Children's Discovery Museum expands to incorporate interactive play area

Both children and adults explored a brand new educational playground near downtown San Jose on Friday, spinning the wheel to open an enormous solar sunflower or crawling through a series of hexagonal tubes paying homage to a beehive.

The 22,000-square-foot area, called the Exploration Portal, is a component of the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose and is positioned in an urban area adjoining to Freeway 87 and the Guadalupe River. The area, which is free to the general public, features eight interactive exhibits designed to show children about pattern, proportion, scale and symmetry by reflecting mathematical and scientific concepts through nature.

Marilee Jennings, executive director of the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, said the museum wanted to make use of the Exploration Portal to develop concepts from Bill's Backyard, an out of doors space dedicated to natural history. Interest from visiting families in a beehive on display on the museum inspired an open structure product of stacked hexagons that children could climb through, she said.

Another example were the three giant Smartflowers in the realm. Using a hand crank, the petals may very well be opened in order that the solar modules inside were exposed to sunlight. This gave children an idea of ​​what solar energy was all about.

“Our philosophy is that children learn best when they are allowed to explore with all their senses,” Jennings said.

Other exhibits include “Measure Me!”, a measuring device that helps children learn concerning the conditions in their very own bodies; “Rocks that Sing,” a small set of xylophone-like rocks that children can use to make music; and “Whirling Flyers,” a kinetic sculpture that makes birds fly when someone turns a crank.

Colette Gribben, an eight-year-old girl from Oakland, was fooling around within the “Measure Me!” exhibit, using the rulers to measure her height. She said she liked that there have been things to climb on on the Exploration Portal.

Gribben said she also enjoyed the “Patterns Everywhere” exhibition, which featured greatly enlarged images of natural patterns, resembling the arrangement of seeds on a strawberry or the scales on a butterfly’s wings.

Rich Turner, the museum's director of exhibits and facilities, said the interactive exhibits are designed to show children to acknowledge patterns, sequences and groupings, which may help them learn counting and arithmetic.

“The ability to make these simple little connections that we take for granted, but young children have to learn that,” Turner said.

In addition to encouraging children to explore nature, the space had two other goals: transforming the unused urban area adjoining to Bill's Backyard right into a welcoming and academic environment, and demonstrating the usage of sustainable materials. Various features of the portal utilize natural techniques to filter pollution from stormwater, recharge groundwater, and highlight drought-resistant plants and renewable wood resources.

Planning for the Exploration Portal began in 2018, however the opening, scheduled for 2021, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the space opened, Jennings thanked the greater than 200 donors for helping to fund the location. Several local officials spoke concerning the museum's efforts to create an accessible, environmentally sustainable and academic space for youngsters.

Students from Educare, a preschool in East San Jose, were invited to play on the location and even ripped the tarp off the gate to the Exploration Portal. The area is scheduled to officially open to the general public on June 29.

“I think we're really focusing on early learning, especially in science and math,” Jennings said. “We're getting very young children to think about how they can recognize patterns in nature and developing the skills to do that,” Jennings said.

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