Austin Children’s Museum – MakerKids exhibit
We are long overdue to review the Austin Children’s Museum and its latest MakerKids exhibit. Hands down, Austin Children’s Museum is THE best place for kids to learn and play in the Austin area in my opinion. Every few months, the museum unveils a new feature exhibit, and more than any of the others in the past four years, MakerKids has been the most accessible exhibit for our preschooler. The previous exhibits like the electricity one was interesting, but for a younger child, the hands on experience with the craft stations gives a tangible product for the child to take home, to ask questions and see the question answered with the actual manipulation of materials.
The various craft stations remind me somewhat of the Kidcot stations in Epcot (Disney World). The stations all have instructions and simple materials (construction paper, scissors, tape, staplers, fabric, etc). Preschoolers will likely need some parental assistance. My daughter especially liked the “purse” making station and the die cut machine that allowed her to cut scraps of paper into templates for folding 3D geometric shapes. The MakerKids exhibit lasts until September 11, 2009.
Though I am now a parent, I find it difficult for me to turn off teacher-mode when I evaluate activities that engage my children. In my past life, I developed advanced curriculum to “vertically align” middle school to high school so that middler schoolers developed skills that they would need for success in advanced science classes onwards through college.
Austin Children’s Museum’s exhibits all build the fundamentals for critical thinking and problem solving skills, both of which are the foundations for lifelong learning and the tenants for vertical alignment. Take for instance in the Funstruction Zone, children take pegs of varying shapes and sort them into the appropriate tube. The pegs land in collecting bins one story down, and the kids downstairs then send the peg through a vacuum tube back upstairs. Sure most families have a some variant of a sorting toy, but to accomplish this at the museum as a make shift “job” of sorting in a somewhat cooperative manner with other children, all of whom have their own agendas, encourages more levels of thinking than just sitting at home with the shape sorter. This Zone has three levels, and the upper most level is probably the most fun for the toddlers. There is a miniature house,wooden blocks, plastic shingles to lie on the roof. Nothing is a choking hazard on this floor.
In the Global City exhibit, children have the opportunity to role play in the child-size restaurant or market shop. I often see kids role play together to operate the diner. The space which used to be the doctor’s office is now a veterinary clinic. By far the most popular thing to do here for the kids is the recycling part of the dairy processing plant where kids send plastic milk bottles through a vacuum tube that are then collected, recycled, and sorted for reuse. Children (and parents) can also climb the narrow steps up to the train conductor station where they can operate with push buttons the miniature train.
There is a completely fenced in whimsical area (Rising Star Ranch) for infants and toddlers 2 and under. This area has age appropriate climbing structures and puzzle toys affixed to the fence. They have a small tube slide, train table, and a cubicle just outside of the infant/toddler space for the youngest kids as well. Unlike at fast food playgrounds, most of the older kids stay off of the slide which is clearly intended for the little kids. (Around mid-afternoon, the museum opens up a large slide for children 5 and up.)
The space where my preschooler can spend the most amount of time is the Tinkerer’s Workshop. Here she can play with magnetic gears, pulleys, K’Nex. This space is like a high school physics lab that is accessible for even the youngest learners. This is probably my favorite space in all of ACM, but that’s my science teacher bias. During busy times, kids will have to wait a a while to play with the pig parachute pulley which tends to get hogged up (pun unintended) by the older kids.
We usually save this exhibit for the end of our visit. En mi familia/In My Family, inspired by artist Carmen Lomas Garza, explores the culture and daily lives of families. Though the exhibit features Latino culture, it prompted my child to ask questions about her own cultural identity in relationship to what she saw here. This is just a fun space that my kids can play and enjoy the kid-size art and sculptures, and usually they are tired after a few hours at the museum so this exhibit is a relaxing spot to wind down.
When we head out of the museum, we let the kids play on the Kid Metro bus.
Austin Children’s Museum has free admission on Wednesday evenings (Community Nights) from 5-8pm. They also offer free admission on Sunday (4-5 pm). Each Monday at 9 am, is the Baby Bloomers program for ages 3 and under.
There is just SO much to do at the Austin Children’s Museum. If you have not yet taken your child there, the trip is well worth it. To save some money on admission, use this BOGO coupon from the Austin Visitor’s Bureau. You can also get BOGO admission with the GoLocal Austin card. We used both coupons and paid $11 for our family of four.