As children, many of us experienced the wonders of a kaleidoscope, a cylindrical tube with colored pieces of glass and reflective mirrors that creates ever-changing magical patterns with a turn of the wrist.
This fascinating integration of art, creativity and science is the inspiration for Kaleideum, Winston-Salem’s “newest” museum – only it’s not really new at all.
In July 2016, SciWorks and the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem merged to become Kaleideum. SciWorks, founded in 1964, became Kaleideum North and the Children’s Museum, founded in 2004, became Kaleideum Downtown. Both organizations were originally founded through efforts spearheaded by the Junior League of Winston-Salem.
“Kaleideum combines the best features of both organizations, fusing arts, literacy and STEM into an integrated approach to learning,” said Elizabeth Dampier, executive director.
The merger of the two museums will reduce costs, provide better visitor access and expand educational programs, Dampier said. Future plans include opening one combined museum downtown, at the former site of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department, to open in fall 2020.
The programs and exhibits offered by the two locations are as diverse as the greater communities the museums serve. And while the museum’s primary audience is children from toddlers to middle school, Kaleideum is a great “edu-tainment” experience for the entire family, with more than 215,000 visitors of all ages each year.
“We want to challenge the perception that audiences ‘outgrow’ children’s museums and science centers,” Dampier said. “We see Kaleideum becoming a location that serves as a community hub.”
For example, the Downtown location features The Prop Shop, a new 1,000-square-foot “maker space” that allows visitors to create a custom experience or story, using real tools and materials, guided by facilitators who offer a daily prompt or help innovators bring their ideas to life. One day, visitors might create wigs or puppets; another day, they could build mobiles, craft stage sets, or act out a favorite story, complete with costumes.
Other Downtown exhibits include the Enchanted Forest, with imaginative play stations to explore folklore, fantasy and fairy tales, and Amazing Airways, where budding scientists can test hypotheses about air flow.
Younger museum guests always look forward to a sweet experience at the child-sized Krispy Kreme Doughnut Factory. Here, they can send doughnuts through a conveyor belt, collect them in boxes and take them to the delivery truck. At the Food Lion Supermarket exhibit, children can shop for food, make a sundae or ice cream cone and practice counting at the cash register.
“The exhibits make families feel comfortable and sometime aid in helping them overcome challenges,” Dampier said.
One little girl, coping with emotional issues, made friends and became much more outgoing after weekly visits to the Food Lion exhibit with her mother, a single parent who also found a supportive social network there. Another boy visited the North location every day with his custodial grandmother, who could not afford day care but wanted to enrich her grandson’s life with entertaining and interactive learning experiences.
For many others, Kaleideum is simply a great destination for a school field trip, fun day with friends, weekend activity with grandparents or an inspirational summer camp.
At Kaleideum North, visitors can explore more than 25,000 square feet of exhibits including a planetarium, PhysicsWorks, SoundWorks, HealthWorks, BioWorks and more. The outdoor Science & Environmental Park includes animal habitats, nature trails, gardens, picnic areas and a variety of interactive exhibits.
Beginning in January, Kaleideum will welcome two traveling exhibits unique to the area. Children’s China, opening Jan. 27 at Kaleideum Downtown, will let visitors ages 3-12 explore life in China, from learning how to feed a panda, to writing traditional language symbols. Ocean Bound, opening Jan. 20 at Kaleideum North, introduces visitors to the watershed and the ecosystem it supports, all the way to the ocean.
The Peppercorn Theatre at Kaleideum produces original works at both locations and sponsors school programs to inspire wonder, curiosity and lifelong learning. Current programming includes “Raise the Moon,” recommended for very young children (age 5 and younger) and their caregivers.
While city, county and state funds make up about 20 percent of Kaleideum’s budget, the museum relies on corporate and individual support to offer school and community outreach programs, free admission days and traveling exhibits. Allen Tate Companies is proud to support Kaleideum through its annual public education fundraiser, FUNday.
“Kaleideum is accessible for all – a wide variety of ages and interests,” Dampier said. “It’s a free-choice learning experience that subtly encourages each individual to explore more about our world.”
Visitors can pay one admission and visit both Kaleideum locations on the same day, or they can purchase an annual membership that allows unlimited access to both museums. For more information, visit kaleideum.org.