Educational experiences that make the past meaningful and today fun
A trip to the museum can take you anywhere: to the past, to a far-off country, even into the world of your imagination. These five Oklahoma museums are not to be missed when embarking on an educational adventure.
First Americans Museum
Location: 659 First Americans Blvd.,
Oklahoma City, OK 73129
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon. and Wed.-Fri.; 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun.
Tips: Complementary guided walk-in tours are offered most afternoons as well as public events throughout the year. Check the museum’s online events calendar for the latest details.
Setting in purposeful alignment with the sun on land reclaimed from oil drilling in the heart of Oklahoma City, the First Americans Museum was designed in every way to honor the past, present and future of the 39 Tribal Nations in Oklahoma today. Hundreds of community cultural leaders from across the tribes came together to guide the museum narrative. The museum is intended to welcome and invite all people to learn from the collective experiences of First Americans as shared in their own voices, says Leslie Halfmoon, a Caddo Nation member, CKenergy Electric Cooperative consumer-member and curatorial specialist and media coordinator for the museum.
Visit the Wall of Remembrance, which honors the First Americans who died on the journey from their ancestral lands to what is now Oklahoma and celebrates survivors; watch an educational film in the Five Moons Theater; shop for Native art made in Oklahoma; and eat a modern indigenous lunch at the Thirty Nine restaurant, open to guests without admittance to the museum. A single ticket will get you into both the OKLA Homma exhibit, where First Americans share stories passed down from pre-colonial contact to the present day, and the Winiko: Life of an Object exhibit, which examines how First American values shine through the items they make and use. The items in the Winiko exhibit include selections from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian that originally belonged to First Americans in Oklahoma.
In the OKLA Homma exhibit, step inside a clay vessel designed like a Caddo pot to find a 320-degree theater and hear the Pawnee, Euchee, Caddo and Otoe-Missouria each tell their origin story. Then sit around a campfire in one of three immersive audio experiences and listen to a Cheyenne man’s wisdom on the buffalo and a Pawnee woman’s connection to plants. Hop in the PowWow van to visit PowWows across the state and play the handgame of stickball in two interactive screen-based exhibits. Also learn about what people experienced during periods of conflict and assimilation and celebrate those who served in the military and became heroes in athleticism and the arts.
The museum focuses on the collective stories of the 39 Tribal Nations and their journey from past to present. If you are interested in a specific tribe, guides are available to highlight elements from individual tribes.
Leonardo’s Children’s Museum
Location: 200 E. Maple Ave., Enid, OK 73701
Open: 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Tues.-Sun.
Tips: Second Tuesdays of the month from 4-6 p.m. are designated as “Sensory Sensitivity Playtime,” when sounds are turned down on the exhibits and children with sensory sensitivities are admitted free.
Imagination and education go together at Leonardo’s Children’s Museum in downtown Enid. Started by astronaut Owen Garriott and artist Helen Walker Garriott in the 1990s, the museum offers more than 100 hands-on interactive exhibits and activities that inspire children of all ages to learn about their rural community and beyond. Nearly every inch of the museum offers opportunities for educational moments with children, says Tracy Bittle, executive director of the museum. Staff are trained to engage families in activities then step out so they can make their own memories.
Admission to the museum includes two experiences: the indoor exhibits and the outdoor Adventure Quest, which is the world’s largest community-built outdoor playground. Adventure Quest features a three-story castle, slides, mazes, bridges, gardens, sand play areas and a water table. Be sure to search for the hidden treasure chest and consider bringing a change of clothes for those playing in the water.
Inside, a $6.3 million community-supported renovation completed in 2017 empowers children to interact with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). They climb the two-story Energy Power Tower and “extract” natural gas and oil and “generate” hydroelectricity represented by balls of various colors. In the Critter Clubhouse, visitors meet and learn about more than 50 small mammals and reptiles, like Saphira the bearded dragon, while kids of all ages can build new creations in the Tinkering Workshop. Upstairs, guests become surgeons on a life-size Operation table or fuel up a jet plane and fly over grain bins and Vance Air Force Base. The museum also includes a sensory-rich section for babies and toddlers where parents can rest.
Forgotten Wheels Museum
Location: 1775 US-77, Davis, OK 73030
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sat.
Website: Search “Forgotten Wheels Museum” on Facebook
Tips: Exchange memories with the Webbs.
Step into the Forgotten Wheels Museum off Highway 77 in Davis for a trip down memory lane or a first-time look at antique cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles or, as owners Tom and Sandra Webb put it, “anything with wheels.” The museum started in 2013 with about eight Harley-Davidson Hummers, Sandra’s 1954 Ford and the 1956 Chevy pickup that Tom’s grandfather bought new. Today, that Chevy is the newest vehicle in their collection of 25. The museum also features at least one of each of the 29 models of Harley-Davidson Hummers produced from 1948 to 1966. The museum’s oldest vehicle with a motor is a 1912 International Harvester Auto Wagon, but the oldest item on display goes as far back as possibly the 1700s—a French country wagon.
The museum also holds a family favorite, the Flintstones’ foot-powered car, ready for all generations to climb in for a photo.
Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art
Location: 1900 West MacArthur Street,
Shawnee, OK 74804
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tues.-Sat. and 1-4 p.m., Sun.
Tips: Active duty military families receive free entry between Armed Forces Day and Labor Day, as do those with SNAP benefits through Blue Star Museums and the Museums for All programs, respectively. Families may also enter free on Saturday, Nov. 5, as part of Free Mummy Day, which will feature free ancient Egyptian inspired activities and experts.
Nestled in a corner of Oklahoma Baptist University’s Green Campus is a museum started by an early 20th century Benedictine monk and artist. Father Gregory Gerrer was an artist who had traveled the world and wanted to bring back some of its beauty to fellow rural Oklahomans. He started the museum in 1919 and today it represents more than 8,000 years of art and culture.
Among the museum’s most notable collections are its ancient Egyptian artifacts. One of three mummies in the exhibit, Tutu, has been used as the standard in research. Thousands of mummies across the world—including those in Egypt and Europe—have been compared to Tutu because she was one of the first to undergo advanced scanning thanks to collaboration between the museum and SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Shawnee.
The museum also has some of the only medieval art on display in Oklahoma, a Renaissance collection, Spanish colonial art, pre-Columbian pottery, African spirit masks, Native American artifacts, contemporary art and five to six special exhibits per year.
Amber DuBoise-Shepherd, manager of education and outreach and a Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative member, says the art serves as a starting point for age-appropriate lessons ranging from connecting with color to geography and critical thinking. In the past 10 years, the museum has engaged more than 150,000 preschool through 12th grade students through educational tours and classes.
Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry
Location: 416 East Main Street,
Locust Grove, OK 74352
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs.-Sat.
Tips: Ask about “Poems in a Minute” to receive a personalized poem. The Dark and Scary poetry contest deadline is Oct. 20, 2022.
Shaun Perkins began the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry with a dream. As a teacher, the Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member had seen that children are natural poets. They love riddles and rhymes. Too often, though, that enjoyment dies when they are required to analyze poetry in high school. Perkins worked hard to give her students positive experiences with poetry and wanted to extend her passion to other rural Oklahomans. Always a fan of small, quirky museums, she decided to create her own.
She started in 2012 in her father’s tin machine shed two miles outside of Locust Grove. In late 2020, work began to move the museum to its third and current location, in town.
The museum is for everyone, especially those who do not consider themselves poets. The only permanent exhibit celebrates the ordinary person writing poetry: a collection of autograph books from the 1880s to 1960s, which represent a past tradition of exchanging fun poetry among friends.
The museum walls are covered with poems visitors have left after being inspired by activity-based prompts. The main exhibit, which changes each year, is currently wildflower themed. It features seven activities in one room. Some of the poems are selected to be featured on the museum’s podcast, “Wacky Poem Life.”