Your kids know toys are fun, and you’ve got the messy playroom to prove it. But the Washington State History Museum’s new Toytopia exhibit is ready to show your kid crew another side of their play things. From the interesting stories behind famous toy inventors, to outlining the nitty-gritty how-do-toys-do-that details, to figuring out what exactly toys tell us about the world we live in, this just-opened exhibit is packed full of educational nuggets. Oh, and there’s plenty to play with, too! Read on to learn more.

photo: Stage Nine Productions

Look!

When you first enter the Toytopia exhibit, expect to stop for a moment and reminisce at the decade display boxes. It’s where you’ll find all your faves from childhood, like your first Atari, a Cabbage Patch Kid or a neglected Tamagotchi that desperately needs to be fed. It’s also a fun spot to share with your kids, who might even recognize some of these retro faves because they’ve recently been re-released, or never went out of style to begin with. Once you’ve peeked in all the boxes, it’s time to head on through to the main exhibit room with your kids.

photo: Stage Nine Productions

Learn!

Our favorite thing about this exhibit is the way it’s organized. (Okay, we love the toys, too!) But the layout makes it easy for parents and older kids to read about toy history while the Littles get their play on with LEGOs, puzzles, dollhouses, Etch A Sketches and board games. It’s an experience that goes beyond taking the kids to a children’s museum. Toytopia takes toys seriously, and for good reason. The exhibit goes a long to way to explain the evolution of toys and play, as a reflection of an ever-changing American landscape. So while your kids rush over to run the electric train set, you can read about the way trains brought people together, transported products and inspired a generation of electric train enthusiasts. Or when your kids rush to play the arcade style video games, you can hang back and read about interesting toy inventors, like A. C. Gilbert who not only invented the Erector Set, but also won an Olympic gold medal. We guarantee after visiting this exhibit, both you and your kids will think differently about the many toys you play with.

photo: Washington State History Museum

Play!

Go Big
The toys on display are the real draw here. Your kids may not remember the movie Big, but they can still have Zoltar tell their fortune (and get a keepsake ticket), then kick off their shoes and dance out a tune on the over-sized floor keyboard, Tom Hanks style. Consider this the beginning of your TOYTOPIA experience. Across the way, and easily the most eye-catching display in the exhibit, is the two-story dollhouse. Kids that like to play house will never want to leave, so plan accordingly. Not only will you find smaller scale, fully-equipped dollhouses to play with, but the house also has it’s own working buttons that make noises and turn on lights, just like the pint-sized versions do. In the backyard, you’ll find plenty of camping gear, so pitch a tent and stay a while before checking out rest of the displays.

photo: Stage Nine Productions

Stay Big
Those aren’t the only larger-than-life displays you’ll find at TOYTOPIA. Toward the back of the exhibit, spend some time sketching on the 8-foot-tall Etch A Sketch that really works. Kids will have to work together to make boxy designs or draw out pictures here. Around the corner, families will find two full-scale Lite Brites, echoes of the one at KidsQuest, to play with. And then there are the video games. We highly recommend challenging your little gamer to a round of Donkey Kong or Dig Dug. Be advised, all the systems are rigged for free play (hint: if it isn’t working, look for a yellow button toward the back of the machine), so you can knock out plenty of play time before checking out the theme song challenge and visual video game history display.

photo: Washington State History Museum

Interactive Towers
The interactive towers scattered throughout the exhibit offer kids and kids-at-heart hands-on play experiences. Keep an eye out for the building tower, which features LEGOs, Lincoln Logs and Keva building blocks (psst…the Duplos are on the LEGO tower in the back of the exhibit). This is also where you’ll find a mini fig display case that’ll turn everyone green with envy. It’s sure to be busy! For older kids or parents who want to work the grey matter, head to the puzzle tower where you’ll find different logic puzzles that visitors can try. Stacking spoons, rotating wheels and opening unopenable boxes will keep curious minds busy if they’re not feeling like they need to go back to school. And for the tot lot, check out the gaming tower in the back where you can balance Jenga pieces, drop colorful checkers pieces into Connect 4 boards, and slide down chutes in everyone’s favorite preschooler board game.

photo: Washington State History Museum

Only in Washington

To personalize this exhibit, and make it relevant to Washingtonians, the Washington State History Museum staff scoured the area in search of Washington-related toys, games and artifacts. What they found is on display at the exhibit entrance. This is also where visitors can  enjoy an old reel of toy commercials that plays on a loop. And it’s where you can find toys that were created by Washington residents, toys that feature Washington resources, plus toys that place Washington front and center. Each one says a little something about its place in our state’s most recent history.

photo: Stage Nine Productions

Make It a Day

Lucky for you and the kids, the Washington State History Museum is smack dab in the middle of T-town’s museum district, so there are plenty of other places to visit and spots to grab a bite. Make a day of it by staying to play at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, just a few blocks away. Here, your kids will find all their faves, and the “pay what you can” entrance fee makes is easy for families of all sizes to enjoy. The Museum of Glass is right there too, just over the bridge. And a break in their art studio, or to watch artists blow glass, is a great way to top off your afternoon’s adventure. After you’ve played and played and played some more, grab a slice of ‘zah at Elemental Wood Fired Pizza located across the street, or check out one of the family-friendly breweries within walking distance. The kids will be asleep before you hit I-5 heading north!

Insider Tips:

1. If you want to take advantage of free admission to the museum, take your kids on the third Thursday of the month from 3 p.m.-8 p.m.

2. If thrift if your middle name, consider the family admission package—two adults and up to four kids for just $40.

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3. Looking for a different way to celebrate your tot’s birthday? How about a TOYTOPIA Birthday Bash ? The 2.5 hour party packages range from $95-$180 and include play time in the exhibit. Add in set-up, cleanup and easily order in local pizza for little party-goers and it doesn’t get any easier than that. Get all the necessary deets here.

TOYTOPIA
Washington State History Museum
1911 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, Wa 98402
253-272-3500
Online: washingtonhistory.org/visit/wshm/exhibits/toytopia

Cost: $14/Adults; $11/Kids (ages 6-17); 5 & under Free
Times: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. every third Thursday
Dates: Now through June 10, 2018

Do you plan to check out this playful exhibit with your kids? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

—Allison Sutcliffe

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