At children’s museums, it’s all about the kids. From the water that they splash to the pint-sized shopping carts they push. But at traditional museums, it’s all about grown-ups. From fragile displays to those informative placards with oh-so-many words. Finding a middle ground can be tough. Enter the new hands-on exhibits at the White River Valley Museum. Where totally touchable sensory elements just for kids, have been blended into the museum to create an experience the whole fam can get in on.

WRVM girl smelling photo: Allison Sutcliffe

It’s All About History
The museum’s focus is on the White River Valley, or what you and your kidlet call Auburn, Kent and the surrounding areas. And its collection of artifacts and replicas chronicle South King County’s history, from its indigenous inhabitants through the many iterations of westward settlement that followed. Each period that’s represented has an anchoring, interactive exhibit that really turns back the clock, like Doc Brown’s time machine. Only you don’t need to break 80 in a DeLorean here. All you need to do is step through a turn-of-the-century Farmer’s Cabin to start your journey.

WRVM girl looking at old cabin

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Along the way, you and your tyke can learn about the Muckleshoot Indians who lived in the area and the Japanese-American families who called the Northwest home before the WWII Internment. You’ll also have a chance to play school and dress up in the one room Stuck Schoolhouse and gawk at the sparkly rhinestone and crystal jewelry exhibit just across the way. After you’ve wandered through the first half of the museum, your kidlet will have a blast wandering Main Street and the Auburn Depot, with its cute old timey storefronts and a full-on replica caboose train car, where the wee ones can climb and explore from top to bottom. While you’re there, don’t forget to let the Littles take Sandy out for a spin. Yep, the antique pony ride, just outside the Livery, actually works and it only costs a dime to take a giggly, bumpy ride!

WRVM girl in school house

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Engage Your Senses
Beyond the thoughtfully arranged displays and informative exhibits, we love the new hands on displays set out just for kids. They give the littlest museum-goers something to touch, smell and totally play with as they wander through the museum. Look for the red Explore! signs to find the new play tents, smell and touch stations and artifact encounters that help bring this museum to life for the Littles. Nine are scattered throughout the museum. First up is the Cook’s Tent, just beyond the Farmer’s Cabin, where little chefs can roast marshmallows and hot dogs over the soft fire pit play set, then serve them up using plates, cups and silverware you’ll find tucked away in the tent. While they’re cooking, you can read the placards and check out the exhibits in this room, without interruption… that’s the plan, anyway. There’s a Train Repair tent in the back of the museum, too. In there, your little conductor will find wooden trains, conductors caps, and a fully stocked repair kit and work bench so they can troubleshoot ailing cars and cabooses. It’s another perfectly placed play station so parents can keep a keen eye on their little learner while they wander, read signs and check out the displays in Old Auburn.

WRVM girl in cook tent

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Inviting curiosity is part of what makes these hands on elements so appealing. And what better way to do that then to set up mystery touch boxes around the museum? Here kiddos can use their sense of touch to figure out just what’s inside each box. They can also play detective at two smell stations, where streamside and grocery store scents have been bottled for investigation. Have fun seeing who’s got the most sensitive sniffer, you or your sidekick. Even your admission ticket is in on this mystery game. Each one has a picture of an historic figure you can spot around the museum, Where’s Waldo style, and some questions about his or her life you and your mini detective can uncover clues to answer.

WRVM touch box girl

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Extras! Extras!
The museum has some special programs on first Thursdays and Wednesday mornings, starting in July. From 6 p.m.-8 p.m., the first Thursday of the month, the museum hosts a Late Play Date, where kiddos ages 3-12 can roam the museum, exploring all the new hands-on elements, with free admission. They’ll also have themed activities and crafts for mini museum goers to enjoy. Then, starting in July, Hooked On History comes to the museum on Wednesday mornings, from 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Expect all the hands-on elements you can enjoy any time you visit, plus crafts and themed activities, like Gold Rush and Viking Day. Then walk to Les Gove Park for a free concert coupled with sunshine and play time when you’re done. Bonus!

WRVM girl writing in school house

photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

A Post-Visit Play Spot
Les Gove Park, just across the parking lot from the museum, is another worthwhile spot to check out while you’re in Auburn. After you and your sidekick have touched, smelled and played your way through the museum, cross the street to get your play on. The Discovery Playground is a universally accessible play space that’s been open for a couple of years now. A lot of the equipment you’ll find there is familiar, but different, which means cool new options for your kiddos to explore, like the giant disc swings and sunken merry go round. There’s also a spray park there, that’s open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, where the Littles can cool off on a sunny summer day. Psst… be sure to pack a lunch or some snackage for this part of your day because there’s lots to do and explore after the museum!

White River Valley Museum
918 H St. S.E.
Auburn, Wa 98002
253-288-7433
Online: wrvmuseum.org

Hours: Wed.–Sun., noon-4 p.m.; First Thurs., 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: $5/Adults; $2/Kids & Seniors. First Thurs. & Third Sun., Free

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Do you plan to check out the new interactive exhibits at the White River Valley Museum? Tell us about your visit in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe