I found it! As I debarked from the train I looked over the railings and saw… Eureka!
Eureka! is the National Children’s Museum in England. The only museum of its type in the UK, Eureka! has hundreds of hands-on exhibits designed to teach children about themselves and the world around them.
Based on the North American model of children’s museums, the 14+ acre site includes a two-story museum with six galleries and an outdoor area that features a sensory ‘Wonder Walk.’ The facility also houses a large nursery (what we would call a day care or preschool).
The main exhibition galleries for children 3 to 11 are Me and My Body, Living and Working Together, Our Global Garden and Sound Space. There are also two galleries for children under 5.
Me and My Body allows children to learn about how the body and the five senses work. They can step inside a giant mouth to find a wobbly tooth and can learn how joints work by riding a skeleton bicycle.
Living and Working Together creates a town square atmosphere and children can learn about the jobs people do in daily life. Money can be printed, deposited and withdrawn at a bank. Letters can be mailed at the Post Office, and cars can be filled up and worked on at the garage.
The Global Garden features six themed gardens – Town, Country, Jungle, Ocean, Ice and Desert. Children learn what is precious and unique about each garden and how they are connected to each other and themselves.
Sound Space provides enables children to explore sound, music and performance through state-of-the-art technology. Visitors help Orby, a young alien from a faraway planet, understand and enjoy music. In doing so, they learn about the unique relationships between music and creativity, science, technology and the arts.
As I spoke with their chief executive, I learned that there are many similarities between FT and Eureka! Both are places where children play to learn and adults learn to play. Both have Yellow Brick Roads leading to our entries. Both are charitable organizations that serve about 250,000 visitors each year. We each have sensory gardens and interactive exhibits. We each offer special events and programs for children and families. We both have diverse sources of revenue and earn close to 80 percent of our budgets with fundraising filling the gap. We both are landlocked and look for unique ways to create new experiences for our communities. Both of us are major attractions in our areas.
There are some differences as well (besides the obvious that they have a large indoor space). Founded in 1992, Eureka! is technology heavy. Nearly all of their exhibits rely on technology of some sort, and lighting and sound are also key elements in the displays. They spend a lot of their staffing resources on technical support as well as on the day care/pre-school. They call their entry-level staff members ‘Enablers.’ They offer consultancy services on play to community organizations and colleges, and have an outreach vehicle they take places. They survey their audience religiously. They charge a high admission fee per person, but it can be used for a year of visits. (In other words, once you pay you can attend as often as you like for a year, much like our membership.)
As you can see, just like the children who visit them, I had a good learning experience during my visit to Eureka! and will come home with stories to tell and things to do.