Child’s Play

Beaumont Children’s Museum offers enrichment, education, fun

Southeast Texas is a unique area in that it boasts the most museums per capita in the state of Texas. The Beaumont Children’s Museum doesn’t plan to get lost in the crowd. Started in 2008, BCM fills the niche of having an institution designed to enrich the children who visit by engaging them in activities that explain the world around them.

Prior to 2014, BCM existed as a series of events and programs for local families and schools, including classroom Lego kits which encouraged elementary school students to engineer and imagine all kinds of structures.

Since moving into its current location in the Beaumont Civic Center in 2014, the museum has been increasing the kinds of activities it offers beyond Legos, says Becca Amy, Executive Director of Beaumont Children’s Museum.

The fossil dig, which encourages visitors to excavate for surprises, is one of the interactive exhibits in the Beaumont Children’s Museum. Courtesy photo

“In this world of science, technology, engineering, art and math, there are things right outside our door that they may not even know about,” she says. “They could visit a science museum, but they aren’t getting the hands-on interactive experience that our museum offers.”

The exhibitions range in representation of STEAM themes. Bernouli blowers show how a ball can seemingly resist gravity by having air blow underneath it in the opposite direction. Situated across from the blowers is a fossil dig, where kids can take little shovels and brushes and uncover “fossils” half buried by sand. Just around the corner is a puppet theatre with costumes and puppets and, very soon, a monitor where kids can see themselves perform.

There is even an interactive exhibition sponsored by Ronald McDonald Charities called “Our Town,” which includes a grocery store, a bank, a dentist office and two doctor’s offices, which are all sponsored by local businesses. There is a giant Lite Brite and sensory stations for smaller children to feel different textures and patterns.

Exhibit coordinator Sheila Busceme works to develop current exhibits that will better serve young visitors, in addition to working with the BCM team to create new exhibits. She says that through installing new touch screens in the “Our Town” exhibit, visitors will be able to access more activities and enhance their experience.

“The touch screens are exciting because kids will get to interact with it and access activities relevant to the store or office they are playing in,” Busceme says. “For example, we can download an operation game for the doctor’s office, and kids can experience a simulation of the kinds of things doctors do in their office.”

The facility also includes an HEB, above, in the “Our Town” exhibit, a favorite place for young visitors to mimic adults going to the grocery store. Courtesy photo

Another recent exhibit Busceme has developed is the Maker’s Space, filled with an assortment of odds and ends and recycled old technology. Guided by themes, kids design and create new objects from the bits available to them.

“The Maker’s Space encourages kids to take everyday items and transform them into something else through upcycling,” she says.

Looking to the future, BCM is inspired by what other museums are doing across the country, as well as what they observe from the kids who visit the museum and the exhibits they are attracted to, in addition to their visitors’ interests.

“We have kids that are progressing to the next level are already ready to do something more advanced,” Amy says. “Already in fifth and sixth grade they want to do more with robotics and exploding science that really grabs their attention.”

Busceme says robotics will soon be a permanent fixture at the Maker’s Station.

“We are going to get into robotics eventually,” she says.  “We have snaps which connect to batteries and lights up different components of the kids’ creations. It is very empowering for the kids to see that they were the ones that made the light turn on — they feel capable of being able to use science.”

The museum not only houses permanent exhibits, but also has daily classroom sessions under the guidance of Ellen Weimers, who coordinates the educational demonstrations for elementary school classes who visit as well as birthday parties booked at the museum. The hands-on science activities are chosen to enhance the skill areas teachers cover in the classroom.

“Our programming is based on TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge Skills) and broken down to different subjects for the grade levels as a motivation for teachers to bring students out to the museum and for them to know the students are really getting something out of the experience,” Weimers says.

First graders, top, participate an a water-themed science activity in the classroom at Beaumont Children’s Museum. Courtesy photo

In addition to permanent exhibits and classroom demonstrations, the museum also hosts public events throughout the year. A Star-Gazing party had young visitors engaging in astronomy themed activities and provided a telescope for them to look at the night sky. Glow Mania provided all kinds of glow-in-the-dark devices and neon colors that light up underneath black light.

This past fall, they hosted Touch-a-Truck which allowed kids who had only ever played with toy cars and trucks, the chance to climb up in the driver’s seat of back-hoes, tractors, military vehicles, first-alert vehicles and more. The most impressive thing about the event was the amount of volunteer help, Amy says.

“There were thousands of visitors for Touch-a-Truck, she says. “Activities like this couldn’t happen without the tremendous support of the community.”

The Beaumont Children’s Museum staff is not only excited by the amount of public support for their institution and programming, but also about their future plans. They are working on grants and raising money to get a stand-alone building to create a larger, more interactive educational experience for the children who visit.

“We are rolling out our new tagline this fall —  ‘Building Children’s Minds,’”Amy says. “I think this community needs a place like Beaumont Children’s Museum for the families. It is about coming together as a family and coming down here and play.”

The Beaumont Children’s Museum is located at 701 Main St. in the Civic Center in downtown Beaumont. To find out more about events and admission, check out their Facebook page or visit www.beaumontchildrensmuseum.org.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Story by Caitlin Duerler, ISSUE staff writer

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