Discovery Center

Discovery Center

By Frank Schier

By Frank Schier

Editor and Publisher

“It’s a wonderful day and announcement,” said Mayor Doug Scott, putting it right during the press conference on Jan. 16 announcing that the Discovery Center Museum had attained a fourth place tie in the ranking of 200 children’s museums in the nation by Child magazine.

He went on to say we should have buttons printed up touting our ranking. The mayor noted that there might be a presumption that we’re bragging, but added in the vernacular, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”

To many, that fact and sentiment is welcome change considering the other ranking of note that Rockford has received from

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Money magazine.

Add on our latest good news from the National Association of Homebuilders that Rockford ranks first in the nation for affordable homes, considering income levels and real estate prices.

The price of homes and the Discovery Center‘s achievement tell the story that we’ve all known in Rockford for some time—this is a great town for families.

“Adults enjoy the Discovery Center as much as the children,” Scott said. “This means a lot to us—our civic pride.”

Echoing Mayor Scott, District 205 School Superintendent Dr. Alan Brown, also a Discovery Center board member, praised fellow board members and Sarah Wolf, the executive director of the Discovery Center. He said the center is “a great partner to our schools.” He also cited the improved achievement scores and pointed out that “150,000 children over the last five years have visited the center, and another 60,000 have attended through outreach programs and after-school activities.”

Wendy Perks Fisher, president of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “I’ve been in Boston and Minneapolis, and we should be number one. I would certainly advertise that we are number four.”

She noted the proximity of the Rockford Speedway and Magic Waters and that 70 percent of the attendees were visitors. “That should make local citizens feel good,” she said.

She also had great praise for the 20 years of work by Executive Director Wolf, and Melissa Teske, who was on the original Junior League committee that started the museum.

In her remarks, Wolf hit a note which has concerned many original donors and current supporters considering the Rockford Art Museum’s announcement that they might move to Rock Valley College. As to the Discovery Center, “The future—we’re staying—this facility works wonderfully for us.”

While stressing the achievement of the Discovery Center, Scott agreed to address the possible move for the Art Museum, “My position is I’d like them to stay. I’m concerned about the move.

“They’ve got a responsibility to do the best for their museum and patrons. We’ve agreed to talk scenarios.

“Climate control, space, the size of the facility, storage become issues. It’s up to us to try to meet their needs. We’re talking about an I-Max. The Armory’s an issue.

“We’re trying to play out all the scenarios to something that works,” Scott said.

The Riverfront Museum complex recently spent $1.8 million on the cooling and heating system to offer better controls.

“That was a need for total comfort of all the organizations, not just the Art Museum,” said Wolf.

Control of the humidity is the central issue for accreditation for the Art Museum. Reportedly, an estimated additional $1 to 2 million would be needed to upgrade the cooling and heating system to bring it up to accreditation standards.

Discovery Center provides

details adding up to the big win

The Discovery Center’s fine work was included in the nation’s first-ever survey to identify the 10 best children’s museums, as conducted by Child magazine. Discovery Center was selected out of the more than 200 U.S. museums designed specifically for children. It was the only Illinois museum to rank in the top 10.

Discovery Center areas highlighted within the Child magazine article include:

l Features a planetarium where kids can pretend they’re astronauts

l Conducts live broadcasts on local CBS station from the Kids News Studio

l Offers a Tot Spot area with a 5-foot-wide, 4 1/2-foot-high custom-made dollhouse

l Allows kids to climb floors on spiral staircase featuring a giant mouse-hole maze

l Boasts 25% of employees have degree in early childhood education

“We are very proud to be selected as one of the 10 best children’s museums in the nation,” said Wolf, who has served at the Museum’s helm since 1985. “Providing the opportunity for children to experience the joy of learning has always been our goal, and to have our museum rank fourth on the first-ever national listing of the top 10 children’s museums is very exciting for our Museum and our community.”

Discovery Center Museum shares its fourth place ranking with Port Discovery of Baltimore. Rounding out the top five, respectively, are: The Indianapolis Children’s Museum; The Children’s Museum of Houston; and the Children’s Museum, Boston.

To identify the top 10 children’s museums, Child magazine worked with a panel of advisors to find—and even define—what sets top institutions apart. Child magazine sent a 44-question survey to more than 200 members of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). The questions addressed issues such as the quality of exhibits and programming and availability and experience of staff as well as comfort factors such as food service and diaper-changing stations.

A non-profit organization, Discovery Center has, over its 21-year history, established itself as a leader in the Rockford, regional and national education communities, as well as a key player in the Rockford and northern Illinois tourism markets. Through interactive exhibits and educational and family programming, Discovery Center continually strives to meet the goal, established within its mission statement, of providing an enriching environment where “children of all ages discover the joy of learning”. Additional information about Discovery Center Museum is available at

More Quick Facts

l According to the survey, Child’s top 10 children’s museums are—ranked in order:

1. the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

2. the Children’s Museum of Houston

3. the Children’s Museum, Boston

4. Discovery Center, Rockford, IL (Tie)

4. Port Discovery, Baltimore (Tie)

6. Brooklyn Children’s Museum

7. Strong Museum, Rochester, NY

8. Minnesota Children’s Museum, St. Paul

9. Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

10. Madison Children’s Museum, WI

l Number of museums surveyed nationally: 200-plus

l Child magazine monthly circulation: 3 million

l Discovery Center Museum opened in 1981; incorporated in 1984

l Museum’s average annual attendance: 125,000

l Discovery Center web & telephone: (815) 963-6769

Discovery Center as compared to other top five museums

Square Annual Fulltime Metro Year

footage budget Staff Population Opened


Museum of 362,500 sq. ft. $18 million 186 1.5 million 1925



Museum of 44,000 sq. ft. $3.8 million 44 4.1 million 1984


The Children’s

Museum, 65,000 sq. ft. $7.9 million 75 3.2 million 1913*


Port Discovery,

Baltimore 80,000 sq. ft. $6.2 million 37 2.2 million 1998


Center 30,000 sq. ft. $700,000 8 250,000 1981

National Advisory Panel to

Child magazine on this project:

l Janet Rice Elman, Director, Association of Children’s Museums, Washington, D.C.

l Joann Norris, author of Children’s Museums: An American Guidebook

l Susan Delson, editor of Museums magazine, based in New York City

l Ismael Calderon, Ed.,D., Science Director, The Newark Museum Victoria Hall of Science in New Jersey

In the last five years alone,

Discovery Center Museum has:

l been visited by nearly 150,000 children on tours

l touched the lives of an additional 61,000 children through its outreach programs

l encouraged 13,000 children to explore science as they attended preschool, elementary school, middle school and home school classes

National education programs

Discovery Center is currently

collaborating on (with funding support from National Science Foundation):

l TEAMS, a five-museum consortium that developed traveling exhibitions and related education programs, all tailored to meet the needs of small museums. Discovery Center’s contribution to the mix was the traveling exhibition Amusement Park Science, a permanent version of which is located on the Museum’s first floor.

l Midwest Wild Weather, an educational collaborative partnering of museums in four Midwestern states as they use hands-on exhibitions and interactive workshops to teach lessons in meteorology, filling the gaps budget cuts have left in many schools.

l TEAMS II, featuring seven museums working to further develop the goals established by the original TEAMS collaborative.

* The Children’s Museum, Boston, opened in 1913, is the world’s second-oldest children’s museum.

Upcoming events at Discovery Center:

Friday, Jan. 25 –

Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s

Happening!: 6:30-8:30 p.m.:

Family event exploring magical world of Harry Potter… activities, experiments and games, door prizes, treats, live owl appearance, meet Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter… fun for whole family; admission fee of $5 public child, $3 member child (adults free) includes event and Museum.

Sunday, Jan. 27

Cabin Fever Jamboree: 1-4 p.m.:

Discovery Center’s annual toe-tappin’ exploration of folk music returns… live musical and dance performances, children’s stage and activities… admission fee of $4 public, $3 museum members (museum admission separate).

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