Oklahoma City family fun is hands-on at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
This winter has been gray, somehow more so than others, and my children are ready to go outdoors as soon as the sun starts shining. I see them ready for spring starting right now, as they flock to windows and peer out, cluster around doors and bargain to go to local playgrounds. I can't remember the last time they were this eager to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere.
Where we ended up this past Saturday was the Power and Prestige Children’s Gallery, a temporary exhibit created just for children to accompany the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Power and Prestige: Headdresses of the American Plains display. What's cool about the new area is that its best features aren't just a one-day thing; they will be available with on-site guides each weekend through May 14.
My family hadn't visited this particular museum in the past. We've been to the Oklahoma History Center and the Harn Homestead but not to this venue, with its separate space just for kids, the Children's Cowboy Corral.
Cowboys just haven't been that popular at our house. Not yet anyway. I think there's just less influence, between the ever-popular robots and dinosaurs, PBS Kids and Netflix. That is changing, though, as my oldest grows and takes more of an interest in history. Sam is in the fourth grade and it's fair to say he enjoyed the day most but younger children, ages 5 and 2, also had a terrific time, which isn't every venue, given their difference in ages. I just might hear them playing cowboys one of these days instead of Sherlock and John Watson or Optimus Prime and Bumblebee in their pretend adventures.
Here are three reasons you should visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum:
- It's geared for kids: I was surprised how much of the museum is clearly planned for kids, with exhibits that are interactive and allow for kinesthetic play. My children, like most children, want to sit on saddles, play in prairie houses and touch eagle feathers. This isn't a look-with-your-eyes only experience. They can play musical instruments, participate in crafts and hear Native American storytellers.
- Activities can fit multiple ages: Some museums have an activity for each age set, the basic divide of toddlers, early elementary and older kids. This museum has basically something in its different areas for all of the above. When we saw the available arts-related activities, for example, it was immediately apparent that all three children could participate at the same table. That's a huge plus as the parent overseeing multiple children. Sam, Isaac and Gabriel all created a stamps-as-symbols decoding project without any complaints of "This is too hard for me" or "Can we do something else now? This is for babies." That is not every venue and I was really glad they could all participate at their own level.
- There's context: History is one of those love/hate topics for kids. What converts them from one camp into another is making the information relevant. Having museum staff to lead the activities instead of just leaving families to touch, see and figure out the displays on their own transforms the experience. History also becomes tangible through immersion-type areas like Prosperity Junction, which is a town setting that includes a main street from homestead times where you can walk through and see a school, a house, local businesses like a doctor's office and a blacksmith, set against the local railroad and agricultural influences as a backdrop. It felt surreal to be in what looked like another time and place and that's where history wins with kids.
The museum's art galleries and the beauty of its sculpture really won me over. I lived outside of Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming with its famous Buffalo Bill Center of the West for much of my childhood and the collection at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum rivals that. Sharing those same influences with my sons, from Annie Oakley to local Native American culture, made the experience even more memorable.
I would absolutely recommend the museum for families and out-of-town visitors. My in-laws are coming next month from Costa Rica and while they've seen all of Europe and Central America's best historical sites, this collection will be totally new. I've already selected a weekend for a return visit with them.
Oklahoma in the springtime is beautiful and it's starting to feel much more like that lately. Enjoy getting out and seeing all that the state has to offer this season!