We were headed west on I-72 to Scovill Zoo in Decatur for an impromptu adventure. No premeditated plans, just a destination. In fact, the trip was so spontaneous I didn’t even check the weather report. Big mistake. It started spitting rain about half way to our endpoint. I called my husband for a weather report. He said it seemed liked it would be consistently raining lightly during our visit. “A light blob of green is sitting right over Decatur,” were his exact words. I thought we could handle a little mist. I envisioned fun ponchos and even called the zoo to see if there were any indoor activities. They said no. But, I was getting closer and closer to Decatur which meant we weren’t turning back. I willed the droplets on the window to stop or even decrease in number. It was looking less and less like a little mist.
I almost had tears in my eyes when we turned the curve to the road that would take us to the zoo. We were on the final leg of our journey and the mist was now full-fledged rain.
I was having a “What are we going to do?” moment when I saw my salvation, my promised land—the Children’s Museum of Illinois in Decatur. Helllllloooooo. I didn’t even know this blessed-indoor oasis existed, let alone right before the entrance to the zoo at 55 S. Country Club Rd.
I got out of the car and quickly packed my son and our lunch into the stroller, headed for a castle-esque building. Luckily we arrived during open hours which change in the fall-winter months. Sept.- April hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m., Closed Mondays and Major Holidays (Open some Mondays for school’s out events.) May-August hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m., closed on major holiday. For $5 we both were admitted as children younger than two are free. There are various rate reductions available for groups and memberships, too.
The place was buzzing, which was no surprise given the inclement weather. In the entrance there was a locker/coat area, gift shop and restrooms and a table for face painting and sand art. These particular activities were a few bucks extra and not everyday occurrences at the museum. We walked on and headed for the “In My Backyard” toddler area. One of many permanent exhibits:
- Luckey’s Climber
- Bubble Room
- Johnston’s Supermarket
- In My Backyard Toddler Area
- St. Mary’s Emergency Department
- WKIDS TV Station
- Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria and Gelato Stand
- Paint Wall
- Water Works Table
- Super Service Center
This was a magnified backyard. My son picked wooden vegetables from the “ground,” played in an enlarged doghouse and stamped his feet on layers of soil enclosed in protective Plexiglas. He was having a great time until a kid with a visiting camp knocked him on his butt. Mama bear was ready to pounce and had my pointing finger out and ready to wag when his counselor grabbed him and brought him to safety—lucky for that kid. I was not playing after that rainy ride. The point is, there are areas throughout labeled “Four and Younger,” but you are always going to have the occasional tween barreling around your unsteady tot. It’s frustrating, but it’s inevitable.
We moved around the first floor playing with gears on a panel on the wall. Well, my son pulled them off and threw them on the ground, but he still enjoyed it. We shopped in “Johnston’s Supermarket” where kids can add food to their teeny carts and then check out. There’s even a bank next to the market designed to teach your child about money and spending. We watched kids paint on glass walls and create bubbles from enormous tables sudsing over onto a rubber floor. Neat-o. For a brief second I wished he could climb this series of suspended platforms that went from the first floor to the second floor.
After that it was lunch time. Bring a lunch with you as there is no food available, only water fountains and a vending machine with drinks. We took the elevators to the second floor “Mess Hall.” A number of rectangular tables were arranged in a large room. There was plenty of seating, high chairs and restrooms conveniently available in this area. (If you need a changing table, head to the first-floor restrooms.) After we ate we cleaned up after ourselves per the directions on each table. Spray cleaner and paper towels are available to do just that.
I soon realized somewhere between the backyard adventure and lunch we had lost a shoe. I panicked because shoes are required and this could derail our adventure completely. We flew back to the first floor where his precarious shoe was perched on a ledge. Thank you kind museum patrons—crisis averted.
Back on track we finished out our visit on the second (and top) floor. Here we played with our shadows on a flashing wall, went on a construction site in the “Ready. Set. Build!” room and watched kids perform a TV broadcast on the faux channel, “WKIDS.” There was another enclosed area on the second floor for younger kids to play. You could dress up as a firefighter and play with the fire truck or chug trains along a track.
The museum was a stimulating experience for both of us. I experienced my son’s first temper tantrum, shoeless panic, cottage cheese hair and the heart pounding need to protect my son from boisterous tweens. He was engaged and energized by all there was to see. The trip was a total success (minus the tantrum over an empty canister of blueberry puffs). Next time we visit, I’ll pack more puffs.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son, a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.