If you’ve ever watched a toddler intently “driving” a plastic Cozy Coupe down the sidewalk, you know how kids yearn to do what grown-ups do.
Whether it’s shopping for groceries, serving as a soldier or being a television announcer, at Fayetteville’s Fascinate-U Children’s Museum, kids can try on a grown-up role for size, learning about daily life in a whole new way.
“Our motto, which we borrow from the Boston Children’s Museum, is ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand,” says Fascinate-U Children’s Museum Director Susan Daniels. “This kind of museum gives kids a chance to understand the things they see around them every day – it helps to make abstract concepts more concrete.” The museum’s 12,000 square feet, located in the historic former city hall building in downtown Fayetteville, are a child’s paradise – a serious playground that attracts 50,000 visitors a year who take advantage of the facility’s nominal fees to enjoy fun and educational activities and exhibits.
On a given day you might see kids learning about physics on the gear wall, where they can make 37 magnetized plastic gears do amazing things, or perhaps pedaling off the calories they gained on the Nutricycle after eating the pretend cheeseburger they chose over the healthy grapes. Some kids are deep into the dress-up area, while others delve into the military exhibit, where they can don uniforms and backpacks to guard a fort or play with Fred, the museums much-loved green rat snake. The TV studio, where kids can see themselves on a TV monitor while they deliver the weather report, is always a favorite with visitors, Daniels says. But the most popular exhibit is the realistic grocery store.
“We do add exhibits as we can, but what really changes is the way kids use the exhibits as they grow up,” Daniels explains. “In the grocery, for example, little kids punch the buttons on the cash register or shop for groceries, while older kids ring things up, total prices and make change. On TV, little children watch themselves on the monitor, while older kids become directors.” In addition to standing exhibits, the museum offers Science Saturday classes, Girl Scout badge workshops and art classes. The museum was born 15 years ago, just as children’s museums were becoming popular across the country, through the efforts of two local moms.
Housed in an old recreation center for a few years, the state- and city-supported museum just celebrated 10 years in its current facility and now boasts a growing membership of 350. Volunteers include local high school students who help out as part of their graduation requirements. While a tight economy may be hard on some cultural activities, it has actually increased visits to Fascinate-U, Daniels says. “If people are looking for more value for their money, they’re coming here.”