Kids Explore St. Louis Past and Present at the New History Clubhouse

Climb inside the new History Clubhouse children’s exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, and you’ll step into St. Louis’ most recognized and beloved spots – from the shores of the Mississippi to its exciting downtown.

Like the city it represents, the History Clubhouse was built with hard work, imagination and a pioneering spirit. And like St. Louis itself, fun awaits around every corner.

In 2014, families were invited by the Museum to help launch its first kid-friendly permanent exhibit to thrill the area’s youngest historians and anthropologists and give out-of-towners an immersive tour of St. Louis.  For five weekends over the summer, its preview exhibit, History Clubhouse: Let’s Build It, encouraged kids and parents to become the city’s storytellers, sharing personal photos of St. Louis, painting murals of its neighborhoods, and sharing how they thought the exhibit should be constructed.

Remarked Lindsay Newton, youth and family programs manager, “From the very beginning, we knew that if we wanted to build a place that was for families, we needed families to help us build it. The needs of families are quite different from the needs of adult visitors who usually frequent museums. Including families as an integral part of the planning aspect helped us ensure that we created a History Clubhouse that truly meets their unique needs.”

Using insights from 60,000 participants, curators spent the next nine months creating and constructing a free exhibit that allows kids to play while they learn. On June 27, the History Clubhouse opened its doors to an excited public.

Explore the city like never before

History Clubhouse is a tangible scrapbook of the city, spotlighting Downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River, Cahokia Mounds, and Forest Park. Kids get the chance to travel back in time to experience the rise of the city and sneak a peek at its vibrant future.

The moment they enter the gallery, your kids can walk among the city’s magnificent skyscrapers that shape its modern skyline before they board a trolley to take a ride back through its history. From steering a steamboat on the Mighty Mississippi to fishing for food in the ancient empire of Cahokia to celebrating the 1904 World’s Fair in full costume, every activity is completely hands-on.

In addition, the Museum has included several artifacts from its collections that are displayed in custom child-height cases to create an experience reminiscent of a treasure hunt and spur meaningful conversations between kids and parents.

Since its opening, the response from the public has been incredibly positive. “It has been especially rewarding to have so many families visit and tell us they are blown away by the space,” Newton said. “They are hugely excited that everything in the space is big, colorful and hands-on. There seems to be something for everyone, and there are endless opportunities for pretend play.”

With History Clubhouse, the history lesson breaks free of the constraints of a classroom and becomes a fully interactive experience that allows kids’ imaginations to run wild.

A shining example of collaboration

According to Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research, the Missouri History Museum is the first museum in the U.S. to create a visitor-involved exhibit of this magnitude, making it a testament to the incredible partnership between the institution, its fellow community organizations and the region’s families.

In turn, the Museum is dedicated to ensuring the History Clubhouse offers a continual education experience for families. Throughout the week, the Museum hosts Storytelling events and Make-and-Take Workshops in the mornings at the Clubhouse. In addition, it features Family Nights in the History Clubhouse every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with music, face painting, balloon art, and crafts.

Admission to History Clubhouse – and the Missouri History Museum – is free. History Clubhouse is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information and to plan your family’s experience, visit mohistory.org/historyclubhouse.

Through History Clubhouse, the Museum gives kids a unique opportunity to build an appreciation for the residents of St. Louis and where we will take the city moving forward.

“St. Louis is a city that has always been changing and will continue to grow and change in different ways,” Newton said. “We hope that after families start learning about local history here, they’ll be inspired to get out and explore their community more and to think about what their St. Louis will look like in the future.”

Photos courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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