Although I can’t claim to be an expert on children’s museums, I do have experience being the landlord of one.
Soon after my brother Don and I renovated a landmark commercial building in New Orleans’ Warehouse District in 1983 as home for our family’s business, Dixie Art Supplies, the recently-founded Louisiana Children’s Museum moved into the third floor as our tenant.
Things were a bit catch-as-catch-can in the beginning — not the polished enterprise that now owns and occupies the entire building. Enthusiasm turned simple displays into spectacles for wide-eyed young visitors, and ingenuity spun initial funding into childhood magic.
Then there was the golf-ball-intensive gravity demonstration. The diabolical, inexpensively-contrived device, consisting of a twisting metal tube resembling a roller-coaster ride, a plethora of golf balls, and a thick-walled bucket into which they fell with a resounding “Thunk!” after hurtling along the track, was situated directly above my second-floor office, where the sound of adamantine round objects striking resounding galvanized metal echoed throughout the day.
For my birthday that year, my wife, Millie, commissioned then-Times Picayune editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich to visually interpret and humorously record my daily trauma.
So it was with a sense of relief that I approached what I accurately surmised was a new, blessedly-single-story building housing the Bayou Country Children’s Museum, which opened on the grounds of a former sugarcane plantation in Thibodaux last weekend. Tempted to explore the kid-sized-model of a tugboat that greets visitors outside, I –responsible adult that I am — resisted.
For museum director Christy Naquin, Sunday turned out not to be a day off from kids’ activities. At home assisting her son with a fourth-grade social studies project, she enthusiastically recalled, in a phone conversation, working with area children this summer, before the exhibitions were installed in the 6700-square-foot exhibition area, both to generate enthusiasm for the $3.5 million project, 15 years in the making, and to learn from the kids how best the museum could fulfill their educational and recreative needs.
The exhibitions, which begin with an introduction to children’s health, part of a $100,000 sponsorship by the Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, follow a winding blue swath representing Bayou Lafourche, from its source, the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville, to its ultimate discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. The equipment and displays are eye-catching, and eye-popping in some instances, equal to those currently on display in the expansive Warehouse-District kids’ museum, and a decidedly-rural version of urban fun and learning.
First up in Thibodaux is Sugarcane Alley, featuring a mammoth, full-size John Deere harvester onto which kids can scramble to their hearts’ content. A shrimp boat, an oil rig, a floor-level keyboard for stomping out boogie-woogie, a pirate ship where you can dig for buried treasure, a float from which to toss an endless supply of beads and a miniature theater all add to the enjoyment of exploring culture, history and new motor skills. There are learning areas on subjects as diverse as coastal erosion and children’s safety, and rooms for projects, teaching and, of course, birthday parties.
Just remember, all adults must be in the company of a child. So think back to your youth, take your children in hand, and head to bayou country.
And leave the golf balls where they belong: with your clubs and spiked shoes.
Bayou Country Children’s Museum, 211 Rue Betancourt, Thibodaux, LA 70301
Tuesday – Saturday, 10 – 6. Sunday, 12 – 4. Closed Monday. Admission: $7
Information: www.bayoucountrychildrensmuseum.org. Tel: 985-446-2200