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Partner Highlight: The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in Topeka Ignites a Love of Science in Children

Caitlin Luttjohann, Vice President of Play and Learning & Laura Burton, Director of Marketing, Kansas Children's Discovery Center

The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, a children’s museum in the capital city of Kansas, has had a longstanding partnership with the NISE Network that has helped ignite a love of science in children. Children’s museums are educational laboratories where children’s excitement to learn is expressed in high-energy wiggles, an insatiable need to not just watch, but try, and a torrent of tangential questions. For the team at our museum, the ability to rely upon a tried-and -trusted resource like NISE Network to engage our small scientists has been invaluable. 

Credit: Kansas Children's Discovery Center

The Discovery Center includes 15,000 square feet of indoor exhibits and a 4.5-acre outdoor adventure area, including a tallgrass prairie restoration. The museum attracts over 95,000 annual visitors, more than a quarter of which live outside our county. The central location of the museum makes it a regional draw for families, particularly those who live in rural communities in Kansas and surrounding states. Visitors value the permanent exhibits, but the opportunity to enhance the learning with a quality educational program facilitated by staff will always make a museum visit more memorable and fun.   

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"Boo Bubbles" - Kansas Children's Discovery Center's activity demonstrating how some solid materials can sublimate directly into their gaseous form.
Credit: Kansas Children's Discovery Center

On the museum floor, the NISE Network Nano, Earth & Space, and Let’s Do Chemistry kits have all become critical pieces of our floor programming. Some activities, like the Investigating Clouds activity, were new to the museum team. Others, like Sublimation Bubbles, were presented in a different format than we’d previously used, allowing for far more interactivity from participants. The activities are clearly designed by educators with experience working with young children in informal settings like ours. 

Staff facilitating NISE Network science programs also found them a helpful launchpad for further science education. Their experiences supported later development of the Discovery at Home collection of 165 online programs created during Covid closure, a series of science activities on a local TV news designed to be replicated by caregivers at home, and an online blog, Curious Kids: Six Ways to Build Scientific Literacy for Preschoolers.

hatching_dino_eggs_activity Kansas Children's Discovery Center.jpg
Kansas Children's Discovery Center's Hatching Dino Eggs activity. Credit Kansas Children's Discovery Center

NISE Network’s commitment to professional development has helped us be better prepared for programming. Building on information from the NISE Network, we now use team-based inquiry as a program evaluation tool. Team-based inquiry is a valuable tool for small organizations. Funders value our use of the tool, and it’s given us insights to improve programs. The Sustainability Fellowship also provides resources for small museums like us to achieve larger goals that might seem tough to tackle. Two Sustainability Fellowships have helped us design exhibits and create a staff volunteering framework that has our team members out in the community meeting needs and making connections. These hours are paid time, specifically for the purpose of volunteering for an organization in alignment with our mission.     

On the marketing and communication side, NISE Network’s resources are incredibly helpful. Using NISE Network activities and photography when promoting kit programs has not only elevated our marketing, but has been a huge time-saver for our staff. We particularly value how the photographs show diverse, realistic children and adults engaged in the activities. The photos help us promote our science programs as a place for all families to learn and grow. 

We learn about the importance of partnership by watching children at play as they share knowledge and build on each other’s ideas. We value the NISE Network as a partner in play that helps us inspire a lifelong interest in science.