I've often thought that toy shops should charge people to come in, since kids always end up playing with any toys they can get their hands on, despite their parents not always buying anything.
Well that's pretty much just what the bright sparks at Imaginosity Children's Museum in Dublin have done. They've gathered together big versions of children's favourite playthings, then charge folks to come and play.
The museum is in Sandyford near Dundrum (ideal for post-play shopping) and advertises itself as being suitable for children up to the age of 9. Most of the children we saw there looked to be under six. However I could see older children having fun too, if there were others there the same age. Visitors are admitted in two-hour slots and booking is advised.
The Museum is laid out on three floors. As we walked into the first floor Boy spotted a life size car with its doors opened invitingly. It took some serious persuasion to convince him that there was more worth seeing as he was delighted with sitting in the driver's seat and blowing the horn. Eventually we moved onto the interactive model railway village where Boy was once again in seventh heaven. There was a small soft area for Girl with a few simple toys and a play kitchen. She was quite content to be propped up against the oven, opening and shutting the cupboard doors while a friendly little boy served us a plastic slice of cake over and over again.
Also on this floor was a pretend play cafe, post office, and supermarket complete with shopping trolleys and grocery lists. This was a little too much like real life for my liking, but luckily for me Boy felt the same and did not linger too long. We dipped briefly into the library before heading up to the second floor.
The baby area on floor two was much sparser but this seemed to suit Girl quite well. She admired the (somewhat grubby) fish tank then, finally, managed to crawl forwards for the first time since she started moving herself two months ago - up until now it has been backwards or nothing. So I was very excited to see her actually crawling towards what she wanted today instead of away from it as usual (and I didn't miss the mandatory screech of frustration as the intended target moved further away instead of closer in spite of her efforts). I thought she was trying to reach a coloured bubble tube on the other side of the soft area. In fact she was trying to reach herself in a mirror along the far wall. She spent a good half hour then, playing with her own reflection, little Narcissa.
Meanwhile Boy was having a whale of a time in the 'construction zone', busily posting foam bricks down a slide, while two older children collected them and sent them back up on a pulley. He would take a break every so often to switch the lights on and off in a magnificent dolls house stretched all the way across one wall. There were signs everywhere encouraging people to help their children tidy up after themselves, and people did seem to make an effort to leave toys in the section they found them. There were plenty of staff around too and they all seemed friendly.
There were a few corners that we didn't explore, including a drama area where children can dress up and film themselves giving a news report, but I did spy B having a shot at hammering some tuned plastic pipes when he thought no one was looking. We decided to give the Hip Hop dance workshop a miss.
The top floor is home to an outdoor garden of toys, but this was closed during our visit. Another fine feature of which we couldn't take advantage was the 'Beanstalk', a huge winding tower which spanned all three floors, but which was labelled for ages three and up. Boy wanted to climb in but I couldn't see me squeezing into a child-sized hole to rescue him if he got stuck two floors up so we played at climbing the stairs instead. Thank goodness that's still fun when you're only a toddler.
Overall a great afternoon's entertainment, and we will definitely be returning in 6-12 months, once Girl is on her feet and can get a bit more out of it. The cost for the four of us was 24 euro which I found reasonable for what was on offer. A year's membership for a family of four would be 255 euro. I didn't find that quite so reasonable, but I guess if you are living close by and intend to visit very often it might be worth it.
In the end we didn't stay much longer than half of our allotted two hour slot - Boy was over excited and his teeth were beginning to show, though he was in a great mood, while Girl told us in her own special way that she was ready to leave. It's like she has a special radar for knowing when we don't have any nappies to hand.