February 14, 2014

Kids can relive the ‘Wizard of Oz’ adventure in a Fort Worth museum

Follow the yellow brick road to the educational exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

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Follow the red brick road — aka Gendy Street — to the new “Wizard of Oz” children’s exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Through May 11, visitors can follow Dorothy through the iconic film scenes in an interactive exhibit that is both educational and fun. Activities focus on personal values and overcoming challenges, as well as science and literacy. Adults will appreciate the nostalgia of the movie, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

We previewed the exhibit, on loan from the Miami Children’s Museum, and found it to have just the right combination of elements to introduce a new generation to a film that we loved as children, sans the scary parts. Seating is strategically placed throughout the exhibit, giving parents enough resting spots while they watch their children explore each area.

Wall panels along the way recall story elements and emphasize the important lessons the characters learn in Dorothy’s journey of self-discovery. Meanwhile, familiar music plays over speakers in each of the three areas: the Farm, Munchkin Land and the Emerald City.

Enter the exhibit under a movie theater marquee and let the adventure begin.

The Farm

We start in Kansas, on the farm, of course, where everything has a sepia tone and Somewhere Over the Rainbow plays in the background. Kids harvest play vegetables — corn, bell peppers and tomatoes sprouting from a wall — in baskets. Potatoes are hidden in the ground, and kids can feel the textured panels and guess at the farm animal shapes. The reward comes when they lift the flaps to view the correct answers.

Professor Marvel’s Illusions wagon has three activities to spin and create optical illusions. A vase looks like it has two faces, a spinning bird appears inside the cage on the back of its panel, and a spiraled circle appears to be going in two directions. Nearby, a tornado machine spins gusts of air and teaches kids the causes of this natural phenomenon. Entering Dorothy’s house through the front door is a treat; the uneven floor gives kids the sensation of having been in a tornado and when they turn the wheels on the wall, an image of the house spins in the window.

Munchkin Land

As you step out of the house on the other side, Munchkin Land offers a bright and colorful scene that is much different from the farm. Kids can mix and match outfits on magnetic munchkin figures in the munchkin closet or play familiar nursery songs on a pipe instrument. Each of the miniature houses provides more fun, with hands-on activities like foam blocks, silly mirrors, telephone speakers and matching games.

Other attractions: rearranging the pieces of Glinda’s crown to create a pattern and match the jewels, or traveling to the center of Munchkin Land (along a spiraling yellow brick road) where a stack of giant plush blocks encourages creative construction. By stacking the numbered blocks in order, kids create a rainbow.

While Follow the Yellow Brick Road plays, kids finally reach Munchkin Land’s exit and weave their way through the smiling trees to meet Dorothy’s dearest Oz companions. First, there’s the Tin Man, who lets you spin his gears quickly, using a crank, in order to watch his heart light up. Next, there’s Scarecrow and his selection of brain-teaser games and puzzles. Kids can also rearrange felt features on one of two life-sized scarecrows’ faces. Finally, the Cowardly Lion allows his unruly mane to be brushed. After that, it’s time to summon your courage and crawl through a dark tunnel.

The Emerald City

Arriving in the Emerald City reveals a variety of hands-on light and mirror activities that explore the science of light and colors. Waving a magic wand in a prism experiment creates an optical illusion that shows an image of the wizard himself. Around the corner, the discoveries continue, although it’s “a horse of a different color.” (Literally. Kids move knobs for each of primary colors that shine on a white horse, changing its hue.) A guide shows how many colors can be created and explains how light creates these changes.

Next, it’s time to climb onto a bicycle and pedal fast enough to spin a zoetrope and make a small image of the wicked witch fly around on her broomstick. Looking through the oversized viewing scope gives kids the witch’s view of the room. Finally, they get to meet the Great and Powerful Oz himself and push a few buttons on his console, creating lights, sounds and special effects.

The Wizard of Oz may not really be magical, but he does have wisdom to share with Dorothy and her new friends. The “Meet the Movie” display revisits some of this, showing scenes from the film and highlighting the important elements of the story. When you’re wishing for home, a replica of the ruby red slippers that Judy Garland made so famous in the movie gives you the chance: Click your heels three times and you’ll find you’ve circled back to the farm, where the whole adventure began.

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