Happy Birthday, History Clubhouse!
Today marks exactly one year since we opened our History Clubhouse, a nearly 6,000-square-foot space designed for children and families to explore and play. We built this space with the goal of bringing St. Louis history to local families in a much deeper way than we have in the past. Opening this space was a big deal—it was something we’d never done before, and something few history museums have done on such a big scale.
During the five years we spent developing the History Clubhouse, I fielded a lot of questions—and sometimes a lot of doubt—about kids and history. Friends and family members said things like, “I’d love to come see the History Museum, but I can’t bring my 3-year-old with me, can I?” Others asked questions such as, “What is there for kids to do in a history museum?” and “Isn’t history a hard subject for kids to grasp?”
It’s true, sort of. We know that young children don’t fully understand the world around them, and they may not fully grasp the concept of time or “the past.” Yet kids are amazing. They’re equipped with the tools they need to investigate and gain knowledge. They have an innate need to figure out how things work, to tinker and play. Thus, with the help of local families, we built a big, colorful Clubhouse where everything is hands-on and kids can play freely.
A lot has happened over the past year. The steamboat whistle has been blown over 76,000 times, earning a smile each and every time. Children have gone fishing and cooked over a fire in the ancient city of Cahokia. They’ve steered the trolley through downtown St. Louis and dressed up in custom-made costumes inspired by our collections. They've served favorite foods from 1904 to their Fair-going moms, dads, nannies, grandparents, and anyone else who’s around. We’ve literally witnessed kids (and grown-ups too) playing for thousands of hours—but they’re not just playing. Day after day their imaginations are skyrocketing them to other times and places. They’re experiencing how people lived in the past. They’re drawing connections to their own lives. They’re asking questions. They’re starting conversations. They’re getting up close and personal with real artifacts. They’re delving into real history, and they're learning.
Over the past year, people have more or less stopped asking me those doubt-filled questions about kids and history. Now people ask about the best times to avoid crowds or when they might catch our mascot, Glory the Gargoyle. Sometimes people even take the time to tell me about their families’ experiences in the space. One mom shared the following reflection:
“The scholarship woven throughout the exhibit space is unavoidable. Visitors of all ages can’t help but learn about St. Louis history through the large-scale imagery and hands-on activities. Sure, the learning here is mostly based on play—dressing up in ballgowns and tooting the riverboat’s horn—but the message is clear to visitors of all ages. It’s hard to slip a dinner jacket onto your toddler’s shoulders without explaining it was formal attire once worn to evening meals on real riverboats. When watching my son cook fresh-caught fish on the campfire, I must read to him out loud the graphic signs about the ancient city of Cahokia. It was because of the History Clubhouse that when we took our 5-year-old to his first trip up the St. Louis Arch, he was excited (not scared!) to get into the tiny elevator, armed with fascinating knowledge about our journey. All this from mornings spent 'playing' at the History Museum.”
Thus, today birthday hats and party blowers abound. We’ll all dance to live music and join in a birthday parade led by Glory the Gargoyle. There’s a lot to celebrate—a year packed full of smiles, shared stories, learning through play, and growing a love for history that will last a lifetime. Here’s to many more years of welcoming the youngest St. Louisans to the Missouri History Museum!
—Lindsay Newton, Youth and Family Programs Manager