Without question, Stepping Stones is the crown jewel of museum offerings for children in Fairfield County. No, it doesn't contain natural history like the Bruce Museum, or live animals like the Maritime Aquarium, but it more than makes up for all that with its laser focus on making learning fun, and downright invisible, for kids. On top of that, Stepping Stones is a high-quality facility that feels fun and fresh to be inside of. That being said, it's gotten pricey in recent years. So pricey, that I'm not sure who's visiting much more than once a year without a membership*.
Once we come inside Stepping Stones, I always like to guide my littles past the oh-so-popular Energy Lab (more on that later) and onto the smaller displays -- a classic case of save the best for last. If you're a parent with a baby, you've gone too far already. Back up, park your stroller, and enter the gold mine that is Toy Town. There is enough to keep your baby busy in here until their next nap, guaranteed. And it's contained. Play away, or catch up on your Facebook feed. Before long you'll need the rest of this review. :)
My brood starts with Build It!, where there's a beautiful mix of boys AND girls hammering, measuring, and toting tools. Here, they can live out all their Home Depot dreams while maybe even learning a bit about architecture.
Next up, is the relatively new permanent exhibit, Express Yourself. Through games, music, color and even tv-making, kids find ways to communicate. To them it's play, but underneath it all is a lesson in social-emotional learning. My kids were drawn to the oversize Light Brite board, and naturally the opportunity to make noise on the drums. Other families were quietly cutting out unique faces together ... ahh, someday.
Once through there, it was onto the brand-spanking new temporary exhibit, My Sky. This one tripped mommy's trigger. A massive moon for the kids to spin with all their might. Constellation-making. A fantastic hand-cranked illustration of lunar phases (which involves a baseball -- clever). And then a bit of disappointment -- a broken part of the exhibit meant to teach about shadows. This has always been a gripe of mine here. Though the young lady I asked seemed sure a team would be on it first thing Monday morning, it felt insufficient. Weekends are when the most people are here! Undoubtedly I'm preaching to the front office choir here, but you'd like to think an engineer would be on for an opening weekend. Budgets. Sigh.
There was a bright spot just across the way, though -- 'Making Space.' It's basically a creation station using recycled items. This was a huge hit with my crew. I had to pull the 4 and 6-year-olds away after 20-25 minutes because the 2-year-old had had his fill of examining glue sticks (WHAT is the fascination)?!
And it's a little bit downhill from here in this wing. The Multimedia Gallery has always confused me a bit, but the boys get a kick out of 'stomping' the fish in the floor projection. It's really a room intended for other things, but we linger until I feel like someone's going to get hurt. Then, we head for water.
As you enter the Energy Lab, the kids suit up, donning a slicker -- because it's about to go down. And up, and all around. Water, and all of its power is harnessed and displayed in a winding factory employing hundreds of plastic balls .. and the kids. The kids put the balls in at various points and the water shows off its magic. They love it. They repeat these tasks over and over. They get soaked. You wonder why (once again) you forgot a change of clothes.
If it's meal time when you're through playing, there is a fully-stocked cafe. If it's a warm, sunny day, DO NOT miss the Celebration Courtyard. It's full of playthings, vitamin D and fenced all around. Take a load off, mama (or papa, or nana, or nanny)!
Before we leave Stepping Stones, we like to check out the ColorCoaster -- a whirling, winding, ticking, artful, structure hearkening back to the toys of the early 20th Century. The kids can't leave until the balls roll into the space where their face is pressed to the plexiglass. Fair enough.
And then we say goodbye ... for likely another six months to a year. It's a 30-minute ride for us, and at $15/person I just don't think there's enough to justify spending that much car time or cash on the endeavor. If we lived closer, I'd certainly consider the $155 membership.
P.S. The bathroom is as family-friendly as you'd expect -- changing station, toddler toilet, step stools. But don't think you're going to dry them out after the Energy Lab with the energy-efficient hand dryers. Not. Gonna. Work.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Ave., Norwalk, CT, 06850
* A Mommy Poppins CT facebook fan gave us this tip about saving on the entrance fees: "Memberships go on sale a few times a year! They usually have a 50% off Black Friday Sale around the holidays. I agree, the price is a bit high for a family activity (and I live down the street), but at 50% off, it's a bit less if a blow!"