In 1976, busy California mother Joan Barnes wanted nothing more than to find a play place where she and her kids could enjoy age-appropriate, educational activities. Finding none, she developed her own innovative play environment within a developmental-based program structure now known as Gymboree Play & Music. Today, kids tumble and learn in locations around the world, engaging in open play and classes designed to build cognitive and motor skills. As parents participate in their child?s development, their child learns to paint, play music, and interact socially outside of preschool knitting circles.
Noreen Williams-Raines (known as Dr. Nitro to her young clients) founded Big Thinkers Science Exploration to ignite kids' curiosity and teach them the importance of the word "why." She and her team of lab-coated entertainers—all trained in science and classroom management—turn elementary-age kids into engines of inquiry with slime-making, smoke rings, and other quirky demonstrations and hands-on experiments.
Big Thinkers Science Exploration takes their programs on the road with after-school science clubs and birthday parties that entertain while imparting the analytical skills necessary for tykes to survive in the robot apocalypse. The staff also offers summer camps that continue education throughout the balmy months with topics such as Gadgets and Gizmos, Chem Lab Extreme, and Rockets & Sprockets.
Showcasing hands-on, interactive exhibits, the nonprofit Georgia Children’s Museum sparks an enthusiasm for learning in visitors between the ages of 2 and 12. Youngsters can design a newspaper page in the journalism exhibit, anchor a news broadcast in the TV studio, or curl up with a book in the hushed confines of the reading room. Meanwhile, in the internationally themed Passport to the World exhibit, tykes don authentic kimonos, beat handmade African drums, and discover how Magellan built the blimp that he used to circumnavigate the globe. The Smarty Pants Gift Shop stocks glass pendant necklaces and Magna Morphs toys, whose sets of animal parts can be reassembled into new, imaginary creatures. Above the store, in the Little Learners’ Loft, kids aged 2 to 5 enhance their make-believe skills with age-appropriate toys. Along with its permanent exhibits, Georgia Children’s Museum accommodates kids with events and weekly activities, including craft and story times.
The Archery Learning Center arms bow masters of all skill and experience levels with the training they need to pierce the air. Along with hosting tournaments and outfitting its shop with the latest hunting and recreational bows, the indoor range lines its walls with fresh targets. Since its early days, when medieval archers shot arrows from the castle parapets to direct lost caravans to the village, archery has fostered focus, concentration, and the spirit of competition in people of all ages, from young kids to adults.
At Great Play, kids are encouraged to break bottles—virtual ones, arranged on virtual shelves—in the center’s Interactive Arena. They are part of a hand-eye coordination game for kids, in which sensors track their “throws” and the computer-generated bottles projected onto the walls fall accordingly. Another version sees kids honing their throwing arms by aiming for an animated strike zone while a simulated crowd cheers.
But regardless of the specific games kids play on any given day in the 3,000-square-foot arena, each activity hews to the play center’s overall goal: to build kids’ motor skills and athletic abilities from an early age. Programs for younger kids focus on fundamentals, such as running, skipping, dodging, and tumbling. Meanwhile, athletic camps for older kids build skillsets that come in handy during pick-up games on the playground or at their first Olympic trials at age 3.