New Children’s Museum set to open soon in downtown Las Vegas.

By Charlie Johnston

I was quickly won over by Las Vegas’ Lied Discovery Children’s Museum when I visited the facility in late 2011 while researching the feature “Southern Nevada Museums” for the January/February 2012 issue of Nevada Magazine. The exhibits were varied, engaging, and well cared for; the staff was friendly and helpful; and the throngs of children were eagerly devouring every lesson to be learned, blissfully unaware that all of the fun they were having was really learning in disguise.

For about two decades, the museum has opened its unique brand of hands-on learning to more than 2 million visitors and provided more than 470,000 Nevada schoolchildren with curriculum-based field trips and enrichment opportunities. And the museum’s popularity has only increased with time, evidenced by visitation nearly doubling between 2008 and 2010.

Pushed to capacity and showing signs of its age, the museum broke ground on a new facility in late 2010. The new DISCOVERY Children’s Museum, at Symphony Park and next door to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas, is slated to open in February in the Donald W. Reynolds Discovery Center.

“The new DISCOVERY Children’s Museum will build upon the past 22 years and create an experience that is fun and engaging, while remaining relevant to the world in which children grow up today,” says museum CEO Linda Quinn. At three stories and 58,000 square feet, the new building is nearly twice the size of the former museum I visited in 2011, providing ample space in which to achieve the organization’s mission: create fun and engaging experiences for children, ignite a love of lifelong learning, and serve the community’s ever-changing needs.

Like its Symphony Park neighbors, the new museum is visually striking and pedestrian friendly. The vibrant and whimsical sign occupies much of the facade and pays tribute to the flashiness that made Las Vegas famous, and large arching front windows allow street views of The Summit, a multi-level, multi-activity exhibit that fills the museum’s front hall.

Beyond The Summit, the new $55-million facility houses nine themed exhibition halls containing new interactive exhibits, six multi-function classrooms, and a 5,000-square-foot traveling exhibit gallery.

The themed exhibit halls include Fantasy Festival, where children are free to explore and play in a kid-sized theater complete with a castle and pirate ship backdrop; Eco City, where role playing in a mock city allows children to safely discover the world around them while learning about sustainable living; Patents Pending, where young scientists and inventors are encouraged to experiment in a wacky laboratory; Toddler Town, a vibrant and interactive play center geared for children ages six months to five years; Water World, an exploration of concepts used at the Hoover Dam and other water-related fun; Who Dun It, another mock town, this one set up with clues to spark curiosity and encourage young minds to develop investigative skills; Young at Art, a colorful and visually inviting gallery with art stations and interactive exhibits that promote creative expression; and It’s Your Choice, where children can learn about healthy eating and lifestyle choices in an environment that promotes parent-child interaction and conversation.

In creating what museum officials call “Nevada’s premier informal education resource,” the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum also aims to provide resources for students in the strapped-for-cash Clark County School District, the fifth largest in the nation. Some of the outreach programs provided by the museum include free field trips to one (elementary school) grade per semester, House Calls, and YouthWorks.

House Calls, a hands-on, interactive health science outreach program started in 2009, allows educators to introduce students—kindergarten through fifth grade—to high-quality, anatomically accurate medical models and “real” medical equipment. YouthWorks targets at-risk teens. The 17-year-old program combines mentoring, job skills training, homework support, and career and educational guidance to benefit underserved youth. YouthWorks is another example of how the museum achieves its mission to serve children and families from economically and culturally diverse backgrounds.

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