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Layers to Learning at the Children’s Museum

As kids develop and change, the museum offers new experiences

I started bringing my daughter Kennedy to the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire long before I was fortunate enough to become employed at this amazing place. She was 8 months old and we spent almost all of our time in Toddler Park. She loved to “dig” in the garden and find all the stuffed animals hiding in their different homes! When we ventured out of Toddler Park, there were two areas she not-so-subtly encouraged me to avoid:

1) Oreo the cow, due to the unpredictable life-like mooing; and 2) the Imagination Playground Blue Blocks, as she didn’t care much to build or crawl there yet. Sure enough, as our visits to the museum began to add up, she started to break out of her comfort zone and the day that she went in to “milk” Oreo was like a graduation celebration. She did it! She graduated to milking the cow!

We hear from a lot of parents who’ve witnessed these same developmental milestones at the museum. There’s nothing like the gratification that comes from seeing your child grow in language, motor skills, confidence, social skills, etc., right before your very eyes. It’s a blessing that we at the museum get to witness these moments right along with you!

What you may not realize is that this is the exact reason our programs and exhibits are designed the way they are. On your next visit, dig a little deeper into each section and you’ll see the layers. In the Bitty City Market, for example, new walkers are pushing a grocery cart that’s just their size all around the exhibit.

Toddlers are examining the different colors and shapes of fruits and flowers. Kindergartners are role-playing as cashier and shopper, learning new words and how to share. Elementary kids are learning how many items they can purchase with the amount of money they have. Each of these ages is supported in a different educational layer in the same space.

Many families are amazed at how much time their children can spend exploring the museum in one visit, even if it’s their 100th time through the doors. That’s when we need to remember to look at the space with the eyes of a child. It’s a completely new experience for them every single time, even if it doesn’t look or feel different to us. Every day, that child is at a different level of growth, understanding, and wonder. They’ll play with things they never felt comfortable with before, like finally getting up the courage to “milk” Oreo!

They’ll notice things they’ve never paid attention to before, like seeing that the market cash register tells the cost of each scanned item, so you know how much money you have left! They’ll create things they physically couldn’t before, like a humongous fort in the Imagination Playground Blue Blocks worthy of our Museum Wall of Fame!

We’ve all seen the boredom monster strike, and so it’s easy for us to think that the same space and the same toys might not entertain our kiddos the way they once did. But those mom and dad lenses can be deceiving. Want a new idea on how to interact with an exhibit? Interested in a way to bring the museum experience home with you? Ask our trained “playologists” who get to be a part of the learning and development milestones at the museum every day. And the next time you visit, let the kiddos lead, explore the different layers with them, watch their imagination and creativity take over … and you might just see things in a whole new light, too.

Amie Winters is director of marketing and events at the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire.

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