Making Museums Fun for Kids, July 26

In the movie, “Night at the Museum”, an unemployed divorced father is hired as a night watchman for the Museum of Natural History in New York. Thanks to an ancient curse, all the exhibits come to life after the sun sets and Larry Daley comes face to face with the “inhabitants.” A playful T. Rex skeleton, tiny armies of Romans and cowboys, and a mischievous monkey drive Larry crazy. Larry struggles to find a way to control the chaos and still become a hero in his son’s eyes.

Wow! What if the exhibits really did come to life! That’s something I teased my kids about this weekend as we toured the animal exhibits at the Hastings Museum. My kids have seen both “Night at the Museum” and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” They like the movies, but my comment seemed a bit too real for them. My 5-year-old daughter grasped my hand and hung onto my leg.

“No, the animals don’t come to life,” I said calming my daughter’s fears.

“Yeah, mama’s just joking,” my 8-year-old son said to his sister.

But what if…

What if the exhibits did come to life! Imagine how that would “wow” the kids. Bears, historical Native Americans and in Hastings’ case, the Kool-Aid Man, would all walk the halls on their nocturnal jaunt. The sea monster, Tylosaurus, lived in Nebraska 82 million years ago. Having that creature alive would be quite a terrifying sight.

In “Night at the Museum,” Larry’s son helped his dad solve the mystery of the curse and in the process found out that his dad was pretty cool after all. And once the nightly chaos was controlled, Larry and his son even enjoyed the “live” exhibits.

Only in the movies can museum exhibits magically talk with people. In real life, kids must use their imaginations to capture their interest. But sometimes, museums are a bit too intellectual for kids, especially young kids.

The Hastings Museum seemed to have a bit of its own magic, though. No live exhibits, but live interaction.

The J.M. McDonald Planetarium gives kids the chance to learn about Earth and space in a fun setting. We were whisked away to the red planet and learned about stars and galaxies. The show, “Infinity Express” took us on an express ride through the universe to unravel its mysteries.

“That’s Saturn and there’s Jupiter,” I heard my daughter whisper. She was learning, in a fun setting.

Then there was the IMAX theater show. “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk” combined the thrills of a rollercoaster river ride with a crystal clear message to help save our wild rivers and America’s water supply. Yes, the message may be a bit profound for elementary-aged kids, but when it’s presented on the giant screen the show becomes very real.

I also like how Hastings Museum made the displays fun for kids by creating a game of sorts.

In the display “Treasures from the Vault”, my kids enjoyed looking for unique objects, like antique dolls or bottles made in the shape of a cabin. This display is totally interactive. Older visitors take a trip down memory lane looking for items they used earlier in their life. And for kids, it’s exciting to see how many artifacts they can find, while still learning.

Kids can learn about the importance of ground water with a hands-on exhibit that includes a paleontology dig site, water works station and 1857 Nebraska log cabin.

And my highlight of the Hastings Museum was the Kool-Aid exhibit. Who doesn’t love that powered-flavored drink? Edwin Perkins developed Kool-Aid in Hastings in 1927. Here you learn how this tangy thirst-quencher became an international product that is still popular today.

Do you know when the Kool-Aid Man first came on the scene? Kool-Aid Man, originally known as the Pitcher Man, hit the scene in 1975.

My kids even got to vote on their favorite Kool-Aid flavor. Jacob picked strawberry…Olivia, grape.

All in all, we were impressed with the museum’s efforts to capture the imaginations of children. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t talk to us as he did in “Night at the Museum”, and a mischievous monkey didn’t try to take our keys, but we did have an “encounter.”

We met the flavorful Kool-Aid man, got “splashed” by a wild river ride on the big screen and “wished” upon the exploding stars in our galaxy.

Have you been to a museum that’s captured your imagination and helped kids learn in entertaining ways? I’d like to hear about your “Night at the Museum” experiences.

Talk soon!


About the Author...
Taryn Vanderford
Taryn Vanderford is an Emmy-winning journalist who currently works on "First at Four", "Pure Nebraska" and "Moms Everyday" for 10/11 and Gray Television.

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