On Saturday January 17, 2013 and Sunday, January 18, 2013 the MassMutual Center in Springfield will continue its exhibit Discover the Dinosaurs. In order to see if this exhibit would be any fun for a non-ambulatory child (NAC) I returned to the dinosaur obsessed eight-year-old I once was, at least for the afternoon.
While there were quite a few attractions included in the price of admission, many of them were not accessible and I thought the exhibitor’s goal was to, mainly, force parents of each child into buying tickets or wristbands which would allow the children to participate in the more interesting activities such as gem and fossil panning, riding a plastic triceratops or playing in one of inflatable dinosaurs, among other things.
The first big access mistake I noticed was that while there was a free “dino dig” attraction only ambulatory children would be able to reach in and participate. If you wanted your NAC to have a similar experience you needed to pay between $6 and $12 to buy a bag of sand to put through a wooden sifter and discover what gems or treasures their bag contained. Of course, one might argue that the NAC makes out better than his or her nondisabled friends because they get to keep whatever they find. However, from what I remember of digging in dirt with my friends, it was the mutual act of digging and sharing joy at what others found that made digging so enjoyable. At this exhibit the NAC in question misses that entire experience In exchange for a bag of rocks he or she is not likely to keep track of for longer than a week.
Indeed, my younger self would have only found coloring dinosaur pictures, touching plastic replica of a tyrannosaurus rex head, or going on the scavenger hunt enjoyable. They had a movie theater there, but instead of playing kid friendly documentaries about dinosaurs (which I know exist) played the Disney animated feature Dinosaur over and over. Mind you, I like that movie, but you can rent it at that Redbox for a dollar. I would've also enjoyed pushing the buttons that made certain dinosaurs move certain body parts. The controls for this were easily accessible to anyone who wanted to use them.
As far as pay-as-you-go activities, I would've loved riding the triceratops (as long as someone strong was around to carry me up the numerous stairs that were the only entrance to the ride platform). This cost an additional $6. I would've also liked having my face painted, but that was an additional $6 to $12. I'm sure I would have enjoyed playing nine holes of dinosaur themed minigolf. With my motor skills that might have somehow taken up several hours wherein I wouldn't have noticed all the things I couldn't play in or with, but somehow I doubt it. Not one inflatable had a so step entrance. I don't know if wheelchair friendly inflatable toys exist, but it's a niche market.
In closing, I would like to advise you to skip this exhibit. Take your future paleontologist to the Springfield Museum's dinosaur exhibit instead. It will be cheaper. Your NAC will have a better time and you won't need to be the parent whose managing a tantruming child who has suddenly discovered, yet again, that the world of fun does account for those who can't walk.