower part has a stream that you can add dams and such to in order to change the flow of the water. I only played with this for a moment and wasn’t able to get it working well – I look forward to spending more time tinkering there in the future.
Magnetic Water Wall – This has lots of chutes, funnels and spinners to channel water through. They are mounted on magnets, so you can take them off and re-arrange them. This is similar to the idea for the Ball Wall in the old museum (see below). One cool thing is that the flow of the water is adjustable. I imagine that will allow for more variation in set-up. It’s another thing I look forward to exploring more.
Water Music: with this exhibit, you press the button, and it shoots a jet of water at the bottom of a drum. Kids who love loud things will love this!
There’s a “Fountain Making Table” – imagine a chocolate fountain, but with water… there’s pictures of it on their website.
These pictures show a ball launcher (insert plastic balls in the blue holes, and fans shoot them out across the water… fairly gently… my son loved this… he loves any ball launcher! There’s a pump which works much better than most other pumps that my son has encountered. There’s a delightfully simple kid activity of a mirror with spray bottles full of water and squeegees – could keep some kids entertained for hours, and a very low basin called the tot splash, which is a great toddler sensory experience of glass rocks embedded in it to feel, and slowly dribbling water to fill the buckets with – didn’t appeal to my 6 year old at all, but the 1 – 2 year olds I work with would LOVE It.
Our favorite water activity was the vortex – at the old museum, they had this, but it was up too high for kids to reach (I had to lift my son up to it MANY times over the years.) Now they’ve put it down within reach. The water in the tank swirls around – you can drop beribboned beads into it, and they swirl and slip through the hole at the bottom, or you can drop balls in and they swirl or they block the opening till you release them… it’s really fun, but hard to explain. I got a bit of video, but it’s a lousy video… we were too busy playing… but at least it will give you an idea:
On The Go
Conveyor System: Oh, this is so cool!! Load the boxes, wind the crank, it carries the boxes up a tall ramp. At the top, they get sorted to either go down one path, or across a ramp high above our heads to the other side of the room. They also have places to weigh the boxes, and an “x-ray” that shows pictures of what’s inside. Love it! It’s not perfect yet, as we did see some boxes get jammed up at the top, and to get them unjammed a parent has to help the kids at the bottom back up the belt while wiggling some boxes out of tight jams. So, tricky. But cool!
There’s a test area for folding paper airplanes, seeing how far they fly and how accurate they are (i.e. can they fly through a hanging hoop), some of the car ramps from the old museum (but not the cool permanently installed one) and the car display case with the variable LED lighting that they’d added to the old museum in the past year, and an exhibit of old toys inherited from the old doll museum.
Big Rig – there’s a new Paccar truck exhibit. My son liked it just as much as the old one, but I liked it SO MUCH better! I didn’t like the truck, because I use crutches and it was hard for me to get in and out of it, and from the outside I could barely even see if my son was in there, and since he could go in and out on either side, there were times where I “lost” him because I didn’t know he had left the exhibit. This one has a window low in the door of the cab so you can see into the cab without getting in! And on the other side, you can step up onto the step by the door to get a good view in. This added visibility would have been a big reassurance to me when he was 2 and 3.
Recycle / Rebuild. This is another party room you can rent. What it had in it that night: Building materials for hydraulics projects:
Tools, bins of recycled items to build with, and collection bins for recyclables that guests bring in:
At least with the materials in here today, this struck me as a room aimed at kids age 6 and up, which is interesting because the old KidsQuest didn’t have a lot for the older kid. My son is 6 and we were thinking he would “age out” of finding the old museum interesting, but there’s definitely some things here that will continue to appeal for a few more years.
Now let’s head upstairs…
Bellevue Mercantile – a farm, yard, and store from 100 years ago.
Cow Wash – you can blow dry this cow with a big hose; Sheep that you can comb the wool of, information about how wool is made into clothing, a Chicken Coop where you can reach in and find wooden eggs, then sort them into the right size hole, and a sign about Bellevue 100 years ago.
Mercantile – a big bin of beans to scoop and weigh, fabric ice cream cones and scoops of ice cream, and a display of toys from the period. Many children’s museums have grocery stores with baskets, cash registers and fake plastic food. I liked this twist on that idea where they had wooden trays to gather things in, and wooden milk bottles, and some plastic fruits. Still all the fun of a “grocery store” for pretend play, but a little different.
City and train table: a much bigger train table, with some Seattle specific features (Space Needle), drawbridges and wooden boats, and a great Seattle mural.
City wall – with videos of construction and demolition; a mirrored table with Keva blocks to build with, and this really cool tilting table that you can build a maze on and then steer a ball through.
Connections – between Cityscape and Story Tree, there’s a big open space that can be used for gatherings, performances, and temporary exhibits.
Story Tree – This is a lovely space, which really honors the magic of books and reading. I didn’t get a good picture of the whole tree, or the fabulous quotes that are on it. Check out their website for those pictures…. Here you see the really nice reading room at the top of the tree (up an easily climbed flight of stairs, which is more accessible than the ladder access to the old tree house) – this is a great space for relaxing and reading! Downstairs they have a great activity table area… KidsQuest has always done a nice job with developing special activities to go with a book of the week, but in the past, the places these got displayed made them feel like second-class activities… this space will help make it clearer how delightful they are. There’s also a nice book collection there, and a “stage” space with dress-up clothes… a really impressively compact way of achieving a stage environment for pretend play.
Art Studio – when we were there, this room was being used for food, drinks, and cake, so I was distracted by all of that, and didn’t get the chance to really explore it as an art room. But there was a kiln, and lots of shelves with art supplies.
Tot Orchard – this is the special area for ages 3 and under so I had to sneak in without my son (he was probably on the climber). There were: toy flowers to pick and plant, locks to unlock and latches to latch, wooden apples to pick, a tractor to “drive”, an area for climbing up, sliding down, and hiding in, a train area where you don’t have to compete with the big kids for a train, a picnic table and an outdoorsy / campground type kitchen (if you had a really upscale campground) for kitchen style pretend play, an area with open close doors with fun vegetable faces hiding behind them, and two faces with wooden pieces you can turn around to make various faces – happy, sad, mad. (This exhibit made me laugh, because about two years ago, I pinned this image to my Pinterest page, and it’s been my most often re-pinned pin ever… far more the any of my pins of my own posts, ironically, and now here’s a recreation of it on the wall of KidsQuest. :-))
And, off to the side of the Tot Orchard, in its own quiet little alcove, is the SHHH Station – a quiet space for nursing or cuddling a little one who needs some downtime.
What was missing
There were some exhibits that did not come over from the old building and were not replaced by a similar exhibit in the new building, such as the giant Lite Brite wall. Sadly, this includes my son’s favorite two exhibits:
- The Whoosh: what we called the “scarf poof” – where you load scarves into tubes, and a fan sucks them up and shoots them out another tube. It also had an area where you could “levitate” a ball above a fan. Luckily Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett has a great scarf poof, and Pacific Science Center has a ball levitator and we’ve made a scarf cannon to use at home which can do both these things. But we’ll still miss the Whoosh.
- The ball wall – that’s where you load the balls into a pneumatic tube, and it launches them at the top of the wall where they then fall down the wall through the maze that you set up. We’ve made our own ball wall and tried out lots of ball walls / marble mazes in our time, and the water wall at the new KidsQuest will capture some of this tinkering magic. But again, we’ll miss the KidsQuest ball wall, where we spent MANY hours of our son’s childhood.
Summary and Tips for Your Visit
Lots of great stuff at this new facility! As I said, my 6 year old was on the verge of outgrowing the old museum, but now I’m planning to renew our membership for a few more years because there’s plenty to engage him here. If you have a child anywhere between 1 – 5, the whole museum is a great fit.
It’s $12 per person per visit. If you’re attending with one child, you’ll break even on the membership after 4 visits. When my son was younger, we went to KidsQuest easily 3 times every month – it was one of our standard near-weekly activities from September to June and as a toddler, he never tired of it.
Parking might be an issue at the new place, so they give tips in advance on what to do. I think we’ll plan to bus it most of the time. Options are:
- KidsQuest Parking Lot: Limited space on a first come, first serve basis
- Ashwood Parking Lot: Free parking off NE 12th St (pass through library lot, but keep in mind the library garage is for library patrons only)
- 929 Garage: Paid parking 1½ blocks south of KidsQuest at 929 108th Ave NE
- KidsQuest is also conveniently located near several bus routes. Please visit King County Metro for more information.
For more information about the museum, check out their website.
Check out more KidsQuest reviews at: https://www.parentmap.com/article/kids-eye-review-of-the-new-kidsquest-childrens-museum-Bellevue and http://www.marcieinmommyland.com/home/kidsquest-museum-grand-opening-in-bellevue
Other fun local activities with little ones
If you live in the Seattle area, then check out the programs offered by the parent education departments of your local community colleges! They offer programs for families with children from birth to age 7. Each class offers play-based, developmentally appropriate learning activities for the child which aids them in all areas of development (large motor, small motor, language / literacy, music, art, and social skills). AND they offer parent education and support to guide you in helping your child grow and develop. Programs meet weekly during the academic year – they’re taking registrations for next year already, or you can join a class right now if there’s space available in it! Read more and find links to all the program here: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2016/08/02/parent_education/.
Click on the “Toddler Date” category in the right hand sidebar (or the bottom of the page on mobile devices) for links to reviews of local parks and activities plus my “Cheap Dates with Toddlers” series for ideas of easy, free or cheap activities that kids age 1 – 4 enjoy.
For activities to do at home with your child, check out activities for toddlers based around themes, or read my other blog, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com for tons of ideas for easy, hands-on science experiments and engineering projects for 3 – 7 year olds that you can do with materials you have at home!