Editor’s note: We asked this family to visit a kids’ museum during COVID, and here’s how it went (published April 1, 2021):
I’ll admit it: I’m not the parent who’s good at crafting epic sensory bins or setting up elaborate play stations at home. Pre-pandemic, we were regulars at local museums. My kids thrived in new places to explore, and I could enjoy engaging with them instead of trying to clean behind them.
KidsQuest Children’s Museum, located in downtown Bellevue, recently reopened to the public at 25% capacity. I knew my toddler son would adore all the different play spaces, but felt apprehensive about such a hands-on space. However, after careful reading of their lengthy health precautions, I booked a two-hour play session and reasoned that we could always head to a local park or botanical garden if it seemed overwhelming.
Kids’ museum during COVID: one-way ticket to fun
Our session happened to take place on a rainy morning, but the outside waiting area is covered so families can shelter while waiting for temperature checks. After washing hands and checking in, we followed the one-way path up the stairs first.
The train area — normally my son’s top priority — already had a couple of kids playing on it, so we visited the nearby Story Tree. It was completely empty! We never got around to reading books because stomping around on the open grate was too much fun.
On our descent, a nearby staffer confirmed that the Story Tree and Art Gallery are often less busy, which is a helpful tip for families waiting out the crowds in other spaces. While the museum felt busier than a morning playground visit, none of the exhibits stayed full for long and parents seemed to manage short toddler attention spans to make sure every kid got a turn.
Another perk of attending a museum versus a playground: Staff regularly circulated to make sure everyone wore their masks properly (no adult noses poking out here!) and sanitation stations were spaced regularly throughout the space.
Kids’ museum: simultaneous learning and play
As expected, my son concentrated a lot of time on free play with the train sets and mirrored building table. Tunnels and bridges provided natural separation between kids — social distancing win!
We moved on to the barnyard area where he gathered eggs and sorted them according to size. I never would have thought of doing a similar math skills-building activity at home, but it led to a natural conversation about counting and big versus small sizes.
After hopping down the other one-way stairs, we headed to the popular water play area. This was the busiest space in the museum, but the outside patio doors remained open to provide additional ventilation.
Donning a waterproof smock, my son experimented with cause and effect by dropping toys down a spinning vortex of water. Next, he enjoyed sticking his hands in a fountain and covering the spout with cups to change the flow rate. At home, I’m always reminding him to turn off the sink or not to splash too hard in the bathtub, so it was nice to let go and let my water baby be in his element.
Kids’ museum: distanced cooperative play
Another popular feature of the museum is the life-size semi-truck cab in the On the Go exhibit, which features tons of buttons to push and switches to flip. Since the space is small, only one family at a time is allowed in.
Luckily, kids can play with the conveyor belt system while waiting their turns. The setup provided a unique opportunity for cooperation and playing with simple machines — one kid could load brown boxes while others turned the cranks to operate the conveyor belts. Once bins filled up with packages, another kid could wheel them to the beginning of the loop. No one had to touch anyone else, or even get particularly close, but they worked together in a way that’s hard to foster right now.
Just as my son started to tire from all the excitement (and get hungry), our two hours came to a close. Filing out hand in hand, we headed out for a picnic lunch at nearby Kelsey Creek Farm.
Tips for visiting a kids’ museum during COVID:
I chatted with a museum staffer during our visit about how reopening has gone. Based on her info and our experience, here are some tips to help you enjoy a play session:
- Book a two-hour time slot in advance on the museum’s website ($10 for adults and children over 1; $3 for qualifying Museums for All attendees). Play sessions begin at 9:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 3 p.m., with 45 minutes between time slots to allow for cleaning.
- Review the museum’s safety guidelines ahead of time. The most important, of course, is that anyone over the age of three needs to wear an approved mask over their mouth and nose.
- Eat before or after your visit since no food or drinks are permitted inside.
- Model sharing for children by limiting stays at popular stations so everyone can have a turn. The Story Tree and Art Gallery are less crowded spots when you need a break. Visit on a sunny day for even fewer crowds.
- The staffer I spoke to said that even at 25% capacity, most weekday sessions haven’t sold out yet as people get used to changing reopening phases. Call to check on walk-in availability if you forget to sign up in advance.