The Muncie Children’s Museum (MCM) is prepared to unveil two new additions that aim to teach children about Muncie’s local train stations and rivers set to open Feb. 1. A water table designed to teach about rivers is still under construction.
Andrea Snell, MCM Director of Exhibits and Education, said her favorite part of the job is “interacting with the guests and developing programs that excite the community.”
She helped design the new additions and cited interaction asa key factor in the design plans, following the generational success of other interactive exhibits.
“The most successful exhibits we have are our Marsh grocery store market and our Nutrition Kitchen… All kids gravitate toward them [because they involve] shopping for new food, cooking, sorting things out, etc.,” Snell said.
Snell hopes the train exhibit and water table will emulate similar success.
Dr. Salim Hashmi published answers to the questions, “How Do Children Play with Toy Trains and for What Benefits?” in his literature review for the European Journal in Health, Psychology and Education published September 2023.
“Toys such as trains may allow children to engage in construction play, involving building things with materials,” he wrote. “The structured, realistic and familiar nature of such toys was a key feature that facilitated children’s play with toy trains in these different ways.”
To promote interactive play, the train exhibit will feature a career corner where children can dress up and act out the different careers within the realm of locomotive engineering. The water table, Snell said, is largely based on Muncie’s White River and will include the activity of dam building with Lego bricks.
“It's a huge upgrade compared to what we had [at] our last train exhibit [and] on our last water table,” Snell said.
The landscape includes the industrial aspects of Muncie, as well as pinnacle landmarks like Ball State’s Shafer Tower.
Something so elaborate and meticulous does not come without careful financial planning.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Snell said.
The museum is in the middle of the “More to Explore” capital campaign with new projects first pitched in January 2019. The following January, the ideas seemed like they could financially come to fruition, and the museum began working with Train Worx, a professional model train designing company in Texas.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted any further construction plans.
“Their owner and the main person that does all the designing got lung COVID, and he was really sick, but he's one of the best [model train designers] in the country, so we wanted to stick with him,” Snell said.
The waiting delayed a public announcement of the museum’s new exhibit until spring 2022.
“We actually had thought we would have the train table installed a year ago, [but] it was worth the wait,” she said.
The water table has followed a similarly delayed installation process, despite being completed.
“The water table has actually been finished and has been sitting in the warehouse since August, ready to be installed,” Snell said.
She said the process had been delayed due to contractor communication and the installation of necessary flooring to sustain the water table.
Ultimately, there is great anticipation as both additions enter the completion phase.
“I’m really excited for people to finally see what we've been talking about for several years now,” Snell said.
She hopes the additions will last for generations. To ensure 15-20 years out of each attraction, Snell found solutions for the two persistent questions on her mind throughout the design process: “How easy is it for a kid to break?”, and, “How easy is it to clean?”
Each attraction was structured to be durable, and the train exhibit will be maintained by the Muncie Western Model Train Club.
Hashmi concluded that all children place a different emphasis on trains during early development.
“Neurodivergent children have been found to particularly enjoy playing with toy trains compared to other toys and more so than neurotypical children,” Hashmi wrote.
He also concluded there was no consistent evidence to support that trains are a “gender-stereotyped” toy.
Kynda Rinker, MCM Executive Director, said the museum's current train exhibit is a crowd favorite of adults and children alike, but added, “It has nothing to do with Muncie.”
The new train exhibit will help children understand Muncie and Delaware County.
“We focus on trains because we do have a lot of trains that come through Delaware County,” Snell said. “A lot of things that we have in our train exhibit and our train activities are largely based on the kinds of trains that children would see in Delaware County.”
For example, no passenger trains pass through the county, so passenger trains are not represented in the exhibit.
“It's mostly just cargo trains, and we tried to focus specifically on the kinds of cargo that would come through Delaware County and Muncie,” Snell said.
At the children’s museum, adults and children can experience childhood and ride the rails of nostalgia and imagination together.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Contact Katherine Hill with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .