For nearly 40 years, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" took young viewers on factory tours, showing them the origins of objects they used every day like crayons and plastic balls. Those videos are the centerpiece of the traveling exhibit How People Make Things, which was developed in the show's hometown by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and is now open at the DuPage Children's Museum.
"Children today can feel removed from common items in their lives," said DuPage Children's Museum marketing manager Bri Bromberek. "It's kind of easy to wonder 'Where does that originate from?' We'd like children to understand that even though there are machines that make these materials, there are real people on the floor. It gets them to appreciate how the objects were made through human ingenuity."
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How People Make ThingsWhere: DuPage Children's Museum, 301 N. Washington St., Naperville, (630) 637-8000, dupagechildrensmuseum.org
Admission: $9.50; $7.50 for seniors
Hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 27
The exhibit puts kids in the shoes of factory workers. It starts by having children don white jackets, boots and hard hats in a locker room style area. The Mr. Rogers videos play throughout the space along with displays of the products being made, whether it's a carousel horse or a red wagon.
Kids can also press buttons to hear people talk about how they make products, guessing what the result will be -- whether it's a guitar or a chocolate bar. The exhibit was partially sponsored by Navistar, and displays show how the company builds school buses and trucks.
"These are all items that children come into contact with every day," Bromberek said. "It's not really specific and technical where they wouldn't understand."
The educational experience takes visitors through the major steps in the creation of many products: cutting, molding, deforming and assembling. Kids can make a 3-D paper horse by using a die-cutting machine to create different pieces and then matching them together.
Children can use cranks to deform wire into a spring shape and manipulate wax with both hand tools and machines along with pouring warm liquid wax into molds to make spoons.
Toy trolleys can be assembled and kids can then test their work on a ramp.
"With this exhibit the children will not only see the process of manufacturing, they are making things with their own hands," Bromberek said. "The exhibit tells the story of how everyday items are manufactured and brings to life all the things that are involved in that process."
Kids can safely interact with plenty of machinery, seeing how a vacuum deformer will shape a plastic sheet around a stencil and how by using one's own strength and a roller a penny can be stretched and stamped.
By pulling levers, liquid plastic fills a mold and becomes a comb or a hanger. Various signs show how things would be done at a real factory, like using a variety of fasteners or an assembly line.
"This exhibit really encourages kids to make things and know that they can do this as a career as an adult," Bromberek said. "They can learn to be inventors."
Bromberek said that while the museum typically caters to younger visitors, How People Make Things has expanded its appeal to 5- to 12-year-olds plus parents who grew up watching "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
"There are definitely kids that are growing out of some of the exhibits and they want something new and different," she said. "It's still good for the younger kids because there are so many hands-on experiences."