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The Children's Museum of Houston Has an Eye on the Future

By S. Mathur

The Children's Museum of Houston believes in catching them young. Henry Yau, Public Relations and Promotions Director feels that museums are a great learning experience for children: "Museums are spaces where children's creativity, imaginations and inquisitiveness are allowed to roam freely. They inspire, impact, challenge and create awareness."

The Museum differs from other children's museums in its range of exhibits, among other things, says Yau: "Yes, the Children's Museum of Houston is different in many ways. We are America's No. 1 children's museum and one of the largest children's museums. We cover a wide range of subjects; from early childhood motor skills to topics they won't see until they're in college, like nanotechnology or DNA extraction." The Museum had been voted the #1 Children's Museum in America by Parents magazine.

The Museum has a Kids' Committee that plays a big role in choosing exhibits, Yau adds: "It's a combination of ideas, trends and social needs. But primarily, it's our Kid's Committee that's a big influence in our decision-making. They work like our advisory board. Currently, we are featuring Yalálag: A Mountain Village in Mexico, a cultural exhibit which takes you on a whirlwind adventure. We also just re-launched How Does It Work? which is now surrounded by moving air ducts, fast-rolling balls, and creative contraptions."

The Museum has 14 galleries with 90,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Exhibits include the solar-powered indoor-outdoor EcoStation with a native plant garden, woodland area, pond and a research pavilion. Children can participate in weekly and year-long programs, such as nature journals, water quality testing, decomposition observations, soil type explorations, home environmental awareness inventory logs, bird feeders and more. The How Does it Work? Gallery offers kids hands-on investigative experiences. They can also engineer and build pulleys, pneumatic tube systems and even roller coasters and cars.

An online calendar lists daily events at the Museum, which also include events and activities for the under-2 age group. Some current and upcoming events include visits from Santa and the Snow Queen, music from the Houston Horizon Chorus, science experiments and invention conventions, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. Museum spaces are also available to host kids' birthday parties, and staff will take care of everything from decorations to clean-up.

The community is highly supportive of the Museum's mission. Annual attendance numbers more than 800,000 people and the Museum reaches 1.1 million people in the community with outreach programs that cover a wide range, from bilingual literacy and STEM to special events for homeschoolers. Yau says that "There is even an afterschool "parents as first teachers" workshop.

There are many rules to follow when making exhibits for children, Yau says: "There are too many! But we take into consideration: interactivity, 21st century workforce preparedness, and of course, 'is it fun?'"

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