New Strong exhibit teaches fundamentals through construction play

05:00 AM, Sep 29, 2013

The 'Little Builders' exhibit helps kids learn, through play, the concepts of construction, motion and simple machines. (Provided photo)/


Written By Alan Morrell

If you go

What: “Little Builders.”
When: Through Jan. 5.
Where: The Strong, 1 Manhattan Square.
Cost: $13.
For information: (585) 263-2700 or museumofplay.org.

Victoria Holzapple of Greece was excited to hear about the new exhibit that opened Saturday at The Strong museum. Her 6-year-old son might be more excited when he sees it.

The exhibit, called “Little Builders,” gives children a chance to learn and play while exploring the concepts of construction, motion and simple machines. And that, Holzapple says, is exactly the type of activity her son, Kingston Goode, loves.

This will captivate his attention,” says Holzapple, a medical secretary who regularly visits The Strong with Kingston. “It’s hands-on. He likes tools, making things, being involved. That exhibit will give him a little sense of independence, allow him to do things for himself. His favorite phrase is, ‘Mom, I’ve got this.’ “

Little Builders” opens Sept. 28 at The Strong and will be there through Jan. 5. The exhibit was created by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Ore. It has more than 20 interactive stations in five themed areas:

Construction site. Children explore the concepts of movement and cause-and-effect while they climb in, out, over and under the site’s four levels. Kids transport objects via a hand-operated pulley, build patterns in a brick wall and “paint” a wall with rollers.

Structures. This allows children to learn about concepts like size, weight, shape, balance, gravity and stability. Kids create structures using blocks, Lego Duplo bricks and PVC pipes.

Aerodynamics. The characteristics of moving air are explored by inserting balls into vertical air chutes, and watching them move through clear pipes and pop into a basket.

Cranes. Children learn about mechanical physics by moving blocks to a flatbed car using a child-size gantry crane.

Simple machines. Plastic hammers, wrenches and screwdrivers are part of a “Tool Wall.” Kids can drop plastic balls into a series of clear pipes and watch them travel down a twisty path. A hand-operated conveyor belt lets children work together to move materials.

When kids enter the “Little Builders” exhibit, they’ll put on hard hats and construction vests and get to check their look in a full-length mirror. After that, they’ll grab a push cart and orange rubber cones and head off to start building.

These kinds of activities promote several skills and concepts, says Debbie McCoy, director of early childhood programs and Woodbury Preschool at The Strong.

The big takeaway is that these are very open-ended, hands-on exhibits,” McCoy says. “There’s a lot of bang for the buck.”

Learning about shape and volume, she says, develops science and math skills. Operating a crane helps with large-motor development, and working with screwdrivers and hammers — “twisting things, turning things” — helps with small-motor development.

Collaborating with other children on a conveyor belt, McCoy says, educates children about taking turns and other social skills. They learn self-confidence and develop emotionally by trying to accomplish something and sticking with it, she says.

For some children, this might be their first opportunity to encounter other children their age,” McCoy said.

With its “open-ended” toys, “Little Builders” involves a lot of creativity, and that, too, is beneficial.

When children have a chance to represent their thinking, it helps them begin to think abstractly,” McCoy says. “Those are the foundations for reading, writing, for literacy.”

Describing what they’re doing and learning the names of tools, for instance, aids in a child’s language development, she added.

Holzapple says Kingston will be interested for other reasons, too. His father, Terrell Goode, works in commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

This will make him feel like Dad — like, ‘I can do it!’ ” she says.

Little Builders” is designed for ages 2 through 7, but The Strong is supplementing the exhibit with building blocks and other items to make it appropriate for kids up to age 10, McCoy says.