My family became members at the KidsQuest Museum in Factoria more than a year ago because it was close to our house, my in-laws, and I could hit Target on the way to our car. When I heard they were moving to Downtown Bellevue, I was disappointed because that meant I couldn't just stop in while running errands. I was completely bummed. However, when I heard about all the cool new features, I figured we'd need to check it out.
Our favorite area of the old museum was the train table. I liked how the tracks were screwed to the table and the wall and there were plenty of trains for all the kids to play together. Our next favorite areas included the semi-truck and the water tables. We spent the majority of our time in those 3 areas.
Since we are members, we were invited to their members-only preview celebration. I brought my 3-year-old son and wore my 4-month-old baby in my Tula carrier. We arrived 20 minutes after they opened and the place was packed!
Let me start off by saying that the new museum is AMAZING! What's not amazing is the physical location. It's located on the North side of Downtown Bellevue next to Bellevue Library. They have about 20 parking spaces and some of those are reserved for donors. I received a map telling me all the places I could park near the museum, but when you're toting a baby and preschooler and have been advised not to bring a stroller, any distance is far. I ended up parking at Bellevue Library in the basement level of their garage because I couldn't find anything else.
When we entered, it was a bit confusing as to what was happening. No one gave me any directions as to where I could stash my diaper bag or where anything was located. It was a mad house. I ended up lugging my huge diaper bag around for about 15 minutes before I asked a staff member and she told me I could get a locker for $1. I was initially outraged that I'd have to pay to store something I could have easily put on my stroller (but didn't bring as a common courtesy) but I wasn't about to haul the bag everywhere we went. Later, I realized that there were a handful of cubbies underneath some bench seating but they were stuffed to the guilds by the time we arrived. They also had some coat hooks that were layered with coats.
The first area that we tried to explore was the On the Go Gallery. It was crammed with overflowing with kids and cardboard boxes and mail room carts, so we decided we might want to start upstairs and then head back down. This was a good move.
We ended up going straight to the train table and that's where we stayed for the first hour. I was itching to explore the other areas, but my son was more than content to stay put. Not only is is much larger than at the old space, but it has a gorgeous mural of Bellevue and Seattle in the background. And, the table features a Space Needle and Pike Place Market as part of the set. He would have stayed there the rest of the day if I hadn't encouraged him to check out the Bellevue Mercantile Co.
The Bellevue Mercantile Co. is a mini grocery store from back in the day. What I loved most about this exhibit was the signage around with info about Bellevue in the early 1900s. My son really enjoyed the ice cream cart, complete with cones and felt ice cream where he could make an array of ice cream cones for me to hold. When he ran out of ice cream cones, he started shopping for produce and waited in line to be rung up by a slightly older child who was working the cash register. She then informed an adult that she was the manager and sent another child to restock the shelves. It was a lot of fun to watch kids of all ages work together.
Another major feature of the Bellevue Mercantile is the large bean bin. Not only was this area usually swarmed with little kids who wanted to weigh the beans, but the kids ended up using the beans as a form of money for purchasing things at the store. There were beans all over the floor and I saw staff members constantly sweeping the floor. No one that I saw slipped because the beans basically crush when stepped on. This would be a great area for their kid-size broom!
I was especially impressed by Katarina, a staff member who took the time to play not only with my son but with a number of kids. She asked engaging questions as she roamed around and the kids seemed drawn to her. I also noticed helpful staff in the On The Go Gallery and Water Gallery. I didn't think the staff members interacted with the kids in the old location, so this was a pleasant surprise.
As soon as we left the Bellevue Mercantile, we headed straight back to the epic train table where he played for another 20 minutes or so. I finally pulled my son away from the train table and we headed back downstairs to find the Water Gallery area.
The Water Gallery is on the other side of the front desk and has tons of smocks for children. The area felt smaller to me, but I think it's because it was divided into separate areas. There was a quieter area tucked away that had a mirror, a squeegee and a spray bottle. Yes, it's an activity that teaches your kids how fun it is to clean windows. My son LOVED this area and did this for about 20 minutes.
It was nice to see an old favorite featuring PVC pipes and it was even better than my son could reach everything easily. What made this new was the bucket of water that dumped out once it was full. My son stopped to watch it several times. He only played here for a few minutes, but I think it's because it wasn't totally new. I'm sure he'll spend more time here when the newness of the other exhibits wears off.
When we finally made our way back down to the On The Go Gallery, things had calmed down a bit. There was an area for throwing paper airplanes (mainly used by adults who wanted something to do or a place to sit.) There was also a place set aside for matchbox cars. But, the main attractions were the new Semi Truck Cab (which has a CB radio, a horn and many fun buttons and knobs) and the package loading area. They have about 50 medium sized cardboard boxes for kids to cart around in mail carts, put through an x-ray scanner that shows the content, and then send up on a conveyor belt that drops the packages in 2 different locations. This area had the most energy as children quickly stacked packages on the conveyor belt and raced to pick up dropped packages. I felt like I was either in Santa's workshop or a secret kids division of the Amazon Distribution Center.
After the kids got tired of moving the boxes in this cycle, the kids decided that the boxes should be loaded in the Semi Truck. My son was on board with that and dutifully helped load nearly all the boxes into the truck, which made it crowded for the kids in the truck cab. I wasn't sure if that was something staff members had expected was going to happen, as I overheard someone commenting that of course kids would then load the packages on a truck for delivery. I then saw staff members unloading the boxes back to the mail room area, so I instructed my son that the truck was at it's destination and it was time to unload the boxes. He was only partly on board with that.
I ended up having to cart him away from the exhibit to grab my diaper bag and head out. We'd been there 4.5 hours and he still wasn't ready to go. We hadn't even seen the outdoor space, explored the Climber longer than 5 minutes, or the Art Gallery area, but we had to leave something for our next visit.
What's New at Kidsquest Museum
Since I was wearing my baby at the museum, one of the staff members came up to me to let me know about their nursing lounge in the Tot Orchard. She reassured me that I was free to nurse anywhere, but that they now have a dedicated lounge available. I checked it out and I was glad they had so many options for toddlers who want to stay near Mom if she's nursing. I liked that it was in the gated off toddler area so kids are also welcome to explore around in a safe environment. I ended up nursing my son in the Bellevue Mercantile simply because that's where my oldest was when my baby was hungry.
My Thoughts on the New KidsQuest Museum
I'm a mom to a 3-year-old and a baby. We believe in traveling as a family as soon as possible and sharing our tips and tricks with other families!