September 18, 2014

Here & Now: C'mon In

C'Mon (Judy Stead)Recently, i spent the day at C’mon, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, channeling my inner five-year-old.

I got my Naples Trolley driver’s license and spent some quality time at the old Wilson family fishin’ hole. Bagged myself a very nice snook—catch and release, of course. After that, I headed down to the Everglades to do some gator watching, and got caught in a spooky thunder-and-lightning storm. Luckily, I tucked safely into the branches of a giant banyan tree. Then I went to the playground, where I watched wistfully as some kids put on shiny slickers to play in a cool Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type water feature, and others rolled down the hill in a bright blue mesh barrel thing.

Time flies like the wind here. Why, you can arrive in early spring, in time to feed some baby birds in their nest, and before you know it, autumn leaves are falling and pumpkins are ripening in the patch. By lunchtime, it’s winter, and you can chill out in an igloo or build a snowman.

I played and played. I met the beautiful Princess Presto. I dragged my sleepy self home around 3 p.m. and, by 7, I was conked out for the night like any other five-year-old.


Sophie and Joseph

Most grownups, at various stages of life, have legitimate reasons to hang out in places like C’mon. Why else were children and grandchildren invented? People in the black hole between those stages (moms and aunts especially) need an excuse to go play without mini-folk staring and snickering. Seriously, last month I went to photograph the Rover Run Dog Park. I was not accompanied by a dog. Big mistake. Humans arriving dogless at a dog park are not to be trusted, at least by one alert canine. He snarled his most fearsome displeasure until his human pronounced me safe.

So I was thrilled to meet up with three-year-old Sophie and her big brother Joseph, four. They came to have breakfast and play with PBS Super Kids characters Princess Presto and Super WHY! during WGCU-sponsored Super Hero Day. Sophie arrived in her pink satin and tulle princess dress, jewel-encrusted pink shoes and hot pink cape, while Joseph looked cool in his Super-WHY! T-shirt. Their mom, Michelle, generously let me tag along. In this 21st century alternate universe—where plastic tablecloths become super hero capes—a three-foot-tall sparkly princess who battles big fish and anchors the Waterman Broadcasting Storm Tracker is the normal one. Grownups, not so much. I mean, who wants to see me broadcasting the weather from the general direction of my clavicle?


Adult Nights

Great news! For grownups not lucky enough to borrow a Sophie and Joseph, the museum invented adult night.

The second Thursday of each month, after the mini-folk go home, it’s playtime for us. We might slip into a giant seashell and hear the ocean, paint on the graffiti wall, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and adult beverages, join a hula hoop contest to the sounds of a live band, and stand at the blue screen with our mic in front of a height-adjusted camera to be the weather guy/gal.

In keeping with the current cultural theme, celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, we can sample pub food, throw darts for prizes, play croquet and pose for pictures with a life-size cutout of the Queen. The England exhibit features historic and cultural artifacts, and miles of royal bunting, compliments of London Bay Homes.

Not that we’re allowed all the privileges of the mini-folk. Some things are strictly “ADULTS, KEEP OUT.” Regrettably, the pint-sized hill-rolling barrel is one. And birthday sleepovers. And the Curious Kids room, for ages five to 14 only. Oh, and that giant shell with the leathery flippers, you can crawl inside, stick your neck out and be a gopher tortoise? Trust me, as much as you want to, don’t try it.


Who Designed This Place Anyway—A Five-Year-Old?

The first thing you notice about C’mon is its blast of colors, lollypop shapes and exclamation points flanking the front door, not to mention a building shape that defies architectural tradition. Like the giant boat that grows out of the south end of the building. It could have been designed by a five-year-old, for heaven’s sake.

Well, it sort of was. The story goes that, in the planning stage, many fancy conceptual renderings were passed around. Experts were consulted, and focus groups held. Finally they invited a panel of children. They showed the kids three designs and asked them to pick their favorite. One sharp little cookie piped up, “Does it have to be just one? Why not all three?” Nobody could think of a good reason why not. So, into the blender they went, merging the kids’ favorite elements into one design.

I like that, don’t you? A kids’ museum designed by kids for kids. The secret is, no matter how often they visit, no kid escapes without learning something, especially about saving the earth.

“Don’t quote me,” an insider whispers, “but frankly, we trick them into learning.”


The Next Great Thing

The biggest fantasy of those original focus group kids was a zero gravity space adventure. At $25 million, give or take a few mil, maybe that’s not so feasible. But, by roughly this time next year, kids (and grownups too, please?) will get an amazing new interactive experience called Space Kidettes. Including a space ship, mission control, and—yes!—weighted boots for the sensation of zero gravity!

Meanwhile, I’m headed down to the Naples Trolley Co. to apply for a job. I have my license.

Mark Your Supercalendar

Thanks to wgcu public media, c’mon features a different PBS Kids show monthly. This month it’s Arthur. In September, WordGirl comes to fight crime using words. October brings Dinosaur Train, and November welcomes Sesame Street, followed by Curious George in December.

The spectacular Super Kids Save the World traveling exhibit is ongoing through Sept. 9. Smart Cars, scientists’ lab coats, green goop and plenty of eco-superheroes are involved.

Upcoming adult nights: Aug. 9, Sept. 13, Oct. 11.

15080 Livingston Road, Naples. www.cmon.org. (239) 514-0084.

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