MoMA’s Material Lab: A Kid-Friendly Oasis in the Heart of Midtown

Guest post by Monica Storch

Although New York City is a mecca of cultural institutions sure to enrich and entertain any city tot, I’m often reticent to bring my 3 1/2 year-old daughter Sadie to a museum because I fear she will (1) be bored and/or (2) destroy priceless works of art. I was particularly hesitant to take her to MoMA, with its large-scale exhibitions and brightly-colored modern art that would surely attract her attention and grabby hands. I needn’t have feared, as MoMA has clearly anticipated this and addressed it with the addition of their absolutely spectacular Material Lab, a family-friendly environment where kids can explore, create and, most importantly, touch everything!

Located in a separate area of the Museum (i.e., completely set off from the breakable items), the Material Lab features a variety of engaging interactive activities designed to allow kids to explore the ways in which materials are used in art. The showpiece of the Lab is a brightly-colored wall featuring a series of “Discovery Boxes,” each of which contains samples of a touchable material such as wood, paper, metal, cardboard, or velvet. Kids can open doors on the wall and remove a Discovery Box to explore on the floor. During our visit, Sadie and her friend Misha had a blast opening the doors and pulling out each container, then going through each and every piece of material in the box and trying to figure out what it was. Surprisingly, they were also very good about putting each box away when they were done with it (hmm, maybe I need a Material Lab at home)!

Along with the Discovery Boxes, the Lab also features a series of activities through which kids can continue their engagement with materials in art. On the day of our visit, the craft table had been set up with all the materials necessary for kids to create their own miniature cardboard chair using string, colored tape, sticks, and paper. Sadie’s “chair” ultimately morphed into some sort of colored tape bouquet, which was actually pretty impressive. Sadie’s favorite aspect of the Lab was an innovative digital painting program from Microsoft that lets kids experiment with painting techniques on a computer monitor using a paintbrush. The program simulates the experience of traditional painting in a way I can’t even begin to describe – it was truly remarkable. Sadie was completely engrossed in the painting process, and I was thrilled that there was no mess to clean up when she was done! Microsoft’s Digital Art program isn’t yet available to consumers, but you can be sure I’m going to be one of the first to purchase it when it is!

The activities in the Material Lab captured Sadie’s attention in a way I hadn’t previously seen. She was truly focused and intent on each project, and likely would have stayed in there all day had I let her. But there was gelato to be had, so we headed outside to MoMA’s lovely sculpture garden to pick up a decadent Il Laboratorio del Gelato ice cream sandwich and a cappuccino from the outdoor coffee stand. Sadie and Misha had a blast running around the garden pretending they were pirates, while Misha’s mom and I sat back and enjoyed the beautiful pre-hurricane weather. It really was a perfect visit to a genuine New York City treasure, and one I am hoping to repeat in the very near future.

Quick tip – Prior to our visit, Misha and his mother were kind enough to introduce us to Radiance Tea House & Books, located just around the corner from MoMA on 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Radiance is one of those true hidden gems which you might walk by a hundred times and have no idea of the beauty that lies within. Part bookstore, part tea house, Radiance was the perfect setting for our pre-museum lunch. Sadie and Misha loved exploring the selection of Chinese children’s books, and I got to enjoy one of the most delicious (and reasonably priced) bento-style box lunches I’ve ever had. My lunch was so delicious that I’ve been plotting a return trip so that I might be able to sample even more of Radiance’s tasty delights.

For more information on MoMA and the Material Lab, visit www.moma.org.

Monica Storch publishes www.nyceast.macaronikid.com, a weekly e-newsletter and website highlighting all the great events going on for kids and families in New York City. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and daughter, and is expecting her second child next Spring.

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