Turn Back Time at MOHAI’s New Toys Exhibit

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Just say “no” to adulting this summer (for a few hours anyway). Hit MOHAI’s new Toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s retrospective with your sidekick to feel young again. With whimsical toys you played with as a child, and plenty your own kid will recognize, it’s a great crossroad hot spot for families. Play on!

Toys hula hoops and garage MOHAIphoto: courtesy Minnesota History Center 

When you think “toys,” you might not think “serious museum subject,” but beyond all the color and whimsy, Toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s is just that: a serious exhibit on a playful subject. And its focus on, and understanding of, the way toys reflect society’s inventions and ideas, is noticeable. It’s the part that, beyond all the gushing, “Ooh, I had one of those!” (trust us, you will say these words) makes the exhibit as appealing to parents as it is to kids. It’s sweet nostalgia laced with reflections on identity. And it will totally put a smile on your face.

MOHAI Toys early play years

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Traveling Through the Decades
Each decade centers around a boldly decorated living room, what you might have seen if you wandered into a neighbor’s house during each time period (psst…. the 60’s room is an actual Barbie Dream House replica!). Toys from the decade are grouped in Plexiglas cases around each set, flanked by tidbits, stories and reflections on the toys themselves and the kids who loved them. In the 50’s families will find a formidable Hopalong Cassidy collection and some of the earliest baby dolls marketed to kids. The 60’s is all about Barbie, G.I. Joe, Cooties, Lightbright and Matchbox cars. It’s also the decade with a killer backyard display that looks like it’s straight out of a movie. The 70’s is where your mini-me’s recognition will go into overdrive. From Sesame Street characters and a vintage Play-Doh Barbershop set your kiddos would gladly play with, to an original Star Wars action figure lineup that might leave you both drooling, it’s the tipping point to modern play time.

60's room TOYs exhibit MOHAI

photo: courtesy Minnesota History Center

For all of the goodies parents will love reminiscing over, there are plenty of places for kidlets to get their play on too. You’ll have to pass through the first living room to find them, but once you hit the sixties your sidekick will spy the bounty. First up is the free play table, packed with games and toys that beg parents to sit down and play alongside their sidekicks. After all, it’s hard to resist the temptation of a vintage Weeble Wobble tree house or Gumby and Pokey bendable figures you haven’t played with in ages. Here, families can also challenge each other to a few short rounds of Simon, Jenga or Hungry, Hungry Hippos before moving on to the next decade.

MOHAI Toys play table

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Two slinky racing stations are set up just beyond the play table, and they even have stairs, perfectly sized for slinkies! Although this seems like a quick stop on your day, once your kidlet gets her hands on these things, plan to stay a while. They’re addictingly awesome to race and prove that “fun for a girl and a boy” wasn’t just an ad slogan. A stack of Hula-hoops hangs nearby. Just in case your kiddo schools you on the slinky races, you can show him or her how it’s done, hula-hoop style!

MOAHI toys girl with slinky

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The Nerf Garage is the next playful pit stop to take with your wiggly worms. Decked out like the cool workshop/garage you always wanted (or were maybe lucky enough to have), it stays in total seventies character. Tricked out with sleds, skateboards and other outdoor games lining the walls, it’s also decorated with vintage metal signage and a super rad Farrah Fawcett poster. Among all this kitsch, your little sluggers will find bucket after bucket of Nerf balls they can toss at each other or at targets mounted in the garage. It’s a total blast!

MOHAI nerf garage

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Take your final play stop at the huge dollhouse in the seventies living room. There’s plenty of room for everyone to play house with chunky, vintage pieces that turn this house into a home. And the best thing about all these play spots? Parents can wander, read signs and share memories while kids stay in view. Easy peasy!

MOAHI Dollhouse playarea

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

More to See
If your sidekick still has energy to burn after wandering through the exhibit, head to the Kid-Struction Zone on the third floor. There, your curious cutie can construct with blocks and interlocking panels, put on a puppet show or even act out a melodrama on the kid-sized stage. It’s a great spot to get the wiggles out before checking out the rest of the museum exhibits. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for Cooties, hiding in plain sight all around the museum. We spotted two in the great hall to get you started.

MOHAI sesame street toys

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Not to Miss Programs
Mark your calendars for some toy-rific family programs inspired by the exhibit! First up is the awesome Academy of Play ($12; $10 for members), directed at parents. Hosted on July 19, Aug. 30 and Sept. 20, from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m., each session covers a different timely toy-centric topic, like The Importance of Play and 21st Century Toymaker. The best part? While parents are at class, their kidlets (ages 7 & up) can attend the Academy of Play: Kids’ Club ($10; $8 for members). Hosted at the same time as parent classes, it’s a chance for tiny tinkerers to make their own toys. Sounds like a new date night fave sans babysitter to us!

MOHAI Toys girl looks at western 50s

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

MOHAI’s Maker Days also come under the influence of Toys this summer. Each one (hosted on July 30 & Aug. 27) will be a chance for families to engage in toy construction. July brings toymaker extraordinaire Rick Hartman to the museum. And August’s workshop is all about pinball wizardry. And it all comes to a close with the Toys Family Day, Saturday, Sept. 10, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It’ll be a chance to wave a sweet farewell to the exhibit while enjoying music, performances, crafts and games.

MOHAI Toys cooties display

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Good to Know

1. Kids (14 & under) are always FREE with an adult admission. And since you can bring as many as five kids per adult, it’s a great spot to hang with your bestie and a minivan full of your kiddo’s friends.

2. MOHAI participates in the Free First Thursdays program. If you’re looking to save some green, this is one good way to do it!

3. Don’t forget about the backpack program in all the toy madness. You can check one out for your sidekick at the front desk (it’s free!) before exploring the rest of the museum.

860 Terry Ave. N.
Seattle, Wa 98109
Online: mohai.org/exhibits/item/2723-toys-of-the-50s-60s-70s

Dates: Through Sept. 25, 2016
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; July-Aug. summer hours, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: $19.95/Adults; Kids (under 14) & Members Free

Do you plan to check out this latest exhibit? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below. 

— Allison Sutcliffe