You get the idea that the Healthworks! Kids Museum is big on educational fun when you enter the door. Hanging overhead inside the entrance is a set of 3-foot-tall Fiberglas chompers, teeth glistening white. No cavities.
Every day, youngsters gather under the teeth, waving oversized toothbrushes and taking part in a cleaning sing-along as bubbles flow from above.
“This has been eight years of work,” said Shannon Woodcock, director and CEO of the nonprofit entity that opened May 14 as the region’s first museum dedicated to educating children about healthy lifestyles.
From how to wash hands and teeth properly to playing on the giant Interactive Dude (more later), it’s all done hands-on with a smile and sometimes a squeal of surprise.
We’re trying to start an epidemic, trying to contaminate kids to learn and have fun and make healthy choices in their lives.
Shannon Woodcock, director and CEO, on the museum’s goals
Shannon, also called the Chief Contaminator of Infectious Fun, likes to use medical terminology in a humorous way to make a point about the museum’s goals: “We’re trying to start an epidemic, trying to contaminate kids to learn and have fun and make healthy choices in their lives.”
The 36-year-old, who was born and raised in Belleville and now lives in High Ridge, Mo., grinned as she moved past a gaggle of green-shirted youngsters ready to explore the museum’s centerpiece: an indoor playground like none seen before.
“My son really likes that slide,” she said of Lachlan, 7.
It’s part of a giant reclining human form called the Interactive Dude, who’s missing some skin in places — on purpose. He’s 55 feet long, 25 feet wide and 8 feet tall. Kids climb past his left knee to slide down a leg, wobble across the bony balance beam of a right leg and shimmy up and into an upturned hand. Passing through the open rib cage, they can push some noisy buttons to learn about the digestive track. There’s stuff about poop, too. That’s the technical word that’s used. Inside the giant skull is information on the different parts of the brain.
“Wait! Wait! I want to go again,” said Tiana Watson, 4, as she followed her friends off the slide. They were with Camp Flourish, a St. Louis church summer camp for preschoolers.
Ramps and railings along the back make the Interactive Dude accessible for all youngsters.
Shannon said the museum is geared toward kids through fifth grade, with sit-still and run-around activities.
Mock dental and medical offices let kids play with instruments, adjust equipment and don lab coats. Older kids can try the surgical microscope.
At the farmers market, JaDen Barnes, 3, grabbed a basket and loaded up on fresh (plastic) fruits and vegetables, then headed to the checkout lane where another visitor added up the cost.
A kitchen at the back with just-the-right-height seating for youngsters can be used for real food demonstrations.
Curious older kids like the Face Your Future exhibit. Janie Sparks, 10, of St. Louis, took a few moments to sit down and use high-tech, age-progression software that let her see what she might look like a few decades from now if she used tobacco, got too much sun or ate a lot of junk food.
“Eeeeeew! I look terrible!” she said putting her nose up to the image of herself with sagging jowls and heavy wrinkles.
Mom Chrystal Sparks, 32, stared at the enhanced photo: “Well, maybe that will keep you away from Doritos.”
A small theater area blends video and hands-on lessons to teach kids about hygiene.
And, children can sit at small computer pads and type in what they learned during their visit.
The museum covers 12,000 square feet with room to grow, Shannon said. When Phase 2 comes around, another 15,000 square feet within the building will be put to use.
Shannon was hired in 2008 by the Delta Dental Health Theatre in St. Louis to direct and see completed the new $2.5 million museum. It is one of the main sponsors. Those big teeth at the entrance came from the theater, which had been located on Laclede’s Landing for 38 years.
“The board hired me to change it all, to find a different location and change the impact on the community,” she said. “When I took the job, everything (in the theater) said ‘Do Not Touch.’ I thought, ‘I can fix this; I can make it better.’”
She negotiated a lease of a building owned by and behind the Science Center. While the center is a separate entity from the museum, Shannon said it was instrumental in offering advice and expertise.
Shannon, who played soccer at Belleville East and has a degree from the University of Texas at Dallas in psychology with an emphasis in early childhood education, earned an MBA in nonprofit management from Washington University while helping create the kids museum. While she was looking at educational programs for the museum, she found what she wanted through the Healthworks! system, which also has kids museums in Tupelo, Miss., and South Bend, Ind.
Amy Grosch, of O’Fallon, Mo., brought four children, ages 10, 7 and 5-year-old twins to the museum.
“We’re always looking for something new to do,” she said. “My daughter said we have to come here and I’m glad we did. They’ve had a lot of fun and learned some things, too.”
Healthworks! Kids’ Museum St. Louis
- Where: 1100 Macklind Ave., St. Louis. From Illinois, take Interstate 40/64 west to the Kingshighway exit. Go south (left turn) onto Kingshighway, then right at the light onto Oakland Avenue. Go past the Science Center and turn left on Macklind. Take the first left and look right for the museum parking lot, which is on the far end of the lot.
- Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays.
- Prices: $7 ages 3 and up; field trip rates (10 or more), $5. Field trips and large groups welcome.
- Information: 314-241-7391, www.hwstl.org or on Facebook