SPROUTS Learning Lab teaches science by playing with a purpose

Chicago Scenic Studios partnered with Peter and Sharon Exley of Architecture is Fun to create the Sprouts Learning Lab, an interactive exhibit where science is brought to a child’s level as they touch, experiment and play, at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL.

The creation of SPROUTS emerged from the concept of using a discovery approach in exhibit design; Burpee wanted an exhibit centered around the development of a child’s natural curiosity to encourage children to role play as different scientific careers for a meaningful experience.

The entire exhibit was specifically designed low to the ground, making sure young children could touch and interact with pieces of the collection. The focal point of the exhibit is the U-shaped multi-level “Conversation Pit,” a main interactive seating and display area. The structure has many open and closed built-in cubbies where children have the opportunity to touch and play with museum artifacts such as seashells and cranium skeletons.

To the side of the “Conversation Pit,” a set of steps lead up to a large maroon T-Rex silhouette on the wall. Children can place objects in various shadow boxes anchored to the wall to give the Dino a “mini makeover,” complete with new teeth and claws. The “Dino Wall” is made from an acrylic vinyl dinosaur decal and provides touchable specimens, not only giving children the opportunity to discover, but to also “connect the dots” and figure out what piece goes where.

As you look overhead, a majestic owl prepares to take flight while just underneath a sleepy badger cozies up to a perky, energetic chipmunk. These and more creatures are housed in three five-sided acrylic vitrine boxes Chicago Scenic constructed, with domes protruding on each side. The boxes were secured to the ceiling using Klem clamps and telestrut, providing a strong, sustainable connection. Hanging directly above the “Conversation Pit” is the “Cloud of Wonder,” an assortment of taxidermy animals perched atop suspended, adjustable rails. Chicago Scenic worked with Burpee and Architecture is Fun to create a design concept, including technical drawings, a materials list and list of recommended collection pieces to purchase and display.

Project Manager Jacqueline Johnson worked closely with Burpee Museum staff to find materials that were both affordable and durable, and provided value engineering solutions to the challenge of the large project. Through strategic design, Johnson said she feels the exhibit was a success and encompassed the look and feel of the original concept. “When you’re designing for children, safety, durability, and flexibility are our top priorities,” said Johnson. “We used high quality materials that are durable enough to withstand tremendous use, as well as rounding all corners so the exhibit’s edges weren’t a safety hazard.”

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