We all know that kid who always has a million questions or the kid with plenty of big ideas or even the kid who struggles with words but can tell great stories in other ways. At DuPage Children’s Museum, not only are kids of differing abilities celebrated, but they become role models to inspire other kids to ask, think and be creative.
The newest STEAM exhibit at the museum, The Questioneers: Read. Question. Think. PLAY!, arose out of the staff’s love of the books by the Naperville author Andrea Beaty. The exhibit was intentionally created to celebrate diversity, bravery, creativity and resilience.
“DuPage Children’s Museum is a place where every child should feel welcome, where every child should be able to find something here that is of interest and that is exciting and lets them discover their own passions, the thing that they are good at right now today,” says Kimberly Stull, Chief of Building and Making at DuPage Children’s Museum. “This exhibit to me is the epitome of that: To be able to create a place where every child should be able to find something to do that they just love.”
Stull took time out to share a bit about what she loves in the new hands-on exhibit that goes way beyond teaching science, technology, engineering, art and math and how families can fuel their kids’ creativity and passions before, during and after exploring the exhibit. What kids discover they love might even surprise their parents, she says.
Life lessons and playfulness
When doubts crept in about whether the museum team could actually make the exhibit happen during a pandemic, they channeled a favorite can-do character — Rosie Revere, Engineer.
“We really thought Rosie was a great character. She personified the experience of the museum, tinkering, playing, taking recycling products and making something new,” Stull says. “Even more important was this idea of perseverance and failure and having that really important adult in your life that believes in what you are doing and supports your learning. That just felt like an amazing story.”
The result of the museum team’s own perseverance is really cool experiences for families, with relatable characters who experience joy, playfulness and even sadness, and really lets them play together.
For instance, inside the exhibit, kids get to engineer rockets and test them and even pilot Rosie’s life-size Cheese-Copter. They can build a bridge and recreate the famous pancake arch with Iggy Peck, Architect, and be empowered to lead a movement like Sofia Valdez (Future Prez), to make a difference in their community. Kids can explore their curiosity, pondering big questions from Ada Twist’s Thinking Chair and experimenting with an array of scientific objects on her interactive shelf.
Families might especially be drawn to the newest character, Aaron Slater, Illustrator. Aaron has dyslexia but is an amazing illustrator, a life-size example showing that every child has different abilities to celebrate. With him, “we see beauty in our differences rather than challenges.”
It’s the kind of exhibit that gives families all kinds of opportunities to explore different passions, she says. In it, parents can let their kids explore and see what they are passionate about, then they can take that passion home and support it.
“If we can inspire that, we’ve done part of our job. I hear all the time here, ‘I didn’t even know you could do that or I didn’t even know you were interested in that.’ It lets them be open enough to discover what their child is interested in,” she says.
More ways to enjoy the exhibit
Stull offers these tips to help get the most out of the exhibit:
1. Read at least one of the books in the Questioneers book series before visiting. Your kids will love the illustrations by David Roberts. Reading and literacy are so important to all learning, and reading together makes it even more meaningful, she says.
Stull says kids who know the books experience the exhibit with “wonderful amazement.” Kids who don’t know all of the books engage in the exhibit in different, but wonderful ways, she says.
The museum and exhibit are designed for all kids, but kids ages 4 to 9 will be really invested in the characters. The exhibit also includes a Young Questioneers area for infants and toddlers to explore math concepts while sorting whimsical items found in the storybooks.
2. It’s practically impossible to experience all of the museum in just one visit. Parents can give a gift of learning, fun and family time together this holiday that lasts all year with a year-long family play membership. Memberships include unlimited free admission and member-only events that more than pay for themselves in just a few visits.
“This exhibit offers so many opportunities to explore that every time they will experience something different,” Stull says. The same thing can be said for the entire museum, though. “Every time a child comes, they are going to learn more and experience more.”
3. Parents should come ready to explore, too. Stull encourages parents to be open to discovering new things, right alongside their kids. “Come and have some fun, encourage and hold up your kids, let them succeed and find those joys about your kids,” she says.
“We know that joyful early learning experiences set the stage for lifelong exploration of curiosity and passion. By providing extraordinary learning experiences where children can test, question and play to learn with adults who care for them, we nurture joyful discovery, which develops critical thinkers who value experimentation and innovation,” she says.
The Questioneers: Read. Question. Think. PLAY! exhibit was developed and created by the museum as a traveling exhibit. It will be in Naperville through next summer, then will tour the country to inspire even more kids.
“We want to change the world. That’s why we do what we do, we want to impact kids all over the world,” Stull says.
Learn more about DuPage Children’s Museum at dupagechildrens.org.