IO Orpheum

Joey Hinz poses with his Lego Day building competition creation called ‘The Tower.’ He was the first-place winner of the 5th-to-8th-grade age group.

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There are more than 300 children’s museums in the world, each one as unique as the next. The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum is no different.

Located in the renovated and repurposed historic Orpheum Theatre, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum has been a place of joyful learning for children in Champaign and the surrounding community for 26 years.

Kids who visited the museum in the early ’90s now bring their children here. In addition, many of our museum staff, and even some of the museum’s volunteers, were regulars when they were kids, too.

The museum’s exhibit space provides kids and their families a chance to play and learn together.

I often encounter parents or caregivers coaching kids at our classic Veterinary Clinic exhibit. A parent may ask a child, “Why do you think the kitty feels unwell?” Using the X-ray scanner, they will work together to discover the cat was pregnant all along.

Our museum associates regularly find plush fish in the vet clinic’s sink because, as the future veterinarian uncovered, the fish needed to be in water the whole time.

It’s learning through curiosity (and discovery) that really makes our children’s science museum what it is. The museum’s unique space requires us to be versatile.

For the last several years, we have created new approaches to encourage children’s exploration of the sciences and arts. We do so by utilizing the theater auditorium for large expo-style events like our holiday-themed Snow Globe at the end of the year, Brain Awareness Day in the spring and many others.

On Sept. 14, we hosted our annual LEGO Day event, which was full of LEGO activities and a building competition.

This year, we had 27 building competition entries. Kids as young as 4 all the way up to adults spent several days at home building their own original creations and dropped off their constructions to be judged during the event.

Myself, along with two guest judges, had the not-so-easy task of assessing the competition entries and selecting the top three entries in each of the five age groups. The top three entries from each of the age groups were awarded a LEGO kit as a prize.

LEGO Day is one of those events that all of our staff, volunteers and museum patrons enjoy immensely. It is a great opportunity for kids to showcase their creativity and ingenuity for the building competition, and, during the event, families work together on mini building challenges and activities.

For the families that missed the event this year, we plan to host it again next September.

In addition to our events and exhibits, the Orpheum is an educational laboratory for kids through many of our structured programs.

For example, the Orpheum provides field trips and museum visits for schools, day cares and other groups like the Girl Scouts.

We also send our education coordinator, along with some of our resident reptiles and lessons, to local schools and libraries.

We offer full-day camps when school is out of session and weekend clubs during the semesters.

We are also excited to announce that we will be hosting a new after-school program at Garden Hills Elementary School using Nintendo Labo.

Plan your visit to the Orpheum or learn more about what we do at orpheumkids.com. The museum is located at 346 N. Neil St. in downtown Champaign.

The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Xander Hazel is the assistant executive director of the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum. He also serves on the board of directors of the Champaign Center Partnership. Email him at xander@orpheumkids.com.