10 Ways to Make your House as Cool as a Children’s Museum!
When a child enters a Children’s Museum, they immediately understand that the space is for them! How? Objects are presented low to the ground, the exhibits are large and colorful, and there are hardly any barriers to prevent them from getting “hands-on.” A children’s museum’s first priority is the learning encounters of the visitor, not on the preservation and protection of the objects. While this means that children’s museums have few, if any, “museum quality” objects, they do present endless hands-on learning opportunities for young visitors.
The common mission in exhibition design for a children’s museum is to create child-centric informal learning spaces. While the themes and subjects may differ, they tend to be large-scale interactive displays that allow children to conduct imaginative play.
You may be saying, “This all sounds great, but I don’t have a children’s museum nearby!” No problem! Here are a few simple ideas adapted from actual children’s museums that can be integrated easily into your home. Remember to embrace the children’s museum philosophy of bigger is better. Large scale spaces for your child to act out their play scenarios are ultimately what makes these museums so magical. You will soon be 10 steps closer to making your home as cool as a children’s museum!
- Large-Scale Light Board
Many children’s museums include a space for light play. Remember the small light up peg board of your childhood? Many children’s museums have super-sized it. While you might not have an exhibition crew to build one for you, you can easily DIY this project! Place a large wine rack in front of your largest window. Next transform water bottles into colorful pegs by putting a few drops of food coloring into the bottle. Then watch as your child spends hours creating patterns and designs while also working on their spatial relations and fine motor skills! No large window? Can’t find a large wine rack? No problem. You can also create your own light table by placing some rope lights in a large storage bin (pro tip: Use a battery-operated strand of lights so you don’t have to plug in the bin. This makes it easy to store and move around to different areas of your house.) While this doesn’t have quite the same “wow factor” it will still be great fun and it can be used with a variety of objects. They will have a great time experimenting with how the light can move through or around various objects.
- Water Table
The “splash zone” is always a big draw at a children’s museum. As it should be! Playing with water not only inside, but in a museum? Unheard of! Children’s museums also spice up the water play by creating large scale waterways and adding pumps, fountains, and challenges to the water basin. While building a roaring river in your house is probably out of the budget, try using a large under-the-bed storage tub as your water table. Make sure it is at your child’s standing height. This will prolong their play since they won’t be uncomfortably crouching over the tub and it also invites them to move around the table as they play. You, your child, and the space around you will get wet, so place the tub in an appropriate area. Water tables can be filled with standard boats and buckets but try including things to challenge their play and encourage problem solving. For example, provide toy people and blocks and suggest that the people need to make it across the water without getting wet. Another challenge is to ask your child to create a water path for a boat so that it goes directly from one side of the table to the other. The best part about this table is that the options are endless and can be switched easily to suite your child’s interests!
- Grocery Store in Your Kitchen
There is something magical about the grocery store space in a children’s museum. It is often the most popular exhibit in the museum. This is because children love acting out adult scenarios and large-scale spaces in these museums make it feel even more real, rather than just pretend. Recreate this in your own kitchen by keeping clean and sturdy food containers on low shelves for your child to “shop for.” Enhance play by purchasing a small grocery cart or basket and including a checkout lane with a small cash register. Want to get your child involved during dinner prep? Have them “shop” in your kitchen for the ingredients you will need for the recipe. This will also help them understand the value of these items and in turn may make them a bit less wasteful at dinner.
- Tent/Camping Inside
By changing how a space looks you can inspire a whole different type of play for your child. Children’s museums achieve this is many different ways. For example, they might make a forest or even build a car repair shop. For a more budget-friendly option, bring your camping tent inside. Set up a faux fire with logs, battery candles, and tissue paper. Only use lanterns to light the room and turn on nature sounds. For added fun let your child sleep in a sleeping bag and adhere glow in the dark stars to your ceiling for star gazing. Your children will love having a new space and context for their imaginary play!
- Tracks and Roads
Many museums include large train track tables that allow a child to continue building without limits. Why not spend the day doing the same and install train tracks or roads with your child throughout your house? Don’t have enough actual tracks? Draw them! Your child will have a great time problem solving how to get over, under, and through furniture!
- Obstacle Course
Big play is an essential in children’s museums. These often include complicated and expensive play structures that would be impossible to integrate in your home. Instead, create an indoor obstacle course. At SEEC, we often will have obstacle courses than span several classrooms and require the children to practice controlled gross motor movements. Try including tunnels to crawl through, a beam or piece of wood to balance on, hoops to hop in, and a big pillow pile at the end for a safe tumbling space!
- Jumbo Blocks: Supersize them!
Large foam blocks are awesome but expensive! They allow your child to actually turn their imaginative structures into 3D life sized forms. As an alternative, upcycle boxes from your recent online orders or stop by a local store to ask for unwanted boxes. Tape down any flaps and let your child’s imagination go wild!
- Pipes, Funnels, and Tubes! Oh My!
You can often find large systems of tubes and pipes for your child to build and connect in these museums. These serve as a nice change to traditional block building materials. A quick trip to the hardware store will let you recreate a version of this in your home! Challenge your child by asking them to try and get a small ball from one end of their structure to the other or turn the tubes into musical instruments by providing your child with a stick or small mallet (like the blue man group). Experiment with different lengths to see how the sound changes.
- Fan fun!
In some children’s museums, you will find an exhibit exploring the power of air. There are several ways to do this at home. Use a leaf blower to explore which things are light enough to blow away and which things are too heavy. You could also do the same experiment with a large fan. This is a great way to expose your child early to the scientific method. Ask them to ask a question: will X float? Make a prediction aka hypothesis: X will not float and then try their experiment. You could even ask your child to revise their experiment: will X float with less air?
- Mini Museum
Create your own mini museum at the house out of a collection you already own. Does your child love super hero toys? Why not display them in a prominent place in your home and invite your child to work with you to make small labels! They will love seeing their objects honored in a special display and are sure to love giving “tours” to all the visitors in your home.