Words by Anna Karasik
A cheery blue archway welcomes families to the new jewel of Orlando Science Center, New KidsTown. It’s the only entrance and exit to the area: one of many features specifically geared towards the safety of the thousands of kids who will now enjoy it. New KidsTown is the product of a $5 million dollar renovation, the first part of the $30 million dollar Unlock Science Campaign, which is an effort to renovate every exhibit at the Science Center. It’s clear that the new children’s area will prove to be worth every penny: each of the 75 exhibits is a safe environment for kids to express themselves and work with others to learn and play.
Here’s a tour of what you can expect:Orange Grove Presented by: Dr. Phillips Charities
Through the big (literally) orange archway at the front of New KidsTown, there is a chain of exhibits that represents the journey of Florida oranges from farm to table. It all starts at the orchard, where kids can gather oranges from trees; then they can head to the factory and check the ripeness of each orange before processing them in a fun machine. Then comes the role playing: kids can deliver the oranges in an interactive truck, then sell produce at the farmer’s market!Science Center veterans will notice a few changes: this new Orange Grove is three times larger than its predecessor, and there are hints of technology that enhance this new experience. In particular, kids who enjoy playing pretend will love adjusting the radio in the delivery truck and ringing up fruit at the farmer’s market with a working scanner.
Isaacs Family ClimbTime
Kids are encouraged to conquer their fears and climb as high as they can in this towering play area. A floor-to-ceiling window makes kids feel even higher up as they look out over the gorgeous Florida Hospital next door; alternatively, they can use a telescope to look out over the Science Center.There are nets to run across, platforms of all sizes, and all number of other ways for kids to test their coordination. Once they’ve worked up a sweat, they can see how their body reacted using the heart rate monitor.
Bonus: kids who aren’t ready to climb, or perhaps aren’t old enough yet, can still interact by feeding balls into twisting air tubes to let the kids above feed them back down.
Drip Drop Splash Presented by: James M. Cox Foundation
From rain showers to dams to pipe systems, the exhibits in this area will teach kids about the many properties of water. Tables of water are filled with all kinds of contraptions and tools to let kids ask themselves– “What will happen to the water if I do this?”– and see what happens! If several kids work together to turn valves, they can start a big Florida rain shower at the center of Drip Drop Splash!There are lowered water tables for younger children and those in wheelchairs; and there are also infant seats that sit below the water’s surface so that little ones can splash around safely.
Parent pro tip: prepare for the kids to get a little wet (but not soaked!) There are electric dryers on the wall next to Drop Drop Splash, so kids can get warm and dry before heading to the next area without having to waste paper towels in the bathroom.
Build, experiment, break it down, build again. Kids who love to invent and tinker will go nuts in this area! There are areas loaded with all manner of building tools like pipes, wheels, and cords– anything kids need to make their own fun contraption. Younger children can build too: there are foam blocks, perfect for stacking and building! A projected kaleidoscope and light-up wall let kids play around with color and design. On the other side of Explore It, there is what’s essentially a jumbo Hot Wheels set: kids can move around giant detachable tracks and loop-de-loops to create a course, then drop a ball in to watch how fast it goes! The centerpiece of Explore It is definitely the air tubes that climb all the way up the wall. Kids can feed in colored silk handkerchiefs at the bottom, then watch them shoot through the twisting pipes; the machine then spits the handkerchiefs out in the rafters, so they float down from the sky! (Bonus points if you can get one to land one on your head!)
Explore It Presented by: Publix Super Markets Charities
Toddler Town Presented by: Community Based Care of Central FloridaNestled near the center of New KidsTown is an area that presents a big first for Orlando Science Center. Toddler Town is a safe space for ages 0-3 to enjoy the same collaboration and creativity that the rest of New KidsTown has to offer. It’s the first area at OSC that is truly infant-friendly: there is even a bin for mouthed toys, meaning that kids can play in a sanitary environment, and parents don’t have to chase their baby around wet-wiping everything they decide to taste. The sensory wall and storybook bin will also appeal to parents of infants.
Perhaps the biggest feature of Toddler Town is its prime location: there is a clear view of both Explore It and Drip Drop Splash, so parents can watch over the little one while keeping the older children in eyeshot.
KidsTown Studio Presented by: Florida Hospital for Children
The KidsTown Studio is the hub of hands-on activity at New KidsTown; and appropriately so, it’s the hub of parent-child interaction. Families can sit at spacious tables and try out different activities, all available in labeled bins. The area will also be home to craft and sensory activities led by the Science Center, as well as other scheduled workshops. To the everyday Science Center-goer, this will prove to be a great area for some quality sit-down time. Parents can pick activities that work best for their child, then work together to finish. Be sure to stop at the screen just outside the studio to make a virtual “get well” card for patients at Florida Hospital for Children.
Fun fact: If you make art and accidentally leave it behind, your hard work may not have gone to waste! It could end up displayed on the KidsTown Studio wall as an example to future visitors.
Harriett’s KidsTown TheatreKids with a taste for drama will find their home in this area. After decking themselves out in costumes at the prop wall, they can take to the stage and create whatever kind of play their heart desires! In order to build confidence, there is a mirror so that kids can watch themselves perform. The curtain closes and opens, and the stage’s background can change with the simple press of a touch-screen. At one moment, your child could be a Yellow Submarine in space; the next, they could be the Statue of Liberty at Lake Eola! When the background changes, the lighting also changes for dramatic effect. There is a wheelchair-accessible ramp at stage left, so every child has the chance to be a star!
Parent pro tip: milk the Theatre area for all it’s worth– the audience seating is incredibly comfortable! It’s the perfect place for a breather.
Outside of the main exhibits, there are little details that parents will adore. For one: glorious stroller parking! It’s in a spacious hallway just past the Orange Grove; the area is also lit by fun colored lights, so kids will love watching their shadows move through the hallway. Another big feature is the bathroom location: it’s within eyeshot of the Theatre, Studio, Toddler Town and Drip Drop Splash, and just a stone’s throw away from the rest of the areas. The restrooms here are also all-inclusive.
The common themes all around New KidsTown are collaboration, creativity, safety and accessibility. It’s nearly impossible to go through all of New KidsTown without interacting with other kids in some way; this is a great opportunity to teach kids about sharing, taking turns, and working together. Each exhibit also encourages problem-solving and ingenuity as kids figure out their own unique way of accomplishing tasks. The best part is, no child will feel left out due to their age or abilities. Parents will end up loving this area as much as their kids will: there are so many opportunities to jump in and make a learning experience out of every interaction. It’s so easy to be a part of the fun while also letting kids express themselves.
New KidsTown is now open to the public! The entire experience is included with general admission to Orlando Science Center.