A new museum opened Saturday to teach kids about science, health, math and "grossology."
At HealthWorks Kids' Museum St. Louis, kids can throw fake poop into a toilet in a lesson about the digestive system, slide down the shin of a giant skeleton and see how wrinkly they'll look in 60 years if they smoke cigarettes or don't use sunscreen.
"It's an interactive way to learn about everything that makes them healthy," said Tammy Gordon, the museum's health educator and high-flying kid motivator. "That's how you can really create change in the community, by teaching the youth."
As a prime target for children's health education, St. Louis falls near the bottom in several pediatric rankings, including asthma, diabetes and obesity. Anonymous surveys for museum visitors will be used to collect data about local kids' dietary and exercise habits.
The museum on Macklind Avenue near Forest Park was formerly the Delta Dental Health Theatre at Laclede’s Landing, a treasured field trip destination for nearly 40 years. The theater's main attraction, the world's largest set of fiberglass teeth, hangs from the ceiling in the new 12,000-square-foot space. There, the teeth turn from yellow to white as a giant toothbrush moves across the mouth, creating bubbles that drift down to the kids.
Delta Dental of Missouri donated $850,000 toward the museum's initial $2.5 million cost. The building is leased through a partnership with the St. Louis Science Center Foundation, which previously used it for storage. Daily admission to the museum is $7, with annual memberships starting at $25 for one child up to $180 for eight family members.
Kids can wear lab coats, use blood pressure cuffs and look at X-rays in mock medical and dental clinics. The museum is set to host mini-medical school summer camps and year-round birthday parties. A fully equipped kitchen will host cooking demonstrations. Outside, a garden is growing ingredients for pizza.
First-graders from Immanuel Lutheran Day School in Olivette got a sneak peek at the museum before it opened. They took in a theater show about the five food groups and the digestive system before exploring the museum floor. There they climbed on the 55-foot-long skeleton playground, shopped for vegetables in the farmers' market and pretended to be doctors.
"You get to learn stuff about your body, where we eat our food and it goes down and it comes out to be a waste," said Frank Tian, 7.
Emory Malone, 7, enjoyed the market where he learned about "the vegetables and the wheat and the fruit."
The boys' teacher, Beth Carter, said she appreciated how the museum's theme fit into the school's faith-based curriculum.
"We talk about how important and blessed we are to have such a human body and what we can do to take care of it," she said.