The Love Bridge, a heart-filled rainbow walkway which guides guests from the parking garage into the main building of the Orlando Science Center, is the first stop in welcoming special needs families to the OSC‘s newest endeavor: KidsTown, an all accessible, all inclusive, interactive play area for children. Families with children who have special needs need not worry that there will not be activities for their loved ones to engage in or pricing that a family cannot afford. The OSC operates under the premise of ‘Science for All‘ and KidsTown does not disappoint.
As the doors fold away we are ushered into the entrance hall, lined with colorful circles and donor information. To the immediate left is the Orange Grove exhibit presented by Dr. Phillips Charities. Explore the wonder of farm-to-table complete with sensory areas, conveyor belts, a grocery stand, and showers of oranges from a high tower.
There are many sights and sounds to take in. The walls are lined with textures and the objects are tactile enough to hold comfortably.
The grocery stand has a working ‘scanner’ and smooth surfaces.
There are mirrors and bells, cushions and rounded surfaces all incorporated into the space separated by low, curved seating for parents to observe.
There is even a hand-operated wheelchair accessible conveyor for little ones who may not be able to pedal.
A short trip down the hall reveals the Isaacs Family ClimbTime indoor play area. Children, and adults alike, can climb and play in this high-rise playground complete with twisty suction tubes for hours of fun. For those who may not be able to climb, parents can join them in the space and there are also activities on the lowest level.
Drip Drop Splash, presented by the James M. Cox Foundation, is an impressive display of how changes affect our environment complete with water tables, rain showers, and loads of toys to pour and collect. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcountdowntok%2Fvideos%2F664623633718264%2F&show_text=0&width=560
There is ample room to maneuver along the non-skid surface. The water tables can seat toddlers as well and objects are within arms reach. The railings are easy to grasp and the walls are lined with water-activated sensory stations. The ceilings are high which helps to diffuse the sounds and creates a soothing atmosphere to play in.
Toddler Town, presented by Community Based Care of Central Florida, is a rough and tumble mini play area for little ones only. Seating is added for parents to rest and watch. There are pads and mats throughout and many toddler-level stations within the walls such as this packing peanut wind tunnel.
Explore It, presented by Publix Super Markets Charities, is an impressive display of STEM principles in action. Science is on display in this wonderwork of gears and levers, pulleys, air tubes. There is plenty of fun to be had for parents to join in and learn alongside their children. These activities are designed to build 21st Century learning skills such as creativity, invention, collaboration and problem solving. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcountdowntok%2Fvideos%2F664616463718981%2F&show_text=0&width=560
For those fascinated by lights and color, there is a manipulative light board that covers a wall with twist tubes that change color as they are turned. What a way to sneak in a little occupational therapy without the little ones realizing it! https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcountdowntok%2Fvideos%2F664618893718738%2F&show_text=0&width=560
KidsTown Studio, presented by Florida Hospital for Children and Harriett’s KidsTown Theatre feature a mini theater and props, an art classroom, and a customizeable smart board to make cards for children residing at the hospital.
KidsTown boasts 11,000 square feet with activities literally in every corner. The dedicated space has been totally revamped with sustainable play areas, classroom upgrades, STEM discovery additions, smart boards, and bathrooms in each class. There is something for every facet of learning and yet OSC has facilitated growth as technologies evolve.
As a parent of a child with special needs I was especially impressed with the amount of detail that the OSC placed upon reinventing this environment to make it more inclusive. There are activities for every level of play and the objects are not heavy and cumbersome. The bathrooms are all family friendly, with lower toilets for little ones and changing tables throughout. The floors have short piled, tight weaved carpet with no ends to distract from the fun. The space is colorful and inviting and sure to garner a return visit. Why not visit on a Sensory Sunday, which allows a chance to visit select exhibit halls at quieter volume settings with more light even in the movie theater.
The all new KidsTown premiered at the OSC on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, 2016. To learn more about the OSC and its programs click here.