This column was published in the Courier Times and Intelligencer on June 5, 2017.
History and fun come together at New Hope’s non-profit Bucks County Children’s Museum.
To fully appreciate the Bucks County Children’s Museum is to get down on all fours with a favorite grandchild. I had mine, 3-year-old Margaux who urged me to join her at the Giant Light Bright board in the crawlspace under the Recycling Clubhouse. This was after passing through the Bucks County Covered Bridge into the Recycling Room of the 10,000-square-foot museum. “Grandpa, come on!” she enthused, holding out a fist-full of color Lucite rods that light up when inserted in a pegboard. So I joined her with her mom Genevieve and started plugging the rods in the board to create various designs, also racing to see who could pull out all the pegs faster than the other. Joy!
Dashiell, 7, was incredibly disappointed he couldn’t be there; he was in school. He and his sister with their parents are members and frequently visit the museum in New Hope’s Union Square. It’s no wonder. There’s lots to see and do for very young kids, much of it hands-on learning. In our visit, we experienced all kinds of visual, tactile adventures in rooms designed to emphasize the sciences and Bucks County’s rich history (with a little parental guidance).
The Town Square room depicts village life in a place like Wycombe in the late 1800s. Genevieve and I parked ourselves in the square’s railroad commuter car while Margaux and other kids gathered groceries on shelves of the general store, delivering them to our table, soon piled high. Pretend treats at the town ice cream stand, mail to be sorted at the post office, and stops by the gazebo to dress up as policemen engaged the kids.
At the Big Dig, child archeologists sifted sand to discover artifacts and fossils from Bucks County’s premordial and more recent past. Elsewhere, we climbed into the museum’s Bowman’s Tower exhibit, built an archway out of foam blocks to demonstrate how it was done by railroads to span the Delaware River and Neshaminy Creek, and scoot race cars down a 12-foot test track harkening back to the Langhorne Speedway. We also “stomped out” trash in a polluted river scape projected on the floor, experimented with wind power using foam rubber balls propelled through a network of air tubes, and discovered what happens when a child opens locks on the Delaware Canal exhibit to cause water levels to move up and down.
There’s more than history and environmental awareness in the museum.
The new Hospital Room sponsored by Doylestown Health acclimates kids to a medical setting. Dr. Margaux took Genevieve’s blood pressure, advising her from a chart overhead that “200 was not good”, then consulted with instant friend Dr. Emily, holding up X-rays against a backlit screen. Elsewhere, kids vied to drive the ambulance, Margaux demanding in a scramble, “I’m the driver!”
The genius behind all this is LaSalle University graduate Kelly Krumenacker, the museum’s executive director who met us at the front door on a busy mid-week morning just as a bus load of animated students and their parents were leaving. The idea of a non-profit history museum for young kids had been a dream of hers for years as a special ed teacher in Pennsauken and tutor in Doylestown while raising her three children in Buckingham. Kelly, married to a financial investment counselor, has long admired the topography and history of Bucks County. So she hatched the idea of a museum for kids and began lining up backers. On discovering the former New Hope branch of the Michener Art Museum was about to close in Union Square in 2006, she viewed it as ideal with its large galleries and access to parking across from New Hope’s train station. A board of directors, corporate commitments and lots of volunteers made the dream come true in the fall of 2011. “The support has been phenomenal,” Kelly told me. “We drew 45,000 visitors last year and have 800 member families. We just signed a 10-year lease through 2026.”
A downstairs courtyard for picnics and outdoor programs is in the planning stages, set to open by fall. Meanwhile, new exhibitions and programs are added like an upcoming “Kid Powered” Generator sponsored by PECO. The future looks bright. “We plan to expand,” Kelly assured me. “Our only challenge is parking. We need more.”
Maybe that will happen if the borough council can help. Meanwhile, full speed ahead for kids like Margaux who invited her mom and me aboard an authentic hot air balloon basket inside the museum. She took the controls while we faced a large video display screen. Off we went, soaring over the Bucks County landscape, the virtual balloon rising and falling with every twist of Go-Go’s control knob.
Be sure and check the Bucks County Children’s Museum well-developed website before a visit: www.buckskids.org. A list of frequently asked questions on the site provides very useful information.
Carl LaVO, a weekly columnist and retired Calkins Media editor, is the author of “Bucks County Adventures”. He will appear on June 11 at the annual public meeting of the Lower Makefield Historical Society to discuss local history and sign books. The meeting is set for 3 p.m. at the Patterson Farm, 949 Mirror Lake Road. Carl can be reached at [email protected].