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A New Place To Play 

by Christine Beamer & r & Right now, it doesn't look like much -- a stairway next to the escalator in the atrium of River Park Square leading to a dimly lit basement with wires snaking along the floor and posts outlining future walls. But within two months, construction will produce Mobius Kids, a new discovery museum for children 10 and younger.


The museum will occupy 16,000 square feet in the mall basement and feature ongoing and traveling exhibits. The project is funded by Mobius, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing outlets for learning experiences for children. "There aren't that many experiences available every day of the week that are geared for kids," says Gage Stromberg, executive director of Mobius, "and we wanted a spot for kids to learn and have some fun."


Stromberg proudly refers to Mobius Kids as "a new incarnation of the Children's Museum." The original Children's Museum on Post Street closed in August 2003 due to lack of space, according to Mobius board member Dana Anderson. After it closed, the Inland Northwest Science and Technology Center and the Children's Museum merged to form Mobius, and began fund-raising for a larger children's museum. "We had similar missions and focused on a similar age," says Anderson about the merger, "and we decided it would be more efficient if we came together." Mobius also hopes to open a science center on the north bank of Riverfront Park in 2007.


The Children's Museum originally expected a one-year closing, but it will have been absent for two years by the time Mobius Kids opens on Labor Day. "It took longer to raise money than they anticipated," says Stromberg, "but I think the end result was well worth it."


After the walls, electrical system and plumbing are in place, Mobius Kids will feature both temporary and ongoing exhibits. Stromberg hopes that new classroom space will give children hands-on links to real-world experiences that kids have been missing since the Children's Museum closed in August 2003.


One exhibit, called "Geotopia," will encourage kids to investigate water, weather, and ecosystems using a stream table, an erosion table and lots of bugs. Another area will be devoted to creating art projects (which may eventually be overseen by an artist in residence). There will also be a stage that can be used for dress-up, performances and story time. For the little ones, Mobius has planned a forest landscape (complete with a tree house) that allows toddlers to investigate things and develop pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills. "Everything in the area is very touch-friendly," says Stromberg. "We hope [kids] will be learning in an entertaining environment," he says. Mobius has also planned a Filipino culture exhibit in which children can shop, bargain and perform daily tasks.


A new interactive safety exhibit -- sponsored by the family of Cooper Jones, a local child who was killed in a biking accident -- will feature actual traffic lights and teach kids bike safety, traffic safety and fire safety.


In addition to rotating the permanent exhibits, Mobius Kids will feature traveling exhibits -- something the old Children's Museum could not offer because of a lack of space. The grand opening will feature a traveling exhibit called Take Flight, which encourages children to invent their own flying machines and test them out.


Instead of 9,000 square feet on two floors (as in the old Children's Museum), Mobius Kids will spread out on one level. "It was hard for parents to keep track of more than one child," says Anderson. "Now [kids] can be in close proximity at two different exhibits." Suspended memberships with the old museum will be honored at Mobius Kids until they expire.


Though Mobius Kids looks much different than the Children's Museum, the goal is the same. As Stromberg says, "We want it to be a good place for parents and kids to interact, to learn together and to play together."





Mobius is scheduled to open on Labor Day weekend in River Park Square. Visit www.childrensmuseum.net.

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