Guest Author - Lisa Polovin Pinkus
I realize you may not live in or near Milwaukee, Wisconsin – nor will you be visiting there any time soon. This review is still worth reading, and the message behind my visit to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum applies to all. Milwaukee’s children’s museum is a fabulous space for imagination, inspiration, and education!
The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee is an experience beyond words. We decided to disregard the sign, which advised that the museum was best suited for children ten and under. The ages in our group ranged from 5 to 7 to 9 to 10 and even 11. Not only did the eleven-year old have a blast, so did the 43-year old and the 69-year old.
It was so interesting to observe my children, along with the other young children, who were there. Their experiences were all thrilling and, yet, each experience varied based upon the developmental stage they currently occupied. The youngest ones flitted from exhibit to exhibit – highly stimulated, excited, and observing an adult world built for them.
The grocery store, for example, was filled with shelves of food, a deli department, and a florist. Children pushed shopping carts, made floral arrangements, and prepared deli sandwiches. They made their way to the cashier station where they could ring up their groceries, bag their groceries, and take incoming phone calls from other exhibits representing the post office, the bank, or the auto fix-it place. What I loved most about the grocery store was the bakery department where children put together a block puzzle to create the cake they wanted to buy. The museum creators thought of everything – including a “yuck bag” for items that had become soiled, torn, or needed to be replaced.
Just beyond the toddler years, children began to explore the exhibits on deeper levels. They paused to embrace the learning experiences that ran throughout the museum. “What is a vegetable?” one sign in the grocery store asked. Children identified which foods in the list were vegetables and which ones were fruits. At the post office, they sorted the mail, filled their bags, and set off to deliver the mail. Each of the venues in the mock-town had its own mailbox for receiving incoming mail.
The “big kids” really embraced the experience of the museum, and the learning was pertinent for them as well. At the drive-thru ATM, children could make a deposit or withdrawal and experience a math lesson as they figured out how much money was left in their account. They loved the newsroom where they could do a sportscast, give the weather report, or stand behind the camera. I think this section was the 43-year old’s favorite spot.
The children who didn’t really “belong” at the museum according to age recommendations had just as much – if not more – fun. They moved from the experience of the museum into a creative application of each exhibit. They submersed themselves in the playacting and understood these dramatic roles from their real-life perspectives.
It was a blast to watch the older children work their way through the 50 states. They rode a bobsled in Alaska where a video of dogs was activated by their voice. The more they spoke, the faster the dogs ran. The sled they stood on rocked from side to side as they raced through the winter snow.
In Nevada, they sat on lawn chairs, under a canopy of stars with a constellation chart at their fingertips. They snorkeled in Hawaii, lying face down with their face in a large snorkel mask where they watched a video of fish swimming by. They built the St. Louis Arch from foam blocks and had to figure out how to form the arch.
The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is a place where every visitor can become an explorer, a dreamer, and an experiential learner. Teachers acquire great ideas for their classroom and for motivating their students with innovative learning techniques. Parents will be reminded that our children need space and time to be a child and explore the world with naïve and joyful eyes. While we cannot duplicate the museum in our own homes, we can certainly gather inspiration for learning projects we can do with our children. Children who actually get to visit the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum will leave there – no matter how old they are – having had a great time!
We chose to visit the Betty Brinn Children's Museum on a recent visit to Milwaukee and did not receive any financial incentives for this write-up.