COLUMBIA — Evelyn Parsons, in a ruffled pink dress, sat at a doll table Tuesday with her sister and grandmother.
"We are having a tea party, and I am a princess," said the 4-year-old, as her grandmother, Mary, pretended to fill the girl's cup with tea.
What: Missouri Children's Museum
Where: 8700 I-70 Drive SE
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday; by appointment on Monday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Will be closed Jan. 1.
Cost: $7.50 for children 12 and under; $5 for those 13 and older
Evelyn, her sister Carmela, 21 months, and Mary Parsons held their party in the Princess Room, one of the exhibits offered at the Missouri Children's Museum, which opened Dec. 11 at 8700 I-70 Drive S.E.
The museum is where children learn through play and adults learn to play again, said Sybil Wasserman, director of marketing.
Together, parents and children can paint faces, look at the stars and wander through mazes. They can play dress-up, shop for groceries in a mini-market and play instruments in the music room.
"Here I can spend some quality grandma time," Parsons said.
Stacy Richmond, a single mom, brings her two daughters, Kaitlyn and Mackenzie, 5 and 8, to the museum because “it gets them out of the house.”
"With optical illusions, mazes and gift bags to go, Mackenzie and Kaitlyn had a memorable experience," Richmond said.
Gil and Regina Wilshire opened the museum to fill a gap they saw in Columbia, they said.
“Columbia is too college-oriented, and there are just not enough youth programs,” said Director of Operations Reji White.
The museum gives parents the opportunity to take their children out without driving to Kansas City or St. Louis, said Liz Yankee, a mother of two.
"Rather than taking my children to St. Louis's Magic House," Yankee said, "I hope that one day the Missouri Children's Museum will substitute for that."
After visiting more than 20 children museums nationwide with their 5-year-old son, Hunter, the Wilshires hired White to remodel an old two-story house.
White worked overtime for two months on the project, putting together 12 themed rooms and more than 50 exhibits that can be rotated.
“I put myself into a child’s shoes when hand-painting these walls,” White said, “and I became hooked.”
The museum's main desk sits in the Missouri conservation room, where a hand-painted mural surrounds the visitor with wildlife native to the state, such as the mountain lion, bald eagle and white-tailed deer.
The adjacent Brainteaser room has mazes and riddles lining the wall. Wooden puzzles lie on small, colorful tables. There's also a medical office, a planetarium stairwell, miniature room, toddler room and "messy art room."
"This is very hands-on," Yankee said. "Here you can bring your younger ones and be more immersed in their play."
This was Yankee's first time to the museum with her two children, Anthony and Adria, 2 and 6.
"I want to come back," said Adria, a Grant School kindergartener. "You can paint and do more activities here."
Another Columbia children’s museum, the $8.5 million YouZeum, reduced hours when projected attendance and donations did not meet expectations.
The owners of the Missouri Children's Museum said they hope their museum continues to grow. Gil Wilshire said the Magic House in St. Louis started small and now gets millions of visitors each year.
“We envision growth but not necessarily for profit or to get rich," he said. "We created this place to spread learning and knowledge, that reflects both the children and their parents.”
Future plans include a gazebo in the backyard alongside an authentic Native American tepee erected when weather permits.
Admission to the Missouri Children's Museum is $7.50 for children ages 1 to 12, and $5 for 13 and up.