Location: The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is located in Gage Park at 4400 SW 10th Ave (west of Gage and east of Fairlawn on 10th).
Children under 1 year old: Free
Web site: http://www.kansasdiscovery.org/
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mom sent Peanut and me on an adventure at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. This brand-spanking-new children’s museum opened on June 1st in Gage Park and has been thrilling children ever since. The floors are smooth and even, and visitors are asked to leave strollers in their cars, so the floors are relatively uncluttered; I’m confident that most assistive devices would be able to navigate the museum at ease. Although the rumors in town give all sorts of age ranges for the museum, I’d say that it’s designed for kiddos from birth through elementary school. The exhibits are sized for their target audiences; this made it so that many exhibits were the perfect size for my toddler. As part of a “green” initiative, the museum relies on natural lighting, meaning that the museum’s as bright as the day is outside. I would have liked brighter lighting for higher contrast for my kiddo, but Peanut did well in the museum even with the dim lighting.
By far, Peanut’s favorite exhibit was the wind tunnels in the Science Gallery. There’s a maze of clear plastic tubes that has a strong wind current running through it. You can put a yarn pom-pom in the tunnels and watch it shoot out from one of three exit tubes; there are two flaps that children can switch to get the pom-poms to shoot from the different tubes. The balls move through the tubes very quickly, which made them hard for Peanut to track, but he still loved the sensation of the ball being pulled from his hand as he put it in the tube.
There’s a second wind exhibit with a tall, clear cylinder with a fan (I assume) at the bottom. There’s a basket of scarves next to the cylinder that kids can put into the tube. Peanut said, “look at that! Blowing!” and could definitely track the brightly-colored scarves. He also enjoyed putting the scarves in the tube maze; being longer, he was able to track these somewhat better, and he loved watching them float down when they ejected from the end of the tubing. These two objects gave Peanut an idea of wind speed and power with different objects.
There were two fenced-in areas designed for younger children: a “sensory garden” for pre-walkers and a “Grow” area for toddlers. There were touch elements in both exhibits that featured large, white bumps; faux fur; and Astroturf. The toddler area had a house to run ribbons through; huge, soft blocks to stack; and tons of noisy toys, including drums and rain sticks.
There’s a bench that runs along the windows throughout the museum providing plenty of parent seating; if you want to let kids roam, there’s a fence with a locked gate that keeps toddlers corralled in the Grow area.
At the back of the museum is their Art Gallery. The best part of the gallery is a glass house that children can paint. Peanut got to pick three colors of paint and was given a brush to paint with. The palette for the paints was at the perfect toddler height, but the glass walls are over 6’ tall, making it so that anyone can paint on the walls comfortably. When we visited, the walls were covered with brown paper on the outside for “Art inthe Dark” for Halloween; I’m thinking the art house would have been more fun without the paper covering.
The Kansas Grain Gallery features simple machines to move a beaded “grain” from station to station. There’s lots of noise from the beads falling, and two places where you can reach in and feel the beads slide between your fingers. The gallery encourages cooperative play so the kids can move the grain around the exhibit; even a group of strangers will happily work together, because the cooperation makes the play more fun.
There’s a conveyor belt, two screw lifts, a bucket lift, and a bucket/pulley system. Peanut loved shoveling “grain” into the leather bucket and pulling on the pulley lines; this was a close second to the wind tunnels for his favorite exhibit.
The Career Gallery featured a doctor’s office, veterinarian’s office, auto service center and café for pretend play. The doctor’s office is tied to a health exhibit that includes a bass drum with a heart rate pad. You put your hands down on the two brass pads and the drum beats your heart rate. There’s a hand bike on the other side that lets you exercise to raise your heart rate. This was a neat, auditory way to demonstrate heart rate to kids, regardless of their visual acuity.
The building area features virtually every type of block or building toy imaginable. It also has a series of hammer/peg stations where children can hammer pegs through holes in a board. If play-building isn’t your kiddo’s style, you can take him or her to a building area that features real tools, real wood, and real nails and screws. This area requires a parent to be with each child, and the pathways are narrower, so it likely wouldn’t work well for children in wheelchairs or with larger walkers.
There’s an outdoor space that’s still in development. It’s slated to have paths for tricycles, gardens and a variety of play equipment. There are posters on the walls by most exhibit that offer suggestions to the kids using the exhibits—there might be questions or factoids posted. None of these are in braille. I saw several small “cars” along the windows that had tips for parents, most telling what skills each exhibit was building in their children, such as cooperation or hand-eye coordination.
All in all, I liked the museum, and Peanut definitely enjoyed it. I think there are enough tactile and auditory elements that most blind/visually-impaired children will enjoy the museum as well, as long as they’ve got an active, participating adult there to make the museum accessible (i.e. you’re there to describe the exhibits and what they’re feeling/experiencing). I do wish it was better lit and less expensive, but it’s still definitely a place that I’ll take Peanut–and Sprout, once she’s more mobile–again.