New displays, new fun at Orpheum

New displays, new fun at Orpheum

CHAMPAIGN — More Legos! they screamed. More computers!

Since it's best to keep kids entertained while you're educating them, the Orpheum Children's Science Museum listened to the clarion calls.

They ordered more of the Danish plastic building blocks, so beloved that a hit movie has been made about them.

They ordered more computer gaming equipment where education has a fun side.

And they've also made some safety and maintenance changes, in a spring clean-up that just ended.

For 100 years old, the former Orpheum Theatre looks pretty darn good.

The architecture firm Rapp and Rapp designed the 1914 building to be a stately pleasure dome, with its interior French Renaissance and Baroque and the exterior Classical Revival.

There were 754 seats and 18 loge boxes in the theater, which closed in 1986.

The seats are gone now and the wide-open auditorium makes a lively setting for weddings (which raise funds for the museum) and night-time events such as a recent beer festival.

The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5.

Zoe Stinson, the museum's acting director, said the clean-up and additions at 346 N. Neil St. make the place more attractive — and safer.

For instance, the SS Ackermann, a tugboat simulator, has always been climbable, but Stinson was a tad worried for her own 3-year-old clambering on it until safety ropes were added.

Future tugboat captains can explore the engine room, observation deck and cabin while trying to pilot the cargo safely down the river.

"Some of the controls are real," Stinson said.

The SS Ackermann isn't the only boat in the house.

Orpheum resident artist Maxx Sentowski of Champaign was on the museum's floor sprucing up a wooden boat "to make it more boat-like."

Outside, dinosaurs continue to roam the earth, an Orpheum tradition.

There's also a safety upgrade to a newer exhibit, Castle Workalot, which offers kids the medieval world of castles and kings and knights.

In the castle, simple machines — pulleys, gears, levers and wheels — perform what young engineers will them to do.

The Orpheum Animal Clinic has critters in abundance, including a cage for an enormous Madagascar cockroach.

The museum offers families and schools a place for exhibits, field trips and special events, with clubs and programs aimed primarily at children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Stinson said the Legos are particularly welcomed by young museum-goers.

A recent Lego Day was the most popular the museum has ever offered, the director said.

The mezzanine level of the museum will have Lego bases mounted on the wall; they will allow for transforming the level to a bright, mass-created activity center.

There will be Lego robotics in the near future, at least for special events and clubs, Stinson said.

Also on the mezzanine, kids will see their drawings dance on the screen, projected from a Wii uDraw tablet.

Kids can draw with chalk, or make virtual felt objects and magnets, said education coordinator Rory Dushman.

"This is a really fun to way to teach. And no grades!," said Dushman, a recent education graduate.

Stinson said the mezzanine will have new art, as well as "scratch and sniff" wallpaper left over from a Willie Wonka event.

"We don't want kids to lick the walls, but sniffing is OK," she said.

Check it out

What's new at Champaign's science museum for children? Here's what acting director Zoe Stinson has to say:

"We have created all new summer camps this year and have some great partnerships to help us out, including our Messy Masterpieces art camp with the help of 40 North Arts Council and our Fabulous Foodies camp partnering with Pekara Bakery and Common Ground Food Co-Op.

"All of our summer camps will be held at Fluid Events this year instead of at the Orpheum. We have a lot more space for the kids there.

"We are also planning on launching our new WeDo Robotics Club for the next semester. Our LEGO Robotics Club is one of our most popular clubs and parents are always wanting to sign their younger children up.

"Robotics can be challenging for younger children so this is a great opportunity for them to get their feet wet and start learning the basics to robotics."

More information is at

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