More than 460,00 visitors have experienced this not-so-typical “museum”
Don’t let the definition of a museum sway your thoughts about taking the kids to the Sacramento Children’s Museum. Merriam-Webster describes a museum as “a building in which interesting and valuable things, such as paintings and sculptures or scientific or historical objects, are collected and shown to the public.” The experiences of infants to eight-year-olds (and beyond) at the 7,000-square-foot facility in Rancho Cordova aren’t hush-hush and don’t touch…they are hands-on, real-time learning and fun!
Jane Ternavsky has been taking her four kids (ages 4, 7, 10 and 12) to Sacramento Children’s Museum every month and usually goes during the members-only hours.
“The learning is so subtle,” says Ternavsky, who enjoys having playdates at the Museum. “They love every minute of it, their little fingers exploring the topographical sand or sifting water through a sieve. It’s adorable, but they are making connections. They see that the higher up in a mountain you go, the hotter it gets…when they add more sand to the topographical mountain, the sand turns a red color. When they make a shallow valley, water appears…underground springs? An ocean? That’s up to them to decide, but you can see the excitement in their eyes.”
What Ternavsky is describing is the Augmented Reality Sandbox, one of the very popular STEM exhibits at the Museum. It consists of a digital projection on top of the sand with geographic features and has a connected laser motion detector. As you are playing with the sand and moving it around, it all changes in real time.
“There are sensory components to it, which appeals to our youngest visitors, and from there they start to understand, on a basic level, cause and effect,” says Molly Mix, program manager at the museum, who has a background teaching at a Montessori school. “If you catch the blue light from the projector you can generate virtual rain and see how it behaves on different elevations.”
Other popular stations include a WaterWays area, where kids enjoy getting really wet while exploring the vortex and currents, and Mr. Noodles’ Forest, where they navigate through a dense and stimulating textural forest of pool noodles suspended from above. Children of all ages love using play money to purchase goods at a market, painting on an enormous glass “community canvas” wall, and experimenting with a race car loop, which teaches a little about inertia and gravity.
“We don’t offer a wifi password at the museum because it encourages the parents to get involved and be active with their kids,” says Mix. “I think a museum like this is a perfect opportunity for parents and children to both unplug and spend quality time together.”
A new program at the museum is “ExplorAbility,” an exclusive time where children on the autism spectrum can come with their caregiver at no cost and play with the exhibits. Professionals from a variety of therapeutic approaches observe the kids during this time, get to know them, and use that information to find ways to scaffold play interactions with the exhibits, their caregivers and other children.
“This program is meant to have a dual purpose,” says Mix. “It has the immediate effect of being able to help parents help their kids to engage meaningfully, and also as a resource to introduce parents to the different disciplines (therapeutic approaches) that are out there.”
Museum staff are also very excited about the “Museum-on-the-Go” program starting in early 2017. The organization obtained funding for a new van from Rancho Cordova’s Measure H funds and will be taking field trips to local schools, bringing interchangeable learning exhibits.