Recently, I met up with a friend who works at the Zeum, the Children's Museum of San Francisco, in the lovely Yerba Buena Gardens. The Zeum is a "21st century multimedia arts and technology center for children," as the website states. But what it really is is a huge playground for kids to let their creative side out using an awesome array of high- and low- tech hands-on exhibits. The most low-tech is the big pile of Legos in the lobby, which I saw several kids and adults playing with as I entered. The most high-tech I saw is an advanced digital image production suite of tools on a roomful of iMacs.
The museum is in a lovely setting, with a merry-go-round out front, a wideopen plaza leading up to the spacious, sunlight-filled entranceway. All around you is artwork created by children visiting the museum, from drawings to sculpture and digital artwork.
Beyond the entrance is an area devoted to video creation. One kid was jumping around a set of slides, ladders, and swings that were all painted green. On the video screen facing the playground was a wild jungle scene that he had chosen to superimpose on the green screen. Another group of kids were grouped around a computer writing a script that was going to be performed by other kids in the mock television studio. Another room was full of kids making music videos with fake instruments, mics, and a karaoke-like teleprompter.
The coolest exhibit was the claymation animation studio. About 40 kids and adults were busy making clay figures using pre-set wireforms and various colored clay. After they were done creating their dogs, penguins, robots or monsters, they were off to the animation area, where they could place their creatures in various scenes. The camera shot single frames, and then the kids moved their figures by very tiny increments, and then another shot was taken. A 15-second video looks like it must take about an hour total to create. But everyone seemed totally rapt in what they were doing.
I was very impressed with how interactive, free-form, but also facilitated all of the activities were. Kids weren't just running around and pushing random buttons, they were exploring different media and technologies with helpful adults nearby. It's the kind of place I wish I had access to when I was a kid.
I am dying to go back to make some claymation animation! I just need to find a kid to take with me, so I don't look too creepy. Definitely worth a visit if you have children ages 3-11.