Bay Hall

One of our classic exhibitions, Bay Hall, has stood the test of time over the last 20 years. Lovingly referred to as “The Train Room,” or “The Boat Room,” by many young visitors, Bay Hall offers children experiences with natural, built and cultural icons from our region: selling crabs at Fisherman’s Wharf, loading up the cargo ship in the Port of Oakland, setting sail on the fishing vessel and exploring life in the bay as they crawl through the underwater tunnel.


Crabs are the commodity of choice as children play in Bay Hall. As they see how many they can fit in the basket while they raise and lower it, or gather them to sell from the wharf, they develop problem solving skills while they play.


The stacking blocks on the cargo ship can be played with in many ways; some children use them to build towers, others attach them to the lifts and pulleys of the ship, while some take them to other areas of the room for an infinite number of imaginary uses. These blocks encourage novel thinking as children take their play in new directions.


It’s not uncommon for children to be wary of the undersea tunnel. Dim lighting, an aquarium and underwater sounds contribute to the full-body experience of crawling through the tunnel, and can be intimidating. Yet once they overcome their fear, you’re likely to find a child, or small group of children, in one of the nooks. Because it’s an “immersive” experience, the tunnel lends itself to both quiet contemplation, and deep play experiences.


Crews of sailors on a mission to fish are often seen running the decks of the fishing boat in Bay Hall. Props such as the life jackets and fish encourage rich pretend play as children develop fantastic narratives.


Much beloved by visitors past and present, the train table provides experiences in multiple facets of child development. As children line up and move the trains they are gaining math and physics skills. The structure of the table allows children to observe and relate to each other as they negotiate sharing trains and space.

Museum at Home

Adding props to your child’s play area is a wonderful way to inspire the same kind of creative play they experience at the Museum. Search your own house, or ask friends and family for cast off work uniforms, interesting hats, or safe but realistic tools. Allow them to explore the props and use them in new and different ways.

It’s beneficial for children to have opportunities to play uninterrupted by adult suggestions. If you notice your child is immersed in play, either on their own, or with friends, you may want to take a step back and become an observer as they take things in their own direction.


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