Children can explore Kenya, move grain through a simulated grain elevator, search the banks of a gentle stream and take a tricycle down a yellow brick road at Kansas’ largest children’s museum.
The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in Topeka features more than 15,000 square feet of indoor exhibits and a novel 4½-acre certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.
The museum is built to encourage educational play, both indoors and out. The education team is led by an engineer and an early childhood educator who work together to make science, math and technology concepts fun and engaging for young children. Programs complement the museum exhibits, which explore science, financial literacy and art.
Outside, children can take a tricycle on paved trails that wind through 4½ acres, climb into a giant treehouse or aboard a pirate ship.
“Our outdoor space, which is really unique among children’s museums, is designed to allow young children to learn about the natural world,” says Dene’ Mosier, president and CEO of the Discovery Center. “They can find fish in the stream, harvest vegetables in the garden, and explore our tallgrass prairie and pollinator habitat with their families.”
The traveling exhibit “Kenya’s Kids” highlights what life is like for children in Kenya, a country both technologically-advanced and filled with longtime traditions.
Visitors will travel through five immersive environments, including a rural home, where water conservation is practiced.
At a school, children can learn Swahili using touchscreen notebooks just like students in Kenya.
Visitors can also convert dollars to shillings and “shop” in an outdoor market and at a duka, tiny shops found throughout Kenya, as they learn about the country’s advanced phone-based financial system called M-Pesa.
At the national reserve, children can become a ranger and drive a safari vehicle. They can also become a keeper at an elephant orphanage that cares for abandoned baby animals and learn about animal conservation.
Life-size sculptures of native African animals, created by artisans in Nairobi, are integrated into the exhibit. Using tablets to snap photos of the animal sculptures, an augmented reality experience triggers a 3D rendering of the animal in its habitat.
“Kenya’s Kids,” originally created by The Magic House in St. Louis, runs through Jan 4. Topeka is less than a three-hour drive from Omaha and has reciprocity with the Omaha Children’s Museum, among others nationwide.
The Discovery Center is nestled inside Topeka’s historic Gage Park, another memorable family destination. The 160-acre park is home to a mini-train that takes visitors on a mile-long scenic course to a carousel, Animaland playground and the Topeka Zoo. All attractions are within walking distance of each other with plentiful parking.
Learn more at kansasdiscovery.org.