By Emily Harrington
What: Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in downtown Champaign
Where: Downtown Champaign: 346 N. Neil St. (the corner of Neil Street, which runs one-way to the south as it passes the building, and East Washington Street)
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on most Mondays, but it will open on certain holidays (great for days when the kids have school off).
What to bring: Admission is $5 per adult AND per child—$10 a pair. Senior and military discounts are available. Family memberships are available for $70 per year, but you should consider buying a Super Family pass which could get you and your gang into Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and Children’s Museum, Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, Children’s Museum of Illinois in Decatur and many others—for a whole year.
1. About the memberships: They include admission for parents, legal guardians or any caregivers. And unlimited visits—well worth it. So, bring your wallet—including quarters. Lots of them. As there is a metered (closely watched) parking lot out front. Speaking of your wallet, there is a gift shop right when you enter. It holds some very neat educational toys, and their highly effective bubble concentrate is for sale in the shop (more on that later).
2. You can also bring snacks (no nuts).
3. The Orpheum has been a go-to spot for us since my first son could walk. The museum always provides shelter and fun on a rainy day. There are so many different experiences going on. I notice something new each time we visit.
4. The exhibits: Each exhibit teaches about history or a scientific principle like centrifugal force or momentum. Visit a castle, a boat, a teeny kitchen perched tree-house style above an area with wooden blocks. This kitchen hosts two of my son’s favorite attractions—a chute that allows you to drop balls to the block area to teach about gravity and the slide entrance. The swirly slide leads to the entrance of the secret passage—a tiny cut out toward the floor. Be aware, you will probably not physically be able to follow as it is designed for little ones—unless you are extremely flexible and slight in stature. This becomes a perfect spot for them to run and hide from you. This area also holds a vet clinic complete with X-rays and little lab coats.
5. Past this area, you’ll find the bathrooms, a floating ball machine, an oversized Lite Bright and one of the main attractions—the water table. Grab one of the provided smocks—they are bound to get a little wet. The kids love floating the ducks and boats down the rushing water while changing the direction of the water flow with these plastic boards. If I could just get my son to STOP drinking the water!
6. In this area you can also marvel at the works of area muralist Glen C. Davies, for he provides an awesome backdrop to the whimsical space. This area also has a pulley bubble blower that allows the kids to blow a huge bubble. This leads me to my favorite spot—the outdoor space. If it’s nice out, it will typically be open. On the way to the courtyard, you will pass the many activity tables featuring trains and sand. Something for everyone. You’ll also pass the long craft table where Toddler Tuesdays feature a craft at 10:30 a.m.
7. One of the most appealing things about the museum is its unique location—a kiddie oasis among a primarily adult-centric downtown. The courtyard allows for a view (and delicious smells) of the action while keeping your kiddo safely behind gates. The large courtyard has a dino dig, a prehistoric cave where you can draw with chalk, a little house and my favorite—BUBBLES. Huge, colorful, easy—bubbles. Whatever magic bubble formula they use makes for some awe-inspiring bubbles. Again, available in the gift shop. Give the caged turtle a shout out on your way back in while heading straight up the ornate staircase.
8. On Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. you can join the Animal Encounters program. When we were there my son got to touch a corn snake, bearded dragon and a turtle. Watching the dragon eat crickets and the turtle annihilate a worm was a highlight. There are a few other ongoing events to check out, too. And many special events.
9. Upstairs you’ll find the tubes of air that push colored scarves in different directions. The kids love waiting for them to fly out the open ends. There are also quieter activities upstairs like Legos and coloring. The animals live up there, too.
All of this learning and entertainment is wrapped up in the historic 1900s theater in downtown Champaign. It’s never sterile, and it’s always filled with character and amazing charm. Visit soon!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.