Wizard of Oz

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Daniel Zeiger

Published on April 01, 2011 , Modified on April 04, 2011

  • Museum: Miami Children's Museum and SPARKS

  • Visit Date: March, 2011

  • Website(s):  http://www.cmom.org/

  • Description:

    This exhibit is currently on display at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

    The Wizard of Oz exhibition provides an exciting twist on common elements found in traditional children’s museums. Billed as an exhibit for all ages, much of this indoor playground is constructed around tried and true children’s museum methods. The exhibit features a “guess what animal” board, optical illusion displays, sideways house with a ball that rolls uphill, light bench, climbing wall and a foam arch (or rainbow) for visitors to construct. Yet the elements are tied together with the sounds and images of the Wizard of Oz. The farmyard invokes Dorothy’s world before being transported to Oz, a tornado machine is presented as the storm that carried Dorothy away, a gear mechanism allows children to light up the Tin Man’s heart, and children build a rainbow out of foam blocks above the yellow brick road.

    I was surprised to see the story of the Wizard of Oz take a back seat in favor of the setting. The power of this approach became clear though as I watched caregivers work with children in the exhibition. The Wizard of Oz was viewed and adored repeatedly by countless members of my generation. I was reminded of the wonder I felt every year, gathered around the television with family traveling to OZ together. This connection to the places and characters can inspire caregivers to play and primes them to feel like a child again. I witnessed one father drawn to the tin man station with his toddler to see how the heart lights up when turning gears. He and his son shared a moment of joy together as they both smiled at the interactive and the father stayed with his son for more than a minute trying to get him to make the heart glow.

    Of course, some elements worked better than others and the condition of the exhibition was clearly an issue this late in its run. I was excited to see a series of pipes as a music machine in munchkin land but was unable to create a single note. I wanted to explore tornadoes and see how this exhibit tackles the science behind these storms yet I could not get that machine to work either. Many of the bins containing crops and farm supplies were empty. A light bench towards the end of the exhibit was simply a mess. It appeared to me to be added to the exhibition as an afterthought and was poorly constructed with confusing signage and tethering that obscured any productive use of the elements. Particularly confusing was a discussion of lenses in the prominent position on the label though there were no actual lenses to observe in the interactive. I witnessed one 10-year-old girl puzzle over the display for a few moments only to get frustrated by the jumble of mirrors and filters and walk away. I had much more success from the “horse of many colors display that allowed you to play with mixing colors of light in a simple and intuitive manner.

    Given those minor issues, I felt this exhibition was a success in encouraging constructive play while inspiring caregivers to take an active role in that play. It is all too easy for caregivers to sit back and watch their children explore or take a break with a friend. By transporting caregivers back to their own childhoods the exhibition gets caregivers to participate more wholeheartedly and play an active role in time spent at the museum. I would not be surprised to hear that the father who was drawn into the Tin Man display will be enjoying the film version with his son once he is old enough.

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