Kohl Children's Museum's Dover Tech Play Lab teaches kids to be technology creators

Nearly everyone - men, women, children - sits in front of computer screens, television monitors, tablets, cellphones, mesmerized by the images before them.

But Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview is encouraging children to take a more active role in technology, with a big assist by the Dover Foundation, a philanthropic division of Downers Grove's Dover Corporation.

"It's really getting them to be creators of technology instead of just consumers of technology," said Stephanie Bynum, Kohl vice president of programs.

Technology, she noted, is more than computers, an aspect reflected at the Dover Tech Play Lab, which debuted at Kohl Children's Museum before the pandemic and now is a permanent feature.

Sewing machines were featured in February. Before that, it was "Code-a-Pillars," in which children learned about sequencing and coding to get a toy to move, play music and do other fun things.

Now through April 7, children and their grown-ups can work with programmable sensory robots "Dot and Dash" in the Dover Tech Play Lab.

By issuing commands, children can program the colorful robots to move, change directions, and navigate mazes.

With a museum education specialist helping their group or doing it themselves, fast-learning children are introduced to coding concepts such as sequencing, hypotheses, memory and debugging.

  Robots operated by children make their way through a maze of play bricks at the Kohl Children's Museum. Joe Lewnard/

"We're pleased to support the valuable learning facility at Kohl Children's Museum," said Adrian Sakowicz, president of The Dover Foundation, an offshoot of the diversified global manufacturer.

"The Dover Foundation is committed to supporting educational endeavors like our own Dover Scholars Program, and we believe this is another way to advance initiatives that enhance STEM experiences for children," Sakowicz said.

While delivering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts in developmentally appropriate settings, these hands-on projects - and Kohl always is researching and testing new ones, like green screen technology - also teach children patience in dealing with technology, Bynum said.

"It's developing that mindset and that sense of persistence that kids will need throughout life, because technology is staying, it's not going away," she said.

Though Bynum's educational background is in child development, when planning the Dover Tech Play Lab the museum worked with people out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University to design what the program would look like, she said.

The lab is separated by movable dividers into typically four flexible spaces with tables, chairs and the monthly theme's technology, like Dot and Dash.

  Lincoln Fitch, 5, of Glenview operates a robot at the Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview Tuesday. Joe Lewnard/

Each space is reserved for family "pods" geared to children starting at age 2. An education specialist is assigned to each family should they seek a little help.

"Some families like to do it on their own, others like more guidance," Bynum said.

The Dover Tech Play Lab is available Tuesdays through Thursdays with afternoon sessions at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.; and Fridays at 9:30 a.m. for members only, plus sessions at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. at the museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd.

Because this is a "super-popular program," Bynum said, reservations for the Play Lab are required, but free, and may be made at the Kohl's front desk upon checking in.

"There's a lot of energy in the room," Bynum said.

Technology is not a passive activity in Kohl's Dover Tech Play Lab.

"Technology, especially computers, only do what we tell them to do," Bynum said. "And that's an important lesson for young children to understand - and for all of us to understand. We want children to be creators of and creators with technology, not just consumers of technology."

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