New SA Children's Museum Is A Masterpiece 

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Just Do It

click to enlarge The sprawling 'Big Outdoors' exhibit tempts little daredevils with a ropes course and a 30-foot-tall climbing structure. - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • The sprawling 'Big Outdoors' exhibit tempts little daredevils with a ropes course and a 30-foot-tall climbing structure.

So what's it actually like to do The DoSeum? As with all choose-your-own-adventure stories, it depends on whom you ask.

Nicole Pippin, an SA yoga instructor who spoke to the Current about her recent visit on a special showing for educators, said she was "was impressed to see how environmentally conscious they were in building. The gardens are beautiful and they've created a dynamic outdoor area including the fastest slide [she's] ever been on."

click to enlarge Hands-on activities and high-tech aplenty at The DoSeum. - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Hands-on activities and high-tech aplenty at The DoSeum.

For her part, socialite and Puro Pinche blogger and mom Stephanie Guerra got a sneak peek through a social mixer held at the museum.

She said she plans on taking her 12-year-old son for the fun outdoor opportunities.

"Kids don't get as much outside activity as we probably used to and this huge play area with interactive climbing space, slides and tree house ... give him a nice space to expend some energy," she said.

Her son is actually just outside the museum's main target audience — kids up to 10 or 11.

The point is to ensure that kids have fun — but it would be considered mission failed if kids don't build new conceptual underpinnings at the same time.

Though these exhibits are thoughtfully and meticulously designed, with state and national education standards in mind, the importance of play cannot be overstated.

"When children determine the direction and content of their own play, they have many opportunities to hear and practice language," early childhood specialist Shannon Lockhart explained in a recent article. "This type of language-rich play directly influences future development of higher mental functions."

The DoSeum definitely pushes math and science, academic areas in which American kids, sadly enough, are actually far behind many of their worldwide counterparts.

However, Hurd said the hope is to provide cross-curricular experiences — wherein kids can build connections between creativity and problem-solving, between math and the arts, between science and literacy — that are so hard to generate successfully in the classroom setting.

click to enlarge Divided into a variety of different zones, The DoSeum's outdoor space comes with a beachy "Sandscape." - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Divided into a variety of different zones, The DoSeum's outdoor space comes with a beachy "Sandscape."

To this end, The DoSeum offers six permanent exhibits:

In Sensations Studio, children are invited to initiate the integration of physics by playing with the movements and augmentation of light and sound. A prismatic wonderland of colors and sonic curiosities, this exhibit gives children a playful way to explore using a host of (mostly) everyday objects, amalgamated in a thought-provoking manner. At one particular stop in the Studio, visitors can create a work of art with light and movement and then email it to themselves to enjoy later.

In the Explore exhibit, the focus is on maps, models and shifting scales to provide a sense of place in the world and to activate curiosity about geography and culture. One of the museum's many opportunities to use cutting-edge digital technology, Explore uses Google Maps to help kids appreciate the scope of their world.

At the Innovation Station, it's all about trial and error and engineering-type problem- solving. Here, visitors can use real-world tools to plan and build bridges, to explore magnetization and to program robots.

One of The DoSeum's most exciting exhibits, and most unique, the Spy Academy gives kids a chance to become resourceful and creative super-sleuths. As Spy Academy "recruits," kids solve their way through missions using math and logic. With this exhibit, kids will have so much fun that they'll never feel like they're studying coding, patterning, geometry and deductive reasoning — though that's precisely what they're doing.

In the literacy- and narrative-focused exhibit Imagine It!, kids can create their own stories and play with perspective and narrative patterns. With stop-motion animation tools, spaces for drawing and writing and a digital interface that allows kids to build a story around themselves, this exhibit fosters creativity and literacy while strengthening the understanding of sequence and cause-effect.

My personal favorite exhibit, and by far my 2-year-old Emerson's favorite too, is the miniature world of Little Town. Here, kids get the chance to role-play, which is, according to Hurd, "an incredibly important part in creating meaning for kids." She explained that children achieve profound learning when they "watch what we do, copy what we do and then they make it their own." Thus, Little Town boasts its own post office, veterinary center, grocery store and bank. There's even a tiny taco truck, just to make sure kids remember they're in SA.

All this, plus two huge halls for traveling exhibits, a fully functioning pre-school, teacher training opportunities and workshops for all ages. It seems as if The DoSeum's poised to help overhaul the learning environment in San Antonio.

Inaugural To-Do

For its grand opening weekend, The DoSeum is throwing a family-centric block party of sorts. Beginning with a ribbon-cutting at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, it's followed by two days of community-building and museum exploring.

While parking and outdoor spaces will boast a "festival-like atmosphere," according to Hurd, Saturday revelers will be treated to half-price admission. In addition to refreshments aplenty, you can expect live music and guided tours to usher in the era of The DoSeum.

In the final analysis, The DoSeum is not only a huge win for kids but for the city as a whole. And, while it's true that STEM concepts and creative thinking are things that our community needs to push, The DoSeum's greatest contribution may well be in activating a sense of wonder and environmental stewardship in people of all ages.

Now, that's something worth doing.

The DoSeum's Grand Opening Weekend

$5-$10, 9:15am-6pm Sat, June 6, 9am-5pm Sun, June 7, The DoSeum: San Antonio's Museum for Kids, 2800 Broadway, (210) 212-4453, thedoseum.org

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