Do you ever fight with your kids about eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise and going to bed on time (and not waking up at the crack of dawn)? That question's rhetorical, but we're pretty sure the answer is a loud, "Yes!" Well the folks at the Children's Museum of Manhattan hear you, and that's why they've opened a new permanent installation called Eat Sleep Play, which aims to help families lead healthier lives.
The exhibit is part of CMOM's national health initiative, which includes obesity prevention outreach programs and similar installations at museums across the country. Housed in the main hall, Eat Sleep Play is filled with cool games, manipulatives and physical challenges. Yes, the subject matter is heavy—diabetes, eating disorders and obesity are all touched on—but the museum keeps it light and fun for kids, focusing on small life changes.
While CMOM is one of the most popular tot spots on the Upper West Side, take note: Although Eat Sleep Play has attractions to please younger children (tongue slide, anyone?), elementary schoolers are the ones who will get the most out of it. A real change from the Dora and Diego romper room upstairs!
The 3,500-square-foot exhibit is delightful to look at and was designed by May & Watkins, the folks behind Totally Tots at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. There are three main sections, Eat, Sleep and Play, along with a Decision Center (a.k.a. the brain) and a Consequences area, featuring a digestive system kids can climb through and a heart they can pump.
The first thing you see when you set foot inside the exhibit is a giant boy's open mouth with a tongue slide that's sure to be a hit with kids. Inside this area, you'll also find interactive games, like a social table where kids are required to make health-related decisions about eating, managing stress, playing and even insurance. There's also a multiplayer virtual reality game where kids make choices that will affect their health and the wellness of their entire community. Other stations explore truth (or lack thereof) in advertising, and the way the brain communicates with the rest of your body.
The next stop is the stomach, where kids can push a handlebar that fills up a virtual stomach with spaghetti. The tricky part is trying to determine when the brain says the tummy is full. From here, kids can crawl through the rest of the digestive system, which is created from red septic tanks. Inside there is a video of the real thing in action. After they exit, children are treated to The Royal Flush: a talking, larger-than-life flushable toilet where they can examine different types of (fake) poop and pee. This area also explains calories, fiber and nutrients, and nods to the two hot topics in kids' health today: obesity and diabetes. Kids can also check out an MRI of an obese body, and try to pump healthy and unhealthy hearts.
This bright green play space celebrates fruits and vegetables, and is the big attraction for preschoolers. Young kids can sort play produce, hit the slide and turn knobs and other manipulatives, and learn about portion size and the importance of family meals. They can also meet the Super Sprowtz, an adorable team of super-powered vegetable puppets that come to life in short videos.
Aside from that fabulous toilet, this Willy Wonka-esque area will probably be the biggest hit with kids because of all the fun activities. They can increase their heart rate by doing a high-energy laser dance, playing a Whac-A-Mole-style game and powering a stationary zike, a mash up of a bike, scooter and stair stepper.
This is the first exhibit ever to highlight the importance of sleep to overall well-being. Kids learn about what happens when they sleep, and see the negative effects of too little slumber. They can also find out about good bedtime routines through a memory game, or try to beat the rested team on a tricked-out foosball table where the tired team never wins.
I was really impressed by this exhibit's positive vibe. CMOM is teaching kids what they need to know to make good life choices without condemning what they may be doing now. Nowhere does it say don't eat candy or don't drink soda. Instead, there are simple suggestions like take smaller portions, eat fresh produce, drink lots of water and stay active, which seem much less daunting. Before they leave, kids can even select a goal and see how many other children are working toward it, too.
Eat Sleep Play is permanently on view at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Free with admission: $11, free the first Friday of every month 5-8pm.
Find out about other current kid-friendly exhibits in our Museum Guide.