Learning through Play

Vanessa Macy and Tony Lawson

Photography provided by Cincinnati Museum Center


The Duke Energy Children’s Museum is celebrating 20 years of providing children and their families a legacy of fun and learning.

“It’s so exciting to be celebrating 20 years of wonderful experiences at the Duke Energy Children’s Museum,” says Vanessa Macy, senior director of museum experience.

The Duke Energy Children’s Museum will reopen May 4 after a temporary closure as part of the historic restoration of Union Terminal. “You’ll still be able to experience your favorite exhibits,” Macy says. “They will just be surrounded by a fresh coat of paint, new carpet and some exciting updates, like an added slide in The Woods.”

The big 20th birthday bash is planned for Saturday, June 23. “We will be running some of our guest’s favorite activities and demonstrations,” she says. “It will be a great time to check out the updates to the Woods, visit our Kids’ Town Mayor, Georgina the American Toad and unleash your creativity in our KidSPACE gallery when balloon artist David Baker stops by at noon.”

The Duke Energy Children’s Museum recognizes the importance of play. “Having a place for unstructured play, where children can guide their own learning, is vital,” says Tony Lawson, former director and current senior director of school and teacher partnerships.

Children build valuable skills through play. “Children gain fine-motor and spatial-reasoning skills by building with blocks, and they build important science process skills, such as observation, inference and classification by playing in the Energy Zone,” Lawson says. “They discover the needs of living creatures and empathy for the environment by visiting our live animal programs.”

The museum is a catalyst for learning. “The Duke Energy Children’s Museum helps build skills for our youngest visitors, creating a bridge to our other two museums, the Cincinnati History Museum and Museum of Natural History & Science,” Macy says.

In 1988, a group of parents recognized the need for a children’s museum in Cincinnati and formed a grass-roots initiative. Joined by the Junior League of Cincinnati, the group expanded and incorporated in 1990, opening the Children’s Museum of Cincinnati at
Longworth Hall in 1994. The museum moved to Union Terminal in 1998 and reopened as part of Cincinnati Museum Center.

“Since the Duke Energy Children’s Museum opened at Unionn Terminal, we’ve had more than 7 million families learn through play in our exhibits,” Lawson says.

Some of the early childhood programs that debuted after opening at Union Terminal are still going strong. Every Wednesday at 11 a.m., families can visit Story Tree Time in the Little Sprouts Farm exhibit. Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., feature the still popular Super Sprouts, an art-based experience designed for young children and their families.

The Dance Party program, with dance lights and music, has become a favorite in the past few years. The “Maker” programming was so well received, the museum created an exhibit that provides the tools children need to create with KidSPACE (Science-Play-Art-Creativity-Exploration).

“On Sunday, May 6, we will celebrate 2018 as the Year of Engineering with our themed event called Building Big Ideas,” Macy says. “Children can design and construct in our KidSPACE gallery and test their skills in our newly renovated Kids at Work exhibit, sponsored by Turner Construction Company.”

The museum has long-time collaborations with community partners, such as the Public Libraries of Cincinnati and Hamilton County with the “Read Across America” program in early spring. Partnering with Happen Inc., their collaboration with UpSpring on “Lights, Camera, Learning-in-Action” gives children experiencing homelessness the chance to visit the museum and create a short film based on their experience.

The museum educates families and teachers on the importance of play. This year was the 10th anniversary of Learning Through Play, which includes a single-day conference for early childhood educators and programs for parents.

“The program that I’m most excited about now is Museums for All,” says Lawson. “It allows families with food assistance cards to receive free parking and a discounted admission rate.”

The museum is a terrific destination for school field trips. “Since we know it’s difficult for some schools to travel to us, we have dozens of programs that travel to schools and libraries through our Programs-on-Wheels,” Lawson says.

So what does the future hold for the Duke Energy Children’s Museum? “We will continue to be a resource in our community, a place where children can be themselves and learn through open-ended play,” Macy says. “We love what we do and will continue to create experiences where fun and learning go hand-in-hand.” 


The Duke Energy Children’s Museum is located in Union Terminal at 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45203. For more information, call 513.287.7000 or visit www.cincymuseum.org.