As you look around the Imagine Nation Museum, you will see lots of kids from 2 to 10 smiling, laughing and playing while they experience things like a moving table that draws amazing pictures, encasing themselves in a six foot bubble or creating a miniature Ferris Wheel out of Legos and erector sets.
The Imagine Nation Museum, a division of the Boys & Girls Club (the first children’s museum in the country to be chartered as a Boys & Girls Club Unit) and Family Center of Bristol is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum. Funded in part by the United Way of West Central Connecticut, this building of fun and learning encourages experimenting with sound, air and motion. The kids are having so much fun doing all this stuff, they don’t even realize they’re gaining knowledge as well!
When you initially enter the museum, you see the gift shop to your left (a staple in many museums) but on your right is an original, refurbished 1940s soda fountain from Redman’s Dairy in Bristol, that serves ice cream cones, sundaes and other sweet and colorful treats. Against the front wall sits a player piano whose music adds the right bubbly mood.
After you get your ticket, you push through the double doors that open up into a gigantic room full of hands-on exhibits.
The most colorful is the Harmonograph. This is a large version of our little Spirograph toys without the flying plastic geared wheels and hand cramps. This machine uses the swinging oscillations of a pendulum table and creates amazing spiral images with markers on paper we can take home with us. By pushing the table in various ways, we can get different shapes to our designs.
Find the “whisper dishes” and you can stand on one side of the room with your child at the other as you talk to each other via these simple tube telephones.
Try your hand at balancing ping pong balls on a cushion of air provided by hand-held blowers. There are a couple of “launch tubes” that demonstrate how air can be directed to produce more power. The kids will love watching the journey of the balls up and down the wall of tubes.
For the creative kids, there’s the “Stretch-It” wall where they can stretch rubber bands over the pegboard to form interesting patterns and designs. It’s a great way for children to learn their shapes and, for more challenging puzzles, kids can try and recreate the designs from the nearby charts.
You’ll run into the “Sandsational Sand Pendulum”, the “Gravity Well”, the “Tuning Fork Table” and the over-sized Glockenspiel. And in the rear is the “Kids Zone”, a room where kids dress up in a construction hats, safety goggles, and work aprons and can do everything from sculpturing with plumbing pipes to building with gears, Legos, erector sets and pixel blocks.
The next two floors are completely different but just as fun.
So many kids love the water-play room complete with its own water table and the very simple machine that allows a child (or grown-up for that matter) to encase himself inside a giant wall of bubble! There’s the jungle-themed playscape, an exhibit of 300 dolls brought here from around the world showcasing the traditional garb worn by the people of North and South America, Africa and Asia and “The Healthy Nation”, the area where everyone can dress up as doctors and pretend with a six foot operating table, a dentist’s chair, an eye chart and so much more.
There are exhibits featuring Bristol’s own ESPN including a third floor viewing room with two walls of TVs showing short programs about things like space travel and a reproduction of an ESPN studio where kids can be newscasters and read from teleprompters. They can even bring home a DVD copy of their performance! There is also the opportunity to role-play as their favorite sports hero in front of a green screen with exciting digital backdrops as their family cheers them on.
There are so many more exhibits to see like live animals and exotic plants then listed here. Plus, the museum sponsors special happenings every month including events like the Back-to-School Barbecue, the haunted house and a journey to Whoville where kids can meet the Grinch.
The museum is usually open until 5 PM but their opening and closing hours may extend due to special events. To learn more, including information on their sponsors, field trips, workshops and outreach programs, visit their very informative website at www.imaginemuseum.org.