The word learning is often associated with images of being stuck at a desk or homework.
However, at Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Inc., or INK, in Gainesville, kids do not even realize how much they are learning by playing in the museum’s interactive exhibits.
“Kids learn best through playing and they don’t even realize it,” said Mandy Volpe, executive director of INK. “We see kids learn how to use the jib crane in our manufacturing exhibit and see kids play in the restaurant…and when you watch kids play, you can see their home environment too.”
The exhibits inside of INK include a grocery store, a hospital room and an indoor farm set complete with a barn and pretend chicken coop. At each of these exhibits, kids are encouraged to touch, play inside of and listen to the exhibits to stimulate their learning.
“Our whole mission for INK is interactive, hands on learning opportunities for children of all ages,” said Volpe. “Yes it’s a museum, we do have some older cars, we have a real plane here in the building…but it’s hands on so we want to be a place where kids are told, ‘Hey, play, please touch everything here and have a great time.’”
As Volpe said, the museum also features an old fire truck from the Gainesville Fire Department and car from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. She explained that having exhibits like these help kids feel more comfortable in real life situations.
“When they see a fire truck, they’re becoming comfortable with what it’s like to see a fire truck [and] see a police officer,” said Volpe. “We have a miniature health system that Northeast Georgia Health System sponsored and we know that kids are more comfortable going to the doctor once they’ve been here.”
Another benefit of INK, according to Volpe, is kids having the opportunity to explore future career paths. Volpe said that some kids who played at INK when the museum opened in 2002 have since gone on to work in fields that they were first exposed to at an INK exhibit.
“We are creating the next generation of employees, if you will, and so opening them up to all the different prospects that they could do,” said Volpe.
Currently, INK is allowing a limited number of families to enter the museum at a time for two hour “play blocks” to accommodate social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Volpe said that between these two-hour blocks, employees and a Zono cleaning machine will deep clean each of the exhibits.
Museum staff members and leadership are also looking ahead to the future- one of their next big projects is a capital campaign to build a new museum. Volpe explained that kids today learn different than kids twenty years ago when local philanthropist Sheri Hooper founded the museum, so a new museum will reflect this change.
“Our goal has always been to expand to a bigger building [and] a newer building that we are able to retrofit for exactly for today’s child, for how they learn and interact,” said Volpe.
In the meantime, Volpe said that INK staff are always updating, changing and adding more to their current museum and exhibits. Some of the more recent exhibits include updated technology and safe spaces for children with learning disabilities.
“We are making kids more confident and we’re making kids explore their full potential through hands-on learning here at INK,” said Volpe.
More information about Interactive Neighborhood for Kids and featured exhibits is on the nonprofit’s website. The website also lists information on times for the play blocks and cost of admission. All money collected from the cost of admission goes back to the museum.