By Kelly Gunzenhauser

* Note that this blog was written in 2012 and the museum is sure to have many updates since then!

For my son’s birthday, we took our second trip to Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. On our last trip, my kids got stuck in one part of the museum (more on that later) so this day was to be a bit of a surprise. And, please know I am not going to do this place justice. There is so much to see and I was limited to what my two boys, ages five and seven, wanted to do. Please explore the website for a more definitive list of exhibits.

As you walk in on the first floor, there are all kinds of games, like giant chess and checker sets and also a large tiered seating area for hanging out and people watching. The rest of the first floor houses all kinds of environments that younger children will love: a fire truck, a house, a farm, a giant tree, a vet’s office, a train, an ambulance, and more. There are dress-up items, art materials, and building materials. If you have a little one that is “into” any of these specific things, be prepared to wait it out for a while!

At the very end of this area are a big fish tank, an under-the-sea room with stuffed sea creatures (and a cool disco ball), a water play area, and a science-area/submarine that my kids really enjoyed this time. (We got lots of pictures of the boys in lab coats and talked about how great they would look in them as adults.) Behind the submarine is a giant wooden pirate ship. I would gladly sacrifice every inch of my back yard for that pirate ship. It’s where my kids got stuck last time—for two solid hours. And by stuck, I mean they refused to leave it because they were having so much fun. It has a crow’s nest, a ship’s wheel, dress-up stuff, below- and on-deck areas, sails, an anchor you can raise and lower, and a giant octopus painted on the wall. Outside behind the ship, there is a lovely garden with paths to explore, and a sand play area. (I snuck out there for a look because I was tired of looking at the side of the boat.)

We finally dragged the pirates upstairs, and I am so glad we did. I will focus on what my two boys loved most. In the sports area there is a basketball tree. It’s a structure with hoops at several heights scattered around it so even little kids can dunk. It’s surrounded by a big net enclosure so that the balls mostly stay inside. I think my kids were in there for about 45 minutes. Next to it, there were very low-set gymnast rings over a thick mat, with a constant line of little girls waiting to try them out. Around back, there was a big soccer “field” and my favorite, a hockey “rink.” In the rink, kids take off their socks and slide around on a slick, white surface while batting rubber pucks into the goal. The best part about this area was that even though it was cold and rainy and we were stuck inside, both kids worked up a sweat. A museum that works both the body and the mind is a brilliant idea. The area was well-supplied and well-planned so that even at its most crowded, competition for space and toys was not too fierce. (This also had to do with parents who were actually paying attention to what their kids were doing instead of texting the whole time.)

Also on this floor was the “Moneypalooza” room. The main attraction was a huge piggy bank dangling from the ceiling. Kids raced around gathering “money” (green, plastic balls). They dumped the balls into various stations and climbed stairs to send the money back into the piggy bank. Periodically, the bank would open up and dump all their “savings” out onto the floor, and the whole crazy process would start over again.

My five-year-old birthday boy was too tired to keep doing this for too long, so I took him to the attached IMax theater to see The Hunger Games. (Not really, just seeing if you are paying attention.) It’ s playing there, but I took him to see a 45-minute nature documentary called Under the Sea 3-D, narrated by Jim Carrey. It was very enjoyable,  but of course, what ocean documentary is complete without a little bit of cuttlefish mating? This always happens to me. Perfectly innocent little nature show, and then, hey, let’s throw a little sex ed in there. My son didn’t ask me about it, but I am glad my older kid, Mr. Questions, decided to stay in the money room and not come with us. I can hear it now: “Mom, why are those two cuttlefish DOING that? Is he feeding her?” The IMax does cost extra, but they show a few different kid-oriented shows each day, it looks like.

I would highly recommend this as a day trip. My kids are already asking to go back!! Have you been? Tell us about it!