i.d.e.a. Museum focuses on engaging all five senses
September 10, 2017
Story and photos by Crystal Lewis Brown
Musical instruments line the sidewalk outside the i.d.e.a. Museum, and a large, pink chair sits right outside its doors. It’s clear before you even go inside that you’re in for a fun day.
The museum’s curator of education, Dena Milliron, said that’s exactly the point.
“Our director always says that the visitor experience starts in the parking lot,” she said. “We wanted you to know that as soon as you enter the door, it’s a fun time. It’s not only that (the kids are) enjoying themselves, they’re also making beautiful music that can be heard in the community.”
The music is also an audible representation of the entire purpose of the museum, which is to get visitors to use all five of their senses.
“We know that children learn best when they are exploring things, especially through their senses,” Milliron said.
The acronym that makes up the museum’s name stands for imagination, design, experience and art. And our recent weekday visit proved it definitely lives up to its name.
I quickly learned that this wasn’t the type of museum visit where I’d sit idly by watching my kids from afar. From the moment we stepped inside, I was right alongside them.
Our visit coincided with the “My Favorite Monster” exhibit, which explored monsters, from vampires to Frankenstein’s monster and everything in between. In between marking off monsters on a scavenger-hunt-style map, they put on their lab coats and created monsters of their own by attaching Velcro-clad tails, heads and wings onto a stuffed animal. The temporary exhibit ends September 10, but Milliron said a new exhibit, “The Art of Healthy Living” will open later this month in its place.
The Hub Gallery – a large open space with various hands-on activities, including an interactive recycling game – will remain open. One of my kids’ favorites was the magnetic tracker wall, a wall with various magnetic pieces on which kids placed a ball with the aim of making it travel from one end of the wall to the other. As simple a game as it seemed, several kids played with it for at least an hour, maneuvering pieces to find out which method helped them meet their goal. What they probably didn’t know was that they were actually practicing engineering concepts.
“It really gives children the opportunity to see cause and effect. It’s testing. I’m going to build this. I’m going to test it and if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else,” Milliron said.
We then headed into ArtVille, a socks-only area aimed at kids 4 and younger. Don’t worry if you forget to wear socks; the museum store offers pairs in all sizes for $1.50 and $2. While there is an art studio in the back (on our visit, we used cotton swabs to create a painting), my sons spent most of their time using their creativity on dramatics. They watched a puppet show and also put on their own live show in a small “theater” room that had costumes, musical instruments and seats for the “audience.” (If you’re curious, their show consisted of about 60 seconds of a shark chasing a clownfish). ArtVille is currently being renovated, replacing or upgrading a few of the current areas, including re-imagining the kitchen and garden into a farm-to-table café.
“We’re always looking for new ways to promote imaginative play, which is critical to early learning and skills development,” Milliron said.
After visiting ArtVille, my kiddos were hungry. And that’s when I discovered the Snackery and learned a new pro tip: Bring your lunch. The area has tables, chairs and a snack machine so you can bring your own lunches and refuel before exploring more of the museum. There’s also an atrium area with picnic tables that accommodate outdoor eating once we get to cooler temps. And if your kids are the type to rush through lunch before you’ve gotten a chance to even get through your sandwich, there are activities in the Snackery and the Atrium to keep them occupied until everyone is finished.
“What we want to do is provide the absolute best experience for everyone who comes through the door, whether they’re 0 or 90 years old,” Milliron said. “Families are working together, they’re problem solving …and they’re building memories.”
Our visit actually did more than build memories; it created a longing for more. Before we’d even made it to the car, the kids were already asking when we’d be back. And I know we will be.