The best and most successful museums feature hands-on exhibits. Museums in this area that don’t already offer that would benefit from moving in that direction.
Providing activities for children and adults and making exhibits available that appeal to the senses doesn’t have to be expensive. It does require creativity and imagination, but plenty of that is available around the North Country.
If a museum is simply a room full of display cases, where people read documents and stare at items kept under glass, it won’t inspire return visits. People in the community won’t talk about it with friends or recommend it to visitors.
Hands-on activities enliven a museum and send people away feeling satisfied and educated — the same way that those opportunities inspire children in classrooms.
Our publisher, Bob Parks, recently visited a museum in Philadelphia with his toddler grandson that is the epitome of discovery education: the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park. The 156,000-square-foot museum is designed to foster learning through play and encourage creativity through six zones or “interest areas”:
Roadside Attractions: Children can work on cars, pretend to fill the gas tank or add air to a tire, change spark plugs or tires, drive a bus or trolley and ride on a monorail. Or they can operate a food-vendor cart or an Italian-ice stand.
Flight Fantasy: In this area, you can row a flying machine, play hopscotch on clouds, shoot rockets in the Space Station area or step into a giant hamster wheel to make colorful lights flash. Another attraction is an interactive Blue Screen, where children dress up as astronauts and explore planets.
River Adventures: Children can play with water currents, waterwheels, bubbles and rainbows or race miniature boats. In the Rainforest Rhythm area, they can play music on nature-inspired instruments. There is a giant walking piano keyboard, like the one Tom Hanks used in the movie “Big.”
City Capers: This includes a supermarket, kitchen, medical center, restaurant, shoe store, construction site and miniature garden for toddlers. In the supermarket, children use miniature shopping carts, choose grocery items and proceed to a checkout area, also operated by kids. The medical center features miniature play MRI and X-ray machines.
Centennial Exploration: Dedicated to trains with a replica 1876 train station.
Wonderland: Dedicated to “Alice in Wonderland,” it includes a Fairytale Garden.
The Please Touch Museum, of course, is all about sensory learning and imagination. Every museum can’t be expected to offer that level of tactile opportunity.
But a number of area museums have already begun to incorporate hands-on displays. And those who haven’t would be wise to do so.