Imagine a place where your child can paint on glass walls, bang away on utensils to produce “music” and play in water for hours on end, without anyone ever telling him to stop. At the Stellar Children’s Museum in Gurgaon, you and your child can also spend quiet moments together in the Montessori area reading a book, or clad the skeleton of an F1 car with screwed-on panels. Though its promoters Akshay Sethi and Anjana Menon grade this play and learning centre for children between 2 and 8 years old, it does appeal to kids up to 10.
Sethi and Menon bravely call it a museum, risking association with stuffy, gloomy corridors and room after room of historic exhibits in glass boxes. The well-intentioned National Science Centre is the closest place to a fun learning zone in the city, but the poor upkeep and rather sarkari feel do put a damper on things.
At Stellar, the exhibits are meant to be touched, played with and thoroughly enjoyed. They are new and colourful – glossy Gurgaon mirrored in every respect. If you really want to slot it, the museum covers subjects from science to social studies. But if you go beyond the obvious, there are many concepts and skills, both academic and non-academic, that children may pick up as they explore with parents, with the museum’s educators and on their own. Most importantly, even kids who have seen it all will have fun.
“When we came back from the US three years ago, we found nothing for our twins [now 5],” says Menon, the director. The couple brought in Chicago’s RedBox Workshop, keeping in mind that the company had prior experience with a similar project. RedBox suggested following certain safety standards: The edges of consoles and tables are rounded, the paint nontoxic, and jigsaw pieces, blocks and nuts and bolts large enough that they are not a choking hazard. In addition, the whole area is completely wheelchair-friendly. The museum is affiliated with
the USA-based Association of Children’s Museums, which helps put them in touch with industry best practices and international resources.
Spread across a 10,000 sq metres area, Stellar is conveniently located at the furthest corner of the mall (go in through Gate 4), on the second floor (not too far from the third floor food court, but you may want to stick with the quieter café inside). In all, the space is divided into six zones. Invent It is an area where kids are introduced to simple science concepts like the flow of air, gravity and magnetism. The Air Wall, for instance is a large structure with many pipes. At the press of a button, there’s a whoosh of air. Kids can see things moving, rising and rotating. For older kids, there’s the Ball Track, where they build a rollercoaster with loops and bends, and see how the ball moves down it. They can time performance and modify the track to see if it moves faster.
Kids then move into the Build It gallery with 2D and 3D blocks of different shapes and sizes. Simple cardboard pieces with slits help them notch together structures. The Imagination Playground has foam pieces (about two feet high) the kids can put together to make an irregular-formed building. The F1 Pit Stop is a part of this zone. Part of the fun is the construction hat, jacket and goggles that kids don, so they really get into character.
Splash It! is all about water fun in a large tub-like structure, where kids can slot pieces to make dams and locks, learn how electricity is generated and play with rubber ducks, depending on their age. The Create It area has painting of different types, along with a Pin Art Wall, where kids can lean into a wall to form different patterns. It’s the little things about the museum that make you want to come back. Transparent glass walls allow you to sit on the other side and view your child painting. A little gutter in front of the wall carries paint and water that’s dripped down, away from your child. Geetika Wadhwa, a Gurgaon resident, whose four-year-olds enjoy this section, said, “It’s a much better way of spending your time with the kids, rather than going to Fun City, as there’s something to learn here. The art section alone has a good mix of things to do.”
Discover It! is where kids crawl from “continent” to “continent” through pipes, discovering the wonders of each place. You can of course navigate the museum in any way you wish to, and it’s possible that your child will develop her favourite zone, but for a first visit, it’s a good idea to go with the flow of the space. The museum gets denser in its experiences as you go along.
There’s also Live It, an area that demonstrates how food reaches the table with a vegetable patch, market and kitchen; a little theatre for events; a jungle section that’s to start off soon (with a star gazer, rope ladder, dig pit and more); and a room for you to feed your baby. The Stellar Children’s Museum does birthday parties and offers an annual membership to families as well.
By Sunalini Mathew on December 07 2012 7.14am