The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY is a wonderland for children. But there are plenty of nostalgic exhibits of toys to keep the adults saying, “I had one of those!”
In recent years the Strong Museum has doubled in size, making it the second largest children’s museum in the country.
Most of the exhibits on the first floor are hands-on interactives for kids. The stoop from Sesame Street will delight young and old – the PBS children’s show has been on the air since 1969! The very first episode plays on a continuing loop nearby.
There is a small-scale Wegmans grocery store where kids can take a shopping cart and “shop” for all kinds of products lining the shelves. The store even has checkouts where the items are scanned and the shopper receives a receipt listing each purchase – just like a real store!
Reading Adventureland – which has been described as a “life sized pop-up book” – sparks the imagination with scenes from classic children’s literature. A large collection of books can even be checked out, since the museum is a “mini branch” of the city library system.
The Berenstain Bears exhibit features life-sized scenes inspired by the popular children’s book series. Children learn how to make a quilt like Mama Bear or play with pretend woodworking tools like Papa Bear. Exhibits also include a fruit stand, restaurant and dentist’s office.
One History Place lets kids travel back in time as they dress up like pioneers, do laundry on a washboard or churn butter.
The second floor of the museum features exhibits for older kids and adults, including the National Toy Hall of Fame whose inductees include such classics as Mr. Potato Head, Etch-a-Sketch, Play-Doh, Slinky, Monopoly and the Easy-Bake Oven.
A massive doll collection – including hundreds of Barbie dolls – is the foundation of the museum’s vast collection of toys. Margaret Woodbury Strong collected them and planned to open her own museum. Plans were set in motion before her death in 1969. The museum opened to the public in 1983.
The historical exhibits also include an impressive collection of dollhouses, games and other toys.
The museum isn’t just about mindless play. Each interactive is designed to teach kids something or foster creativity. And labels throughout the galleries ask questions about why and how we play.
Although younger children might not fully understand the lessons to be learned in the galleries, they will certainly enjoy themselves. Adults will find the trip down memory lane enjoyable too!