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Connecticut Children's Museum has all sorts of things for kids to do

New Haven Register
Jim Shelton, Register Staff
06/17/2004

NEW HAVEN - It's hard to say where Whitney Lee, 6, and her twin sister Annie will wander off to next. They might sidle up to the working beehive upstairs and try to identify the queen bee. Or they might mosey over to the pretend post office and fire off a letter to their mom. They might also just step into the hall and phone someone in France. All are possible at the Connecticut Children's Museum, where each room is an educational theme park.

"They love to play the musical instruments," says Ya-Ling Lee of New Haven as her daughters set to work constructing some homemade wind chimes. "This museum has so many things we don't have at home."

Located at the corner of Wall and Orange streets, the Connecticut Children's Museum is becoming something of a quiet giant among local kid destinations. The place features eight rooms of distinct activities - everything from a maze building wall to a recreation of the bedroom in "Goodnight Moon."

"We believe in authentic things," says Sandra Malmquist, the museum's director. "It's not a museum where you press a button and watch or listen to something. Here, you can take an idea and do something with it."

The museum, opened in 2001, is designed with Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences in mind. For example, there's a room filled with red wheelbarrows of wooden blocks, kid-sized tool belts and tools and an architect's table with real blueprints for kids to explore their spatial intelligence.

That's where Bridgeport firefighter Jim Bonosconi sits with his 10-month-old son, Nicholas.

"He just found his way into this room," says Bonosconi, who lives in Shelton. He watches Nicholas unload a pile of blocks onto the floor and begin examining them.

Upstairs, Kisa and Philip Weesies of Grand Haven, Mich., are touring the "Goodnight Moon" room with their 5-month-old daughter, Jillaena. They'd read about this room in a magazine article and made a point of visiting during a cross-country trip to New England.

"We read the book to her every night," Kisa Weesies explains.

According to Malmquist, the museum averages 11,000 visitors a year. The figure includes paid admissions on Friday and Saturday afternoons, as well as regularly scheduled school and day-care visits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"Our goal is to make this place feel like it's owned by the community," Malmquist says. "Children's museums are dependent on repeat visitors. We know the average across the country is 30 percent. Our average is 55 percent."

The Saturday book program is particularly effective. Each week, the museum brings in musicians, storytellers, actors and other performers to bring a different children's book to life. Every family that attends the event gets a free copy of the book.

Other highlights of the museum include:

  • Sister Cities telephones that allow a child to hear a message from any of six New Haven Sister Cities around the world.
  • A play area where children can dress up and re-enact stories such as "Caps For Sale," and "Jump, Frog, Jump."
  • A wall of magnetic word tiles to create poetry or stories.
  • Costumes in the Naturalist Room near the beehive. Kids can be either beekeepers or bees.
  • Books and crafts projects in every room.

Maurice Streater, 9, sets up his base of operations outside the Naturalist Room, near an ant farm observation window.

He has a magnifying glass and a copy of the book, "Are You An Ant?"

"These ants are looking for food," notes Maurice, who is visiting from Chapel Hill, N.C. "They're leaving a trail of liquid that gives off a smell for the other ants to follow."

Malmquist says Maurice's experience is typical of youngsters who find their way here.

"We have this theory that children learn in different ways," she says. "If you have small, kid-friendly spaces, they'll find the places that move them."

Jim Shelton can be reached at jshelton@nhregister.com or (203) 789-5664.

İNew Haven Register 2005