Thinkery, originally Austin Children’s Museum, is an answer to parents’ pleas about “educational fun.” This play-based interactive museum located in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood will keep your kids entertained for hours while also teaching them valuable and useful concepts. Who knows? The museum might even teach you something too.
Austin Children’s Museum was founded in 1983 by Austin parents and educators to create a space to provide innovative educational opportunities to children in Austin. In 2013, the museum rebranded as Thinkery.
“We want to get kids interested in learning through non-classroom opportunities by exploring the world around them, exploring how and why things work, and sparking curiosity in them that they’ll hopefully take into their later teens and adulthood,” explains Jeff Dellinger, the director of marketing and communications at Thinkery. “It’s really just that sense of curiosity and wonder that we hope inspires people all throughout their lives.”
Thinkery focuses on providing an opportunity for children to learn, play and experiment with concepts relating to STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It does this through interactive exhibits, such as “Fresh! Farmers Market,” which teaches kids about healthy meal choices and local food sources, and “Spark Shop,” which encourages kids to build and tinker to make something together.
The “Spark Shop” exhibit includes rocket launchers, which are a hit for both kids and adults.
“The first time I ever got to go to Thinkery with my nephews, (the ‘Spark Shop’) was one they really took to,” Dellinger says. “It’s a great micro-example of the larger point of the museum. Kids love it because it’s loud and things are flying around. It’s also really active since they get to press buttons and make things fly, but they’re learning concepts like rocketry and geometry.”
Dellinger also points out that the science behind it lies in the fact that the kids don’t even know they are learning. While the kids think they are just playing with rockets, they are also getting exposed to concepts that they will need to explore all the way into adulthood.
Thinkery really hopes to get parents and guardians more involved in the learning that can take place inside the exhibits. Dellinger says that they love to encourage parents and guardians to play with the kids and ask leading questions to really drive home the concepts at hand. Additionally, some of the concepts illustrated might even be a refresher for the adults.
In addition to providing a fun learning environment for kids, Thinkery also has a philanthropic mission that is as important as its mission to educate.
“Just as important, particularly over the last number of years, is realizing and adjusting for the fact that not every child gets the same kinds of opportunities beginning early in life,” Dellinger says. “And we know from research and studies that have been done that early childhood exposure to STEM or STEAM really does have a measurable impact on academic performance all throughout a kid’s life.”
For this nonprofit and mission-based organization, it is important that as many kids as possible have the opportunity to get early exposure to STEAM concepts regardless of any societal, social, financial or other factors that could impede that. This mission is spearheaded by their Open Door Initiative, which provides discounted and free admission to the museum so that all children and families have access to the learning experience and programs inside Thinkery’s doors.
“We are one of the most visited cultural institutions in Austin, but so many folks in Austin don’t have the opportunities to get to experience Thinkery and the impact that it has,” says Andy Bell, Thinkery’s CEO. “The organization focuses on expanding those experiences out into the community and to those (who) have been underserved and underrepresented.”
In addition to the Open Door Initiative, Thinkery also has scholarships available to both their camps and new inquiry model preschool.
Thinkery is here to equip and inspire the next generation of creative problem solvers through their innovative and hands-on learning experiences.
“We’re opening doors to concepts that kids can then go on and explore,” Dellinger remarks. “Not everybody’s going to turn into a biologist, doctor or physicist, but if you look around at the world today, a basic understanding of and appreciation for science is something more people could use. It’s great that we are providing that first entryway into the idea of scientific experimentation and hypothesis testing to kids in a way they find interesting and fun, as opposed to stuffy and easy to ignore.”
In May, a new exhibit will open in the feature gallery replacing the current exhibit, “Earth, Wind, Inspire.” The new exhibit, “Notion of Motion,” will be dedicated to learning about and illustrating the different kinds of motion and letting kids explore the dynamic impact of a small change.