04 April 2017 // Thoughts

Where Are They Now – Celebrating Three Decades of Children’s Museum Design

Over the past 30 years, JRA has had the honor and pleasure of working with children’s museums from Sioux City to Singapore. While they may be different in location and educational focus, all have the same mission – to engage and inspire youth.

Many of these museums were created and are still helmed by passionate volunteers, whose biggest reward is to see the smiles on their young visitors’ faces. We salute their spirit and applaud their dedication.

With the Association of Children’s Museums InterActivity Conference just around the corner (May 3-5 in Pasadena), we revisit a selection of our children’s museum projects and celebrate the impact that they have had on kids in their communities and beyond.

Enginuity – Coalbrookdale, UK

Opening Date: August 2002 – Fifteenth Anniversary Year

Impact: “Enginuity has been a great success, attracting a whole new audience to the museum,” said Paul Gossage, Director of Marketing and PR at Enginuity. “Whilst aimed at younger visitors, we have found that the exhibits are engaging for children of all ages. Since we opened, we have welcomed thousands of visitors, including school children, grandparents, business people and members of the Royal Family, all of which have one thing in common – they love to learn by experimentation and have fun at the same time.”

Kohl Children’s Museum – Glenview, Illinois

Opening Date: October 2005

Current Attendance/Membership: 315,000 visitors and 6,500 member families

Memorable Moments:

  • • Hosting Interactivity – In 2007, the Museum co-hosted the Association of Children’s Museums’ InterActivity Conference, and officials from across the country and around the world go to tour the Museum and its exhibits.
  • • Ten Best – In 2011, the Museum was named one of the ten best children’s museums in the country by Parents magazine.

Impact:

“Kohl Children’s Museum is very proud of the impact we have had on the Glenview area,” said Sheridan Turner, President & CEO. “With our new facility, we have been able to expand our outreach into under-resourced communities beyond just the inner city of Chicago, including often overlooked communities such as Waukegan, North Chicago, and Wheeling, which have great areas of need for services like ours. The Museum has become a community resource, drawing visitors and members from a 25-mile radius, bringing revenue to our local comunity. The Glen Town Center, a local shopping center just south of the Museum, reported a sustained boost in foot traffic shortly after the Museum opened.”

Imaginosity, Dublin Children’s Museum – Dublin, Ireland

Opening Date: August 2007 – Tenth Anniversary Year

Annual Attendance: 100,000
“10 years ago, children’s museums were (and still are) a very new concept in Ireland, and Imaginosity STILL remains Ireland’s ONLY children’s museum. To welcome 1 million visitors within the first 10-year period felt like a very ambitious target to those involved in the introduction of Imaginosity (a relatively small children’s museum in global terms) to the Irish public.

Ahead of the museum’s 10-year target, to date one of the most memorable times, was realizing that incredible target (which in the museum’s early days felt like a VERY ambitious one) had been achieved with over 1 MILLION visitors coming through the doors. A figure equal to 22% of the entire population of Ireland visiting the museum!”

Memorable Moment:

“Dublin Children’s Museum was asked to host the launch of one of Ireland’s newest children’s TV channels in 2016, 3e. Part of that launch was a giant party hosted by Imaginosity involving workshops, activities, museum exploration and a VERY special surprise guest appearance….all broadcast LIVE on national television from Imaginosity. Barney the Dinosaur made a surprise appearance that day to the children in attendance, and that moment was captured and broadcast LIVE. Watching the faces of the children on our museum lawn that day, as Barney walked out to greet them, will remain one of the museum’s most memorable days to date (for some of our younger staff members also…proving you are never too old to meet a childhood hero!).”

Impact:

“As previosly mentioned, Imaginosity is still Ireland’s ONLY dedicated interactive children’s museum, and in being so, offers children and their families a very unique space to play, create and learn in together. Our belief is that children learn best when they’re having fun, and so we continue to champion the ‘hands-on, minds-on’ philosophy that encourages all visitors to get involved and have FUN while learning…creating positive and lasting memories.

Whilst play-based learning is not a modern phenomenon, its benefits are receiving a fresh new wave of attention thanks to a wider general understanding and appreciation of how it can help childhood development, learning and social skills. We believe that whilst other play based facilties come and go, it is this solid basis that will keep Imaginosity, and what we do, relevant for years to come.”

Note: Stay tuned for a 10th anniversary feature on Imaginosity in the JRA Blog, coming this August!

Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (C’mon) – Naples, Florida

Opening Date: February 2012 – Fifth Anniversary Year

Annual Attendance and Membership: 135,000 visitors and 2,100 member families. “Though we felt we had high estimates in the beginning, we have actually doubled that expectation in our attendance! This is a great representation of the high quality, family friendly experiences in our area.”

Memorable Moments: 

  • • Year One – “With jam packed member previews, lines around the building, countless smiling families, the opening of a family engagement gem for our community started off with much fanfare. Since those first days, we often we see our regulars coming in for weekly, if not daily, visits! This shows us again the power of our community support and the need for C’mon’scuriosity sparking educational activities.”
  • • Night at the Museum Fundraiser – “Our annual fundraiser has been a highlight every year with our unique approach to a traditional Gala! From our Big Wigs theme, where everyone dressed in costume with beautiful bouffants, Marley worthy dreads and rainbow afros, to our most recent Pirate Ball filled with cannon ball shooting, pirate naming and plenty of swashbuckling shenanigans! We are always making a memorable event where we put the fun into fundraising!
  • • Happy Birthday, C’mon! – “We have had a great time celebrating 5 years. Within the museum we have designated a full month’s worth of programming as Happy Birthday C’mon! From cake batter sensory play in our art studio to birthday candle and cupcake fuse bead creations in our Curious Kids space and many more daily activities, families have had a great time not only making birthday items but also learning the science behind them!”
  • • Celebrating C’mon Staff – “Throughout our 5 years of growth, we continue to be inspired by our staff! Being the foundation of our guest experiences, these play specialists, programs developers and teachers, and fundraising innovators, we are so lucky to have such a strong team of passionate individuals. Though we are just getting out of our toddler years, we look back at those bumps, bruises and also great milestones that every toddler has. Through all of the ups and downs of every start up, our staff continues to shine in a special way that makes C’mon better and better every day.”

Impact:

“C’mon has developed into a brain building powerhouse powered by STEAM based activities and experiences. Naples’ families have shown us time and time again that C’mon is an asset to the community with repeat attendance, financial support and enthusiasm for our mission. The education of our local children is complimented with innovative and engaging exhibits and activities that only C’mon can present.

The cooperation and collaboration with so many business partners, fellow non-profits, and local organizations also shows us that C’mon is a leader in the economy. By providing not only employment and revenue into our local area, the Museum has made a strong effort to highlight local partners and tourism destinations for the betterment of the community as a whole!”

KidsSTOP™ at Science Centre Singapore

Opening Date: June 2014

Annual Attendance: 190,000. Science Centre Singapore has capped memberships, currently at 6,000, to ensure an optimal experience.

Memorable Moments:

“The pleasure of seeing happy children enjoying themselves, playing and learning, is beyond words. When they see science come alive at KidsSTOP™ via the exhibits, coupled with our passionate educators’ efforts, children are able to form a strong emotional connection. From our statistics, many children come once every two months, so this is especially pleasing and testament to the development team’s vision.”

Impact:

“KidsSTOP™ is Singapore’s first and only children’s science center for ages 8 years old and below. With an exclusive 3,000-square-meter gallery built to encourage playful exploration, KidsSTOP™ provides a safe and exciting learning environment for children to discover the wonders of the world. Last year we added the Oceans’ Buddies Exhibit, a first-of-its-kind virtual ocean, with sea creatures in 3-dimensional form to educate children on marine life and how they can do their part to protect the environment. More recently, we unveiled the PlayMaker Studio @ KidsSTOP™ in collaboration with Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), aimed at providing a community space for children to dabble in hands-on maker activities involving an exciting array of tech toys and tools.”

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum – Peoria, Illinois

Opening Date: June 2015

Annual Attendance: 87,000 visitors, 2,000 member families

Memorable Moments: Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum offered us a plethora of “PlayHouse Stories.” Here are a few:

  • • When two-year old Chester visited the PlayHouse, he imagined himself as a farmer, like his father, an engineer, like his uncle, and a teacher, like his aunt. He drove a train like his great uncle, and learned about his uncle’s work in fisheries as he splashed in the water table. As he tried on all of these roles, Chester strengthened connections with his family and was inspired by their chosen careers.
  • • Sarah* has sensory processing disorder, which made her first visit to the PlayHouse uncomfortable. But she loves to build, and found the magnetic marble run and Real Tools areas of the PlayHouse compelling enough to spend time there, despite the visual and auditory disturbance. In fact, Sarah loves these areas enough to visit the PlayHouse over and over again, honing her interest in engineering, and inspiring her to have an engineering-themed fifth birthday party.
  • • When the Jones family* attended Celebrate Peoria in February, they did not know much about Asian culture, or the tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year. At the PlayHouse, they experienced traditions related to Lunar New Year from a variety of Asian countries. They tried on clothes and experimented with calligraphy from China. They tasted candies from Vietnam. And they made Korean “Jegichagi” toys to bring home. The family left the museum having learned a great deal, and – perhaps even more importantly – interested in learning more. Cara Jones told the PlayHouse, “My kids asked lots of questions and were exposed to a range of diversity that we don’t often encounter in our normal day-to-day. I’m inspired to seek out more of Peoria’s Asian culture.”
  • * Names changed

Impact:

When it came to the Peoria PlayHouse’s impact on the community, the Museum thought it best for local families to do the talking:

  • • “There was plenty to do for both my 3 and 11 year old! We were there for 2.5 hours but felt like minutes, we didn’t even get to all the exhibits. We bought a year family pass so we can explore next time! Great family day out!”
  • • “I absolutely LOVE the Peoria Playhouse! We got a membership and so far our kids have yet to get bored or not have something fun to do! Kudos Peoria!”
  • • “This is a phenomenal addition to Peoria. Bring your kids and watch as their creativity is ignited!”
  • • “Awesome place for kids under 6. Well worth the membership for our long winters. My kids love the sand table and water table. Thank you to all the people who make this place possible!”
  • • “Just what the Peoria area needed for our children. We always have fun when we visit.”

Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC – Beijing, China

Opening Date: June 1, 2015 (National Children’s Day)

Annual Attendance: 180,0000 (versus originally projected attendance of 160,000)

Memorable Moments:

  • • Opening Day – “Delegates from the All-China Women’s Federation, China’s public welfare institute of Beijing Normal University, Hawaii Children’s discovery center and Lao Niu Foundation attended the opening ceremony of the museum. Loretta Yajima, the Chair and the Board of Directors of Hawaii Children’s Discovery, delivered the Certificate from the governors of Hawaii and the chair of Honolulu.”
  • • Children +365 – “On August 4th, 2016, the museum held the launching ceremony of public project “Children+365” for families of children with such conditions as infantile autism, brain paralysis, as well as children who are differently abled or the hearing impaired. The museum invites 365 of these children’s families to play in the museum to encourage their development. The museum also provides professional mentoring services and support to the group.”
  • • Building Bridges – “On November 19, 2016, a family day of cultural communication between China and the U.S. was jointly hosted by the museum and U.S. Embassy. Alan Clark, vice culture commissioner of U.S. Embassy, attended the program. The program promotes the cultural communication between Chinese and American families, and it is also the platform for Chinese and American children to enhance understanding and deepen friendship.”

Impact:

“CNCC is the one and only national-level extracurricular educational institute with various functions such as applied scientific research, child hobbies and interest cultivation, educational activities and public services, and is also the window through which China communicate and cooperate with foreign countries on child-related affairs.”

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (Georgia)

Re-opening Date: December 2015

Post 2015 Renovation Annual Attendance and Membership: 230,000 visitors and 4,231 member families (versus 170,000 visitors and 3,000 members pre-renovation)

Memorable Moments: “The rocket launcher is a favorite with children and adults, some of my favorite times have been watching moms and dads help their children aim to launcher so they can hit a planet and travel to Jupiter!  The augmented reality sand table is another favorite, as we watch families play in the sand and the adults slowly realize that it shows the topography – and then let the kids know what is up!”

Impact: “The renovation of the Children’s Museum has opened up our audience,” said Karen Kelly, Director of Exhibits and Education. “Our earlier exhibition design really met the needs of children 5 and under, the current design provides something for all the children in our age range, from 0-9!  This has broadened the number of families who visit, as well as expanded our field trip audience.”

“Adding STEM to all spaces has also made a huge difference, as it really permits scaffolding the learning, aging it up or down.  Children love the Globe they can climb into, the amazing Café and Step Up To Science.  The renovation has made a huge difference in our range of programming as well.  We have had a great first year since re-opening.”

LaunchPAD Children’s Museum – Sioux City, Iowa

Opening Date: February 2016 – Happy First Birthday!

Annual Attendance: 93,717 in first year, with 2,500 member families, versus a Year One goal of 50,000 and 600, respectively!

Memorable Moments:

  • • A Warm Welcome – “The overwhelming positive response of the community to everything about the museum, especially the exhibits, was so gratifying for the volunteers and others who worked on this project for so many years.”
  • • Fun For Everyone – “Parents and grandparents really like the open layout, which allows them to keep tabs on the little ones as well as the older kids who want a little more freedom.”
  • • Serving the Community – “Fulfilling the promise of economic development in this neighborhood is a big achievement. Three properties to the south of LaunchPAD are now being redeveloped, and a park is being installed this year across the street. The number of out of town guests we had all summer long and during every holiday period showed the value of LaunchPAD to the economic well-being of Sioux City.”

Impact: “LaunchPAD is improving the quality of life for families in Sioux City and the entire region,” said Bob Fitch, Executive Director. “LaunchPAD is proud to be Siouxland’s champion for educational play and discovery!”


LaunchPAD Executive Director Bob Fitch is pictured with board member Regina Roth. Bob was dressed for the museum’s first birthday, which had a superhero theme. But it’s Regina who is the real superhero as the top donor and fundraiser for LaunchPAD Children’s Museum.

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While JRA has enjoyed working collaboratively with all of these organizations, as noted in the photo above, it is the staff, volunteers, board, donors, supporters, and families of these museums who are the true superheroes. We salute their commitment to children’s education, and we look forward to celebrating the continued success of these museums for many years into the future.