The new Delaware Children’s Museum teaches kids in a fun way while making the Riverfront hum with fun.
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There’s a place where kids can climb a rock wall, paddle down a river, hoof it with a troupe of Irish dancers and explore the stratosphere. And it’s closer than you think. It’s the Delaware Children’s Museum, and it’s the newest family attraction on the Riverfront.
The $12 million-plus project, opened in April, is the culmination of a 16-year effort to establish a children’s museum in Delaware. The facility features six interactive exhibits based on math, science, technology, healthcare and business. There’s also a traveling exhibit. The theme of all: stewardship, whether it applies to preserving the environment or maintaining good health.
The museum is a hybrid of two well-known Philadelphia institutions—the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum—but with a character all its own. Says executive director Julie van Blarcom, “We’re actually more interactive than Please Touch.”
Educators have long recognized the importance of smart play in children’s learning. In contrast to the so-called drill-and-kill of the classroom, museum learning is spontaneous, individualized and—most important—fun.
“Kids learn in a playful manner just as we do when we’re engaged,” says DCM board member Roberta M. Golinkoff, a professor of education at the University of Delaware and author of “Play=Learning.” “That’s why children’s museums are so great. They spark curiosity, creativity and wonder.”
The museum also lets adults observe their children playing, learning and discovering what fascinates them. The experience becomes more beneficial when the adult questions the child and reinforces his new language, Golinkoff says.
The DCM is a boon to the Riverfront because it draws families who might not otherwise visit the area. And the area is an exciting one, home to the new Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge (one of the few urban wildlife refuges in the country), the Kalmar Nyckel replica tall ship and the Wilmington Blue Rocks minor league baseball team, as well as many good stores and restaurants.
“We’ve always seen families as a very important dimension of the Riverfront,” says Michael S. Purzycki, executive director of the Riverfront Development Corporation. “We knew the real demand generator down there was going to be the fulfillment of the children’s museum because it really has the capacity to attract over 100,000 people.”
Children’s museums date back to 1899. Recently, they have become proven engines of economic activity. Of the 130 museums that opened their doors in the 1990s, one quarter have served as catalysts of urban revitalization, according to the Association of Children’s Museums in Washington.
A feasibility study by the DCM in 2005 showed that the 37,000-square-foot facility would generate 70 jobs with $2.7 million in compensation and another $5.6 million in annual business activity. The facility is expected to draw 135,000 to 150,000 visitors a year.
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