Science City at Union Station, which already targets preteens, will focus more on reaching even younger children by creating fun ways to engage them in science, officials announced Thursday.
With a $100,000 grant from the Hall Family Foundation, Science City will retain the Boston Children’s Museum early next year to develop a plan for moving in that direction.
The entire project could cost $4 million to $7 million, depending on the results of the planning phase. A fundraising effort will follow that.
The plan is to enlarge Science City with new experiences specifically aimed at children age 7 and younger.
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“If we don’t really engage children by the third or fourth grade, they are discouraged from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” said Union Station president George Guastello. “That’s why we’ve been focusing on that area. Now, the next step is to go younger than that.”
The aim is to use the power of play to encourage creative and critical thinking.
“These are skill sets that kids need to build pre-K, and a lot of times, they’re not getting it,” said Jerry Baber, chief operating officer at Union Station.
Officials say the new emphasis at Science City complements other local efforts to improve early childhood education. It is one of the Big 5 initiatives of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ Turn the Page program looks to improve third-grade reading proficiency. And KCPT has announced a new TV channel and live streaming on digital platforms for children’s programming.
The 80,000-square-foot Science City already has some activities aimed at younger children, including a water play area and a nature center. New activities aimed at younger children will add another 14,000 square feet of repurposed or contiguous space. In all, Science City would grow to about 100,000 square feet, about a third of which would be targeted at children age 7 and younger.
“Learning opportunities specifically designed for (younger) children play an important role for most modern science centers,” Jeff Rosenblatt, director of exhibits at Science City, said in a statement announcing the new initiative.
The website of the Boston Children’s Museum, which will work with Science City in the planning phase, says it is the second oldest and “one of the most influential children’s museums in the world.”
Science City was viewed by many as a disappointment shortly after it opened in 1999 along with a restored Union Station. But the science center has seen a growth in investment and interest in recent years. Attendance in 2015 was more than 192,000, up nearly 60 percent since 2011. Baber projected 2016 attendance will be about 225,000.
In 2015, Science City received an award for visitor experience from the international Association of Science-Technology Centers. Next spring, it will open an outdoor exhibit based on the winning entry in the Battle of the Brains contest by Mason Elementary School in Lee’s Summit. The Burns & McDonnell Foundation provided $1 million to create the exhibit.
Guastello called the new initiative for younger children “a bold step for the science center in expanding the educational reach to a very important aspect of our community.”