How do you create an Innovator’s Playspace? City Museum Adventures

How do you create a community-oriented space that provides unique science and technology learning experiences for the whole family? Most importantly, how do you build a playspace where lifelong memories are created?

  • Step 1. Bring highly motivated, creative and passionate people together.
    The Science Galaxy Team rocks!
  • Step 2. Visit existing organizations for inspiration
  • Step 3. Find a location
    We’re taking recommendations to tackle this step.
  • Step 4. Raise funds
  • Step 5. Build it and they will come!

So, that’s the VERY abbreviated plan for Science Galaxy’s development – but you get the idea. Right now, our team is visiting locations all over the country and even Europe to tap our inner explorers and adventurers (Step 2).

First Stop: City Museum in St. Louis
If you haven’t been – you should go. This old shoelace factory has been converted into an indoor/outdoor jungle gym that could make even the most straight-laced grown-up giggle like a schoolgirl. How can you not laugh after the 8th turn of a 10-story tornado slide? All we could think about was “How are we STILL falling in circles?”

We also spent a lot of time noticing how much the space appealed to different ages in different ways. It was a lot like a Pixar movie. Little kids enjoyed the obvious jungle gym qualities. Meanwhile, adults were entertained and stimulated by the feats of engineering and artistic creativity that went into building such a complicated space. Well, the adults not strapped with knee pads and headlamps trying desperately to keep up with their lightning-quick toddlers.

After a few hours of exploring this unique site, we walked away with so many inspirations for designing a truly engaging playspace: For starters, the upcycled materials City Museum employs in every corner of the museum provide layers upon layers of interest, practicality, and moments of surprise. Line the walls in industrial cupcake tins. Now there’s a 3-dimensional art piece on the bathroom wall.

What better use for a grounded plane? Strap that sucker to a 40-foot tower and have visitors of any age scramble across the wing to get to the cockpit. I’ll be honest – this activity seriously tested my acrophobia tendencies, but the feeling of accomplishment was a rush in and of itself.

We also left with a great piece of advice from the Director, “Avoid dead ends.” Seems simple for an indoor jungle gym – dead ends lead to retracing your steps, traffic jams and disappointment for an intrepid explorer. But it applies to learning and innovation too:

How does one avoid dead ends in the process of innovation? How do you build the expertise to turn what seems like a dead end into a pivot point? How do you embrace the failure of a dead end as a learning opportunity?

It’s all about personal agency. “Choose your own adventure.” That’s a phrase we use a lot when describing our vision of Science Galaxy. Our playspace mantra is at the heart of City Museum. They have built a multi-story, multi-path, multi-textured exploration space where each individual participant has complete control over their own adventure quest (well, all except those toddler parents). Choosing your own adventure is empowering, invigorating and just plain fun. When you are in control of your path, you are free to employ out-of-the box solutions or, even better, answer a whole new question or follow an unintended path. Thank you, City Museum, for showcasing an unforgettable playspace that encourages us to make Science Galaxy a place that empowers its visitors through explorations in science, technology and innovation.

Stay tuned for our next stop’s reflections…Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.


Authors: Kristin Lawrence & Leslie Newman