Yale University Press
by Nora Ellen Groce, Lawrence C. Kaplan, M.D. and Josiah David Kaplan
Connecticut Children's Museum
22 Wall Street, New Haven
Description: This innovative museum is targeted for children ages 3 through 10, although many younger children will also get a great deal out of these imaginative, interactive exhibits. Children can explore eight large rooms, each of which is devoted to a different child-oriented theme. For example, a music room is filled with large drums, rain sticks, and other noise- and music- making devices, a "city room" allows children to interact in a hands-on post office exhibit, and a nature room allows children to see inside a beehive, play with animal puppets, and explore local habitat. The linguistics room duplicates the room seen in the book Goodnight Moon. It is as if a child had walked directly into the storybook, and it should not be missed. Of special note is the low-key and uncluttered nature of the exhibits. Small
Small children can focus on one thing at a time and can interact with almost everything shown-a developmentally appropriate approach to learning in young children. Many museums are too busy and too fast-paced; they may appeal to grown-ups, but they leave children exhausted and over stimulated. This museum is child centered, and children will leave feeling that they have had a chance to explore and think. Although this museum is recommended for children up to age 10, it will be of particular interest to preschoolers through children age 8 (depending, of course, on the child). This facility has been designed with children with disabilities specifically in mind.
Wheelchair users: This museum is designed specifically to meet or exceed all ADA standards. A handicapped parking space is located on the street near the front of the museum, and additional street parking is fully accessible. (Note that there is plenty of parking on Saturdays and that all surrounding sidewalks have curb cuts.) The building is fully accessible, with a ramp leading into the front door, an elevator between floors, and fully accessible bathrooms. All tables, counters, and hands-on exhibits are designed to be accessible by children in chairs. In all exhibits that can be entered, ramps replace steps for everyone. There are no exhibits where most children enter through the front on steps and children in chairs roll through the "back door"; instead, children in chairs can take a central part in all activities.
Children with visual impairments: Almost all the exhibits are hands-on, and almost all signs are also in braille (including signs for the murals found throughout the museum). Special credit for the braille signs goes to a 16-year-old volunteer who printed out these signs on her home brailler. One of the exhibits includes a brailler, and all children are encouraged to experiment with it, normalizing the experience for everyone. This would be a great place to take a younger child with a visual impairment.
Children with hearing impairments: Special attention has been paid- to children with hearing impairments. Although young children with hearing impairments will get a great deal out of this museum anyhow because so many of the exhibits are visually oriented, it should be noted that the museum's intent is to expose children to 3 languages: English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. There is a functioning TTY connected between exhibits on the second and third floors. Murals on Sign Language are prominent, and accompanying signs and book, are found in the hallway. In the music room, an "ocean drum" (a large drum with small pellets that bounce when the clear head of the drum is struck) and clear rain stick, allow children to see the "noise" being made, ensuring that hearing-impaired children are included in the fun.
Of special note: Each Saturday afternoon there is a book reading, and once a month, the reader is a Signing adult. When this deaf individual comes to read, he signs the story and an interpreter provides a translation for those who are not deaf. Sign Language interpreters remain rare everywhere, and the museum is to be commended for having a Signer take the lead in such an event. Call or e-mail to find out when the Signer will be the presenter. Although the museum will try to arrange for an interpreter to be present at other readings if contacted in advance, it may make more of an impression on your child if you wait for those sessions where the Signer is the reader.
Children with mental retardation: This slow-paced, hands-on museum is wonderful for children with a range of abilities. Because many of the exhibits encourage interaction among children, it might also be a very nice place to bring children for social interaction. Although the recommended age limit is 10, some older children might also get a good deal out of this museum, depending on their interests and abilities.