Laugh and Learn at North Carolina Children’s Museums
The shrieks of joy, the bursts of laughter and the “ooohs” and “aaahs” ring out as many of North Carolina’s kids are playing and having fun—but wait, they’re learning too!
Whether they’re coming with their parents or siblings, or as part of a camp or school group, youngsters are heading in droves to children’s museums of all sizes.
There are more than a dozen museums devoted to children scattered throughout the state. Each museum has its own personality, exhibit focus and program emphasis, but kids remain at the heart.
Museum staff members say they are constantly experimenting with fresh ways to engage their young patrons, while letting kids be kids, but also inspiring them to think, dig deeper, discover and remain curious as they march toward adulthood.
“With such a heavy emphasis in schools on drilling them on a host of subjects, sometimes they lose sight of the fact that children need time just to play,” says Kathy Parham, executive director of the Children’s Playhouse in Boone. “Children’s museums are a fantastic place for kids to have fun while learning. They grow up fast enough. We don’t need to hurry them along.”
Jack, a spunky 4-year-old from the Boone area, knows exactly what Parham’s talking about. While having fun in the Playhouse’s downstairs Romp and Stomp Room, Jack had rearranged some large vinyl foam shapes into an obstacle course. After proudly navigating the course, the youngster boasts, “I like to walk on this and climb here and slide. It’s awesome!”
Pretending: the Gateway to Learning
Many of the exhibits and programs at children’s museums across the Tar Heel State are designed to enhance classroom education with hands-on entertainment. Kids are given the freedom to let their imaginations run wild while role- playing constructively.
At the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, favorite childhood storybooks come to life. Tommy, who’s from the area, was having a grand time in the Three Little Pigs house and build-it room. He let the staff there know exactly what he was thinking after his visit when he said, “I love the Children’s Museum! It’s the bestest place ever!”
When Sherry, a Virginia resident visiting Winston-Salem, brought her family to the museum, the kids raced to the doughnut factory, where they worked as a team, placing the doughnuts on the climber and watching with amazement as they went up the conveyor belt before dropping down a funnel, where the kids had to catch them in a basket. Children then frost the doughnuts and put them in the truck for delivery to the stores.
Upon completing their doughnut delivery, Sherry’s kids wander over to Mother Goose, who is gathering lots of children around her for story time. They listen in rapt attention as Mother Goose reads and then plays interactive games with them.
After her kids are finished, Sherry comments, “We were visiting from out of town, and this was one of the highlights of their trip. I wish we had such a place at home.”
At Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, one of the most popular exhibits always abuzz with activity is the Around Town gallery. Totally enthralled, one child boldly declares, “I want to live here!” Another was playing in the post office area, pretending to direct the mail room, when he blurts, “Hurry up, move those packages. Time is money!”
Hands-On Activity Adds to the Fun
Down on North Carolina’s coast is Play Wilmington, where children can dress up like pirates, jump aboard a two-story ship and swab the deck or fire foam balls from an air cannon. In the Science Center, they can become budding scientists and concoct all kinds of liquid potions. Or they can strut their stuff by belting out a karaoke tune at the Star Maker Sound Stage.
For those kids who like to put their creative juices into action, they can visit the art studio and fashion imaginative masterpieces, from macaroni posters to life-size portraits.
Kendall, of Wilmington, says, “I think the art room is a very cool room. I like to do art. I like to paint, and I like to do tape pictures and also coloring. I will come back to the children’s museum a lot.”
Though a little older, Holly voices a similar comment. “I thought that because I was 14, I would not like this place, but I was wrong. I enjoyed my time here more than you could know. I most enjoyed the art room. ”
High-Tech, High-Touch Working in Tandem
From the IMAX Dome at Discovery Place in Charlotte and the IMAX Theater at Raleigh’s Marbles Kids Museum to Cummins Planetarium at the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center, technology is in the limelight and augments the educational experience.
The Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center exhibit on microbes is supplemented by a Planetarium program on microcosms. It allows the child to “shrink to the size of a microbe for an incredible roller-coaster voyage into the human body that features genetic weapons, laser battles and surprises at every turn.”
At the same time, children can discover wildlife up close in the live animal gallery. That was certainly the case with Tyler, an animated 7-year-old, who says, “I had fun doing all the stuff at the museum, but I really liked petting Buttercup best.” Buttercup, a 14.5-foot albino Burmese python, is brought out onto the exhibit floor, where kids, like Tyler, get to pet the snake.
“Our goal is to help children discover how to live more effectively and efficiently on our planet and to be better stewards of it,” notes Candy Madrid, executive director. “We don’t want to tell them what to think, but we are passionate about helping them discover how to think. And we want them to become lifelong learners.”
Children’s Museums in North Carolina
The Children’s Playhouse, Boone
Kidzu Children’s Museum, Chapel Hill
Discovery Place, Charlotte
North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, Durham
Fascinate-U Children’s Museum, Fayetteville
Greensboro Children’s Museum
Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh
KidSenses Children’s InterACTIVE Museum, Rutherfordton
Iredell Museums, Statesville
Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem
Old Salem Children’s Museum, Winston-Salem