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August 27, 2014

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George Washington’s dentures? Discovery Children’s Museum lets kids sink their teeth into learning

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Leila Navidi

Giselle Ruisanchez, 3, works in the car shop inside Eco City during the donor ceremony and celebration at the new Discovery Children’s Museum located in Symphony Park in Las Vegas on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Discovery Children's Museum Ceremony

Angeline Schmitz, 5, makes digital drawings inside the Young At Art section of the museum during the donor ceremony and celebration at the new Discovery Children's Museum located in Symphony Park in Las Vegas on Friday, March 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Most museums are cold, quiet places with grown-ups who "shush" and signs that say "do not touch." But Saturday at the Discovery Children’s Museum wasn't like that at all. Children climbed up the three-story jungle gym, performed skits on a stage complete with lights, sound effects and curtains, and swarmed an endless array of other educational exhibits.

The grand opening for the museum was the culmination of three years of construction and $50 million. Those efforts helped employ 50 full-time staffers and craft the 58,000-square-foot building into a space where children can learn and play.

The idea? To fill a need that hasn’t been met.

‘We said, ‘What do we need to hit on? What do your fifth graders need to learn?’” said Judy Cebulko, the chairwoman of the museum. “We’re the perfect complement to the schools. Some kids just don’t learn as well by opening up a text book.”

Families waited over an hour to test that idea. The line stretched around the building, and more than 1,700 people had been through the museum by 1 p.m.

Patricia and Scott Ringler had been waiting in line with their three boys for 40 minutes -- and still had 20 minutes to go. Patricia Ringler, whose boys are 18 months, 3, and 6 years old, said the museum is a great place for them to be active.

“They can touch things, it’s like a big playground,” she said. “Learning hasn’t become a chore to them yet. It’s still fun.”

Discovery Children's Museum

The Ringlers are among the more than 2.2 million people who have visited the museum, formerly at 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North, since 1990. At the new location, 360 Promenade Place in Symphony Park, the museum expects to draw in 250,000 visitors a year. To accomplish all this, they’ll spend about $2.5 million annually.

The museum has nine interactive exhibits including a stage and the aforementioned jungle gym that goes all the way to roof. But the designers of the exhibits included elements that older children could enjoy, too, including a presentation on George Washington. The exhibit has 60 original items associated with the founding father, including the only surviving set of his dentures.

Tifferney White, deputy director of the museum, said children’s museums look for ways to be more interactive.

“Research shows us that immersive environments are easier to learn in. They’re fun, and (kids) don’t even know they’re learning,” she said.

One of the museum’s many goals is to help schools teach. She said the staff at the museum compile a report on each exhibit and provide it to the school district with different assignments that might work with the activities students participate in at the museum.

“We want to make sure what we’re doing here is a resource they don’t have in the classroom,” White said.

But many parents don’t just think of the museum is a place where their kids can learn. Karisa Carter visited the museum surrounded by a pack of five children, three of them her own.

“It’s almost like things are set up like a playground,” Carter said.

She’ll be back, she said, especially when the weather gets to warm for her children to play in for a long period of time.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $12 per person, but children under 1 year old are admitted free.

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