The start of the school year creeps up more quickly every year, maybe even more so this year as two of my three kids will now be in public school. Individual time with each is hard to come by, but I make a point in the summer to schedule “dates” with all three (I’m an only child myself but learning quickly that EVERYTHING must be even among these three strong-willed children!)
My middle, Hutch, remembered last summer’s fun venture to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, so it was at the top of his list for mom-son time. Managing his expectations, I explained that his favorite two sections of the museum, Prosperity Junction (the old cow-town in which he loves pretending he’s throwing family members in jail) and the Children’s Cowboy Corral (where he dresses up to play the part of traveling cowboy pretty perfectly), were closed for renovations. He was a bit skeptical but when I read through all the kid-friendly activities going on for the museum’s Saturdays for Kids program, we agreed we could find plenty to enjoy.
Sometimes it’s going to a familiar place with no expectations and an open mind that makes the experience truly special. That combined with all the goings-on created just to engage kids in the history and culture of the museum made for our favorite date yet!
We laughingly attempted to barrel race on horse-shaped hippity hops. Hutch made a rope with the help of a kind docent who explained to him why his favorite sections of the museum were closed — and why he’s likely to love them even more when renovations are complete. He played the guitar with Cowboy Jim, together strumming and singing “You are my Sunshine.” We climbed aboard the “Cadillac of stagecoaches” to hear the rules of travel and imagine the long, dusty journey, regaled by another engaging docent as Hutch carefully inspected the interior.
Throughout our visit and since, I have marveled at what an incredible experience the museum provides for kids of all ages. Here are Hutch’s and my top three reasons families should visit:
The docents. Volunteers at the Cowboy are top-notch in their attention to guests, but I realized this visit how much they enjoy interacting with kids, sharing history on their level. Hutch can be shy around new people, but the docents’ warm, friendly manner meant he eagerly asked questions and listened to their tales. Since our visit, Hutch has shared the rules of stagecoach riding (his favorites: don’t spit into the wind or it will fly back on you and ask your neighbor before napping on his shoulder) with just about everyone we know.
The permanent art collection. Hutch received a spy decoder at the welcome desk with instructions to complete a special secret mission. We found coordinating spy decoder placards throughout the museum’s collections where we read a clue and used the decoder to find the answer. This was such a clever way to get Hutch interested in really studying and discussing art.
The kid-specific activities. Hutch was much more interested in strolling through the permanent galleries when interspersed with active play. The first Saturday of each month includes activities for kids, with Sept. 7 Saturdays for Kids featuring Native American games. Find all the upcoming events developed with kids and families in mind.
And a bonus? Kids 5 and under are free! Any museum where I can get two out of my three littles in free is a huge win.
The museum is worth visiting now, but it will get even better in the coming months thanks to:
The renovated Prosperity Junction, which re-opens in October. The gallery experience will now begin outside with a replica train depot. Some of the interior spaces that guests could previously only peer in the windows of will be opened up, like the mercantile, providing more to explore in the turn-of-the-20th-century cattle town.
Liichokoshkomo’!, a multimillion-dollar indoor-outdoor educational experience, opens in spring 2020. The Choctaw phrase means “Let’s play!” and that’s exactly what families will do as hands-on STEAM activities and programming teach multicultural Western history and heritage. The outdoor plaza between Prosperity Junction and the Children’s Cowboy Corral will include a replica tent city for railway workers and a pioneer wagon, where kids can stretch
their critical thinking skills as they consider which objects to haul west.
The Children’s Cowboy Corral will become part of Liichokoshkomo’!, providing a hub for school field trips, educational space and an extension of the outdoor learning experiences. The area behind the corral will become a Native American village featuring homes of various tribes, including a Pawnee earth lodge, a Kiowa teepee and Pueblo cliff dwellings.
Watching my son’s eyes light up as he learned history with all his senses, encouraged to actively play, create and question, solidified the Cowboy on our family’s list of go-to attractions this fall and beyond. Happy trails, y’all!