AWEsome Air experience opens at DuPage Children's Museum

 
 
Updated 12/18/2015 9:55 AM
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  • Sarah Orleans, president and CEO of the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville, helps make final preparations for the opening Friday of the new AWEsome Air exhibit.

      Sarah Orleans, president and CEO of the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville, helps make final preparations for the opening Friday of the new AWEsome Air exhibit. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • An interactive display called Airwaves Jungle is taller and more complex at DuPage Children's Museum's new AWEsome Air exhibit, which opens Friday.

      An interactive display called Airwaves Jungle is taller and more complex at DuPage Children's Museum's new AWEsome Air exhibit, which opens Friday. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Patrick Downs, an exhibit technician at DuPage Children's Museum, measures out one of the finishing touches of the new AWEsome Air exhibit that replaces the former AirWorks area.

      Patrick Downs, an exhibit technician at DuPage Children's Museum, measures out one of the finishing touches of the new AWEsome Air exhibit that replaces the former AirWorks area. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Air just got more AWEsome at DuPage Children's Museum.

The museum on Friday is opening AWEsome Air as the second phase of its largest exhibit, AWEsome Energy, in which the capital AWE stand for Air, Water and Electricity.

At the southeast corner of the museum's main floor at 301 N. Washington St. in Naperville, AWEsome Air offers eight play spaces where kids can create dozens of activities -- all to explore and learn about air as a force of energy, said Kimberly Stull, director of exhibits and operations.

Children ages 2 to 12 can play with a new Whirlygig Table, Air Rally board, Airwaves Jungle, Wind Tunnel, Power Tower, Air Tubes and Stomp Launchers, all of which employ air in movable, colorful ways.

"It ended up being a real fun way of learning," Stull said about the new exhibit.

AWEsome Air follows the first phase of the energy exhibits -- AWEsome Electricity -- which opened in June 2012. And it comes three months after the museum reopened following a nine-month closure to repair damage caused when a pipe burst in the January cold and flooded all three levels.

At the new Whirlygig Table inside the air zone, a variety of pieces challenge kids to build a shape or structure that will twirl or twist when they pedal to push air its way.

Stull said young air enthusiasts are likely to fail their first few times, but that's the point. Failing in a safe environment like the museum will lead kids to problem-solving skills, she said, even if they learn by trial and error.

"What we want is for children to be successful in creating something that moves," Stull said.

At the new Air Rally display, four children can play at once, experiencing how air moves things and setting that motion in play themselves by pumping, pushing or stomping. Colorful ping-pong balls are pushed through translucent tubes in the board that's built low to the floor at a child's level.

A museum classic called Airwaves Jungle has been expanded and made more complex to excite older children. The exhibit is an interconnected maze of clear tubes in which fuzzy bundles that look like colorful cotton balls on steroids are moved quickly through by a machine pumping air. Now it's built tall, over the heads of both kids and adults, so users can experiment with more cause and effect reactions of where different levers and pulleys make the air -- and the giant colorful cotton balls -- travel.

Many of the new features of AWEsome Air, which is an update of the former AirWorks exhibit, feature sculpture or art, adding a new dimension to the scientific exploration of forces.

"Our mission is the integration of science, art and math," Stull said. "We want there always to be an integrated beauty in the space."

Museum President and CEO Sarah Orleans said she was excited to see kids begin to play and learn in the new area.

The openings of AWEsome Air and AWEsome Water were delayed several months because of the flooding. AWEsome Water is now scheduled to open in 2016, completing a $1.5 million revamp of the largest permanent exhibit in the museum.

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