It’s good to be a kid these days.
Not that being a kid was bad when I was growing up, but being a kid now has perks that didn’t exist when my age was still written in single digits. Playgrounds had slides and swings, not rock climbling walls and carousels. We rode bikes, not electric scooters, and we listened to cassettes, not iPods.
In the past ten years there’s been an explosion of things just for kids. Think about it. Hotel kids’ clubs, kids’ menus and move over Louvre, kids’ museums. Just about every major city in the U. S. now has a dedicated kids’ museum. In many cases, more than one.
Lucky for my kids (and me), San Francisco has Zeum, as in museum.
Zeum is a place where kids (and let’s be honest, parents) can combine their artistic side with all the best of modern technology. We grew up drawing with crayons and fingerpaint. At Zeum kids use computers loaded with Photoshop. We had Play-Doh. At Zeum kids make figures out of clay, then using cameras and computers create movies in the Animator’s Studio.
Zeum describes itself “as an innovative arts and technology museum where kids and families combine hands-on experience with the power of their imaginations to create movies, music, art, and more!”
That’s a lot of words. The bottom line is when you go, your kids will have a great time.
As museums go, Zeum is small, but it’s size doesn’t lessen its impact. For parents, I think it’s actually a plus. If you’re visiting the museum with more than one kid, its compact space makes keeping track of everyone much easier.
My girls have grown up going to Zeum, but at 9 and 12 they haven’t out-grown Zeum. Numerous exhibits are cleverly designed to entertain a variety of ages. The older the child, the more time they hang around before moving on to the next exhibit. Though the museum targets kids ages 6 through 12, it offers something for kids of all ages which is a huge perk for families with kids of various ages.
When you enter the main gallery, chances are your toddler will make a bee-line for Little Z’s Play Lab. Full of padded shapes to climb on and tubes to crawl through, a nap will be a must. Benches perfect for tired parents act as an exhibit fence, keeping little ones from making a run for it.
There’s a puppet theatre where kids can make paper bag puppets then put on a performance. Smaller tables have been added to the Animator’s Studio, so little ones who want to play with clay have a place to call their own. The Colorforms Wall and Lego Wall are quiet spots to hang out and take a break from the crowds.
At Zeum school age kids probably have the most choices all. Those on the younger side may still be drawn to many of the toddler activities. But with so many other choices, you may not be able to squeeze everything in. My 9 year-old spent three hours in the Animator’s Studio perfecting her clay figures before creating a claymation movie almost a minute long. When she was all finished, she simply typed in my email and the creation was waiting in my inbox when we got home.
After a bathroom stop to scrub away the layers of clay, we headed for Glowdoodle. Imagine a room the size of a small movie theatre. Kids “paint” with LED light. A camera captures their work and projects it onto the walls above. I’ve never seen or heard of anything quite like it. Bean bags chairs line the circular room, offering a comfy place to sit and watch while you’re waiting for your turn.
Kids that are brave can star in their own music video. Neither of my girls would sing for the crowds in the Music Production Lab, but they had a great time watching other kids sing Michael Jackson tunes while trying to master the moonwalk. Kids can add in digital backgrounds and choose from an impressive costume wardrobe.
My tween tested and loved all the school age exhibits I mention above with her sister. The learning curve and entertainment value was just as high, the big difference was an ultimate product that was often more refined.
One of my 12 year-old’s favorite exhibits was the Digital Workshop. Snap a picture, run it through Photoshop and you never know what a tween can create. I thought I’d seen everything, but when I got home, there were even more masterpieces waiting in my inbox. My 9 year-old only had one creation she thought was worthy of keeping. She printed it out before leaving the workshop to ensure she had a copy.
With just 15 minutes until the museum closed, the race was on to squeeze in a couple more things. Z-Dance was a hit! Choose music and visual effects, then dance your heart out in front of a green screen. (The same type of wall television meteorologists use to broadcast maps behind them during newscasts.) Z-Dance mixes in your body movements and the result is something like a kaleidoscope image, but instead of seeing lots of pretty crystals, you see yourself.
I don’t think most teens would be asking to spend their weekends at Zeum. That said, if they’re tagging along with a younger sibling, I think they’d have a good day. Given some time, a creative teen could create some amazing things in the Animator’s Studio or the Digital Workshop.
A Few Tips
Weekends are the museum’s busiest time, so go on a weekday if you can. Zeum is less crowded first thing in the morning, and in the late afternoon. Some of the more popular exhibits, like the Animator’s Studio, often have waits during prime time, but later in the day you may be able to walk in and sit right down, so don’t be afraid to move around the museum out of order so to speak. Pack plenty of snacks, and a picnic lunch. There’s a great space outside to run around and the Yerba Buena playground is nearby.
If you live in the Bay Area, you can come and go when it fits into the family schedule. If you’re visiting San Francisco, Zeum is a great place to spend time when you’re kids need a day in the itinerary that’s just for them.
Oh, don’t forget the carousel. It’s next to the museum entrance. Lucky for us, it’s open an hour longer than Zeum.
And just for the record, my tween fell asleep in the car on the way home. Nothing says success to me more than that!
Zeum invited Ciao Bambino to the museum for a complimentary visit. They did not ask us to express any particular point of view about the experience.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
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