My preschooler’s class took a field trip to the Statehouse this fall. (It’s a perk of living a few miles away!) Since then, my son has asked to visit the Capitol more than he’s asked to go anywhere else in Topeka. That field trip sparked something in him that has changed the way I enjoy the space, too.
Watching my son and his classmates find counties that started with G – on the Kansas map on the ground floor – made me smile. It was the end of Letter G Week, and they’d discussed a bit about government. Then, watching a dozen little ones peer through the columns of the rotunda down to the first floor reminded me how differently they see the world than we do. Eye-level for him at the Capitol meant wood stoves and intricate details in the Senate Chamber. It made it hard to see Amelia Earhart’s face – I had to lift him up for that. And it made John Steuart Curry’s depiction of larger-than-life John Brown absolutely enormous. It captivated him. Tragic Prelude is now my son’s favorite painting.
It’s crazy, but a field trip to the Kansas State Capitol taught my son what it is to have a favorite piece of art. On Halloween, when he was out of school and could have gone anywhere (except the Mulvane ArtLab, which he adores), he asked if we could go see John Brown. My nearly five-year-old is asking questions that are difficult to answer. They are thoughtful questions I hadn’t imagined would come for years, if at all.
Thank goodness he’s not all serious. We can’t leave the Capitol without riding the antique elevator. On Halloween, the operator gave him a piece of candy from a bowl on a tiny table in the elevator’s corner. During winter break, he enjoyed the garland decorations and lights inside. During the most recent trip he asked another question: “Can we go up the big stairs?”
Yes. Children who are at least four-years-old who can walk independently can trek up the 296 steps to the top of the dome and go outside for a bird’s-eye view of the city. Those 296 steps start at the fifth floor, where the tour begins near the antique elevator. The State Historical Society guide will lead the group, and come down last on the way down. There are a few landings at which to stop – to look out the window and catch your breath. (There are guard rails, like metal chicken-wire, all along the stairs after the inner dome.)
On the tour, my son didn’t hesitate. He was excited to do something Daddy hasn’t done. When we got to the last landing and made the turn that takes you to the spiral, which ends at the exterior door, I could hear the excitement in his voice. Our guide let him open that door. As he opened it, the feeling was bigger than he was ready for. He thought he could see all the way to Grandma’s (in Omaha). Not quite, but we could clearly see the water tower at the VA, the Washburn campus, NOTO and Great Overland Station and so much more. He recognized some of them himself.
Seeing Topeka that way filled him – and maybe me, too – with a perspective on our community and a joy of being part of it. After making the trip back down, we stopped at the Capitol Gift Shop, where “Made it to the top” shirts are available for children and adults. A certificate of accomplishment that allows you to fill in the date you climbed also is available.
I look forward to returning to the Capitol with my son, and I hope you make time to enjoy it with your children.