We were invited last week to tour and play at Exploration Station in Ponca City, in exchange for pizza and sharing about our adventures on the blog. We thought that sounded like a great trade! Our family was glad to volunteer for the very difficult job at playing in a brand new children’s museum!
Here’s a quote from their website:
We take a whole-child approach to children’s education and have a hands on philosophy. We believe in allowing kids to actively play with their environments leading them to learn how things work! Kids should have fun while learning new things. Educational play in a safe and fun environment is our goal!
To clarify, our children were dressed up fancy for pictures. Obviously play clothes would be better, and that’s what we will wear next time – because we are definitely going back! But we had just finished recording our audiobook and needed a long drive to listen for final edits, so we decided to make a whole day of it: traveling to the temple, and taking pictures, and driving up to Ponca City to test out this new play place. That’s why they were so spiffed up, just for the context of our day, not because it’s a requirement for Exploration Station.
In fact, there is only one rule at Exploration Station: PLAY.
It’s amazing! Noise is okay, and messes are acceptable. The whole building is free play, where fantasy and imagination and hands on experiences are all encouraged. It was so great for our children!
For those who don’t know, and to explain why we think we are so great at reviewing a place like this, is because of the variety of issues and ages our family has… We have six children adopted from foster care: two eight year olds, one of whom is Deaf, and one of whom is Autistic; one seven year old, who has cerebral palsy; one four year old with fetal alcohol syndrome, and another with reactive attachment, plus a one year old who is on a feeding tube and often has oxygen on top of that. They all have trauma issues, developmental issues, and stimulation issues. That’s who we are, and you can read more of our story in the book, Keeping Kyrie. We were thrilled to be the opening test run for Exploration Station!
Because this is who we are, there are a lot of special challenges we have. Play places need to have accessibility issues for each of them: activities my girls can enjoy without hearing, activities my son can participate in without using his left side (or better yet, activities that are possible for him but still challenge him to use his left side more), and sensory activities that stimulate my other boys without overwhelming them. They all need ways or places to calm back down, and boundaries enough they can play both safely and without being destructive (to themselves or others or property).
Besides all that, they have some pretty basic anxieties about getting very basic needs met, like bathrooms and food and water fountains. Anber and Barrett were very glad to see these from the start!
The biggest area at Exploration Station is a giant room about the size of a gym, but it is set up like a little town! There are roads painted on the floor, a courtyard to play in, and then tiny child-sized buildings with real store fronts and offices themed like actual places in a real town. Murals in each one add depth to the little rooms, and it really allowed their imaginations to soar!
There was a little bakery cafe shop:
And a post office:
City Hall, A Grocery Store, a Dentist Office, a Doctor Office, and a Nursery! Plus a barn! And a sound booth!
My children have a little kitchen with tons of kitchen toys, and it’s one of their favorite things to play. They could have spent hours in this little shop, and I think it was their favorite.
Naturally, Kyrie found the nursery right away! She sniffed out those baby dolls like a hound dog on the chase! It was so funny!
She also spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office, which I thought was so interesting since she has spent more than half her life in hospitals. I think she felt some empowerment, being the one in charge there, and we talked a lot about what everything was and why it’s there and how it works. The measuring stick is real, and the scale really works, and the kids loved the skeleton and matching their bones to the names! It was like science heaven in that room! I wish we had known about this place when we were homeschooling from the hospital last winter, but I am sure glad to know about it now!
Anber and Mary played the most in the dental office, which included a real dentist chair and light for playing!
The other favorite was the grocery store, which includes a conveyor belt, a produce section, and scales to weigh things. They played here a lot, and loved going back and forth between the grocery store and the bakery for ingredients!
Barrett and Alex loved the barn. They could drive into and park things, or hide and jump out and scare people! There is also a ball toss kind of game next to it, where after you get the balls in the hole, they role into the barn. The boys thought that was hilarious!
Even Kyrie loved the sound booth! I think they recognized the equipment from some of Papa’s theater shows. I loved seeing them play theater and dance and all kinds of things even in this space!
There is a good place to stop for a picnic lunch and eat, and adjoining rooms that can be rented for private parties or gatherings. You can rent just the party room, or the whole building for your event. Kyrie just picked all the pineapple off her pizza, but at least she ate something!
I think they would have played in the big room forever if I had let them! But there was more to see. Most kids just run in and run around and discover it on their own, but we were pretty structured in how we toured the place, because I wanted to be sure and see everything and how they interacted and where they got overstimulated. Next time we go, we will be able to just let them loose.
While Kyrie was not impressed with the noodle room we walked through, the sensory impact of it was very good for Alex and Barrett!
She did love this spot, though, and kept crawling behind it to hug the lights and just lay there. I think she could have napped there if she weren’t so excited about everything!
This was a life-sized Light Bright, where they could make any designs they wanted just like the one at home!
The next room was full of tables and areas of different kinds of blocks!
Mary moved the pipes around the wall to make a path for her ball to get through the maze all the way to the other end.
There was also a whole train room! I was glad they played in here so long, as we have some trains, and someone gave us more that we have saved to add to the collection this Christmas. I was glad it was a hit, even with Kyrie!
The other favorite room, where all the kids went nuts, was the music room. It’s a large room full of musical instruments, sound making things, and even a karaoke machine. They loved it! It was too much for Mama to hang out in, especially since the kids were even in charge of volume levels, but they had fun!
To balance things out, there is a little toddler room, with all kinds of activities for the smaller children like Kyrie. She could have played in here all day, too!
She was mad at me in this picture because I said it was time to go!
This was in the toddler room, but it was excellent occupational therapy for my eight year olds, too. It was a wall of hinges and latches and locks and keys you had to match!
My personal favorite part was this quiet room, where I took Alex twice and Kyrie slept for a little while. It’s a little library room, away from the noise of the other rooms. The big chairs were so comfy!
There was also an art room, which we did not invade because of stimulation levels and time of day, but it looked pretty amazing and we will definitely try it out next time.
You can purchase individual day passes, or yearly family passes. They have several party room options, including a very large room, a princess room that includes thrones, a hero room that includes a Star Wars mural, and a large party room with a chalk board wall. It’s so fun! CLICK HERE to see room rental options.
It took us less than an hour and a half to get there from where we live in Tulsa, and it was super easy to find using their address in our GPS. It’s also right around the corner from Braum’s, so that was an easy treat afterward! The kids wanted to be sure I pointed that out as a perk!
They officially opened this week, with more additions coming soon, so go try them out! It was the perfect holiday outing for us, and an easy Saturday trip we will be taking again. The children loved having a large space to run and play creatively, and it was so good for them. This is an excellent experience for any child, whether they are ready to be let loose to explore entirely on their own, or whether they need a little more structure going room by room.