The Child Inside

River WorksThere were no kids at the Water Works display in the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Absolutely none. And I stuck around for quite awhile just in case. In fact the whole time I was walking around the Water Works, the only person I saw was a member of the staff who came by to get something out of the nearby cupboards.

“You need some kids to play with,” she said with a smile. I agreed.

It makes sense. I was there in early September, a week into the regular school year. I was there on a Monday, and I was there in the morning. So I wouldn’t take the absence of children as an indication of Water Works’s popularity. Because without a doubt it should be very, very popular.

Start of River

Water Works is an area designed to teach children about the water cycle and the ways in which humans interact with rivers. There’s a station where a kid can pedal on a bicycle to make it rain into a nearby cloud/bucket. There’s a giant beaver dam to run around in, and a place where you can assemble your own tiny plastic boat out of a bunch of components. But the best part is the river.

In the center of the room is a large table, representing a river. On one end of the table is a crank the kids can turn to make it rain onto the plastic mountain and add more water to the river. Next there’s a dam, with movable pieces to allow kids to choose how freely they want their river to flow. There’s even a little barn you have to protect from the water coming in off the floodplain. A faucet off to the side starts up the tributary, which happens to pass by a little house with a water wheel before flowing into the main river. Next the river encounters a second dam, this time with an adjacent set of locks. Kids can push the lock doors open and closed to allow their newly created boats to pass safely down the hill. At the very end there’s a fish ladder, a larger water wheel, and my personal favorite: a fully functional Archimedes Screw.

TributaryI keep referring to the kids but, as previously mentioned, there were none. I had to start the rainfall and save the barn and make my boat and get it through the locks all by myself. While I enjoyed the benefit of being able to play with a bunch of kids’ toys without being accused of shoving any of the little tikes out of the way, it would have been nice to see a few kids playing with the Water Works. I used to create my own rivers just like it when I was little. I imagine most of us did. You find a six-inch wide stream of water in the playground and immediately begin clearing debris from of some areas to allow it to flow, then you start stacking up rocks in other spots to create dams. You make boats out of legos, using your imagination to declare which part is the sail and which part is the steering wheel. While it’s fun to use the natural world to fuel your imagination, it makes your playtime dependent on the average annual rainfall. But a huge kid-sized river? With constantly flowing water? And the taciturn permission to get very wet at a museum? What a dream.

I must have played with that damn river for 20 minutes. Perhaps it’s time I take a trip back to the Seattle Science Center.