Start climbing the stairs to get to the second floor of the Miami Children’s Museum, and you might notice the steps light up and play some low notes. Keep going, and you’ll realize every step plays a different tune. You’re climbing a musical staircase.
The musical staircase is only one new feature in a major renovation project that saw each of the museum’s exhibits gutted and replaced over the last six years. The museum opened its current building on the MacArthur Causeway in 2003.
The renovations combine traditional, hands-on play like building blocks and art tools with new technology that’s both educational and leaves room for old-fashioned child’s play.
“One of our main goals is to provide kids with high-technology features as well as simple manual functions,” said Lucia Williams, the museum’s chief innovation officer. “It’s part of our philosophy to show them things they don’t see at home.”
Budgeting $20 million, the museum tasked the SKOLNICK Architecture + Design Partnership with modernizing each of the exhibits in line with the museum’s educational mission and the Miami-Dade Public Schools’ core curriculum. The face-lift was finished in April.
Now, the Miami Children’s Museum features a full art studio, kid-friendly exercise equipment and dozens of gesture interactive displays — giant screens that respond to kids’ movements.
Each exhibit aims to teach young children about different aspects of Miami, and many expose them to new careers.
The PortMiami exhibit is designed to teach kids about imports and exports, and allows them to drive remote-control boats and operate a crane. The My Green Home exhibit includes a house equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine, intended to educate children on energy conservation. And “Pet Central” allows kids to play veterinarian, while teaching them the environmental benefits of pet adoption.
Most of the nonprofit Miami Children’s Museum’s exhibits are provided by corporate sponsors, who assist with both the funding and design of the programming of the exhibit. A Publix exhibit, for example, is both sponsored by and inspired by the supermarket chain. Complete with a deli counter and checkout lanes, the museum’s Publix allows kids to pretend to shop. Next door, “Bank of America” allows kids to make change and learn how to save and withdraw.
One of the most unusual features of the Children’s Museum is the 1-year old Snoezelen room, a multi-sensory environment that can act as therapy for children on the autism spectrum and with other special needs. Part of the Museum’s Multi-Sensory Access Program, the room’s lights, sounds, gesture-interactive display and other sensory features can be controlled by buttons accessible to kids who visit it.
The Snoezelen room will further service special needs kids in hiring an expert in multi-sensory therapy to permanently staff the room. The specialist will be funded by a $40,000 grant awarded from the Project Innovation grant challenge. NBC 6, Telemundo 51 and the NBC Universal Foundation awarded funds to seven South Florida nonprofits that showed “outstanding innovative programs to solve everyday problems.”
In addition to keeping the Snoezelen room open during the museum’s regular hours, the Children’s Museum holds “Sensory Friendly Saturdays.” On the second Saturday of every month, the museum opens for a lower rate, suspends group tours and reduces its sounds and lights in an effort to make the museum experience and multi-sensory therapy more accessible to children on the spectrum.
Though the major changes to the exhibits are finished, smaller developments are still coming. The next phase of renovations will include constructing a new entry building with interactive activity spaces and a climbing structure, an interactive water feature outside and new entry for groups and children on field trips, Associate Director of Marketing Alexandra Akshar said.
IF YOU GO
What: Miami Children’s Museum
Where: 980 MacArthur Causeway
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Cost: Admission costs $15 for Florida residents and $22 for nonresidents, and is free for members.