When you walk into the Museum for the first time or the ninetieth time, the sensory experience is amazing. Machines whirring, children laughing, and a visual feast of fun in every direction. One of the unique and exciting things about the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is its openness. From one spot, you can see almost every exhibit. Except for the outdoors and a corner or two, children and adults alike can see their options to explore.
One space, a favorite space for many, is different than all the rest: Cecil’s Imagineering Loft. As the name implies, this exhibit resides above the others. Previously open only for special events and facilitated programming, the Loft has become an everyday exhibit for all ages to enjoy during any of the Museum’s open hours.
Cecil Jones was a local inventor in the mid-20th century. One of his many inventions was a system to convert power from DC batteries to be used by AC appliances. He also designed machinery to help make a different shape for pontoons (pontoon boats). He was a unique and forward thinker. His wife, Mildred Page Jones, founded Jones Sheet Metal and Roofing Company in 1942. Cecil was also the President of Kato Engineering, President of Mankato Area Chamber of Commerce in 1959 and inducted into the Mankato Area Business Hall of Fame in 1987. His family, who runs Jones Metal in Mankato still, sponsored the creation of the Loft when our current building opened in 2015.
Cecil kept a journal of many inventions he would document. Images of Cecil and his journal line the hallway as you go up the stairs to the Loft. We used the concept of journaling ideas to encourage children to have “big ideas” and to experiment with materials to create. Using local and historical inspiration shows children innovation can happen in your own backyard, or indeed, in your very own hands.
CREATING MORE SPACE FOR PLAY
The Museum’s closure during 2020 changed the way we viewed some of our programming and spaces. When we initially reopened, the social distancing requirements made using the Loft regularly an imperative. Our Museum programmers realized this unique, often quieter and less chaotic space is an asset that needed to be used more regularly. So even after restrictions changed, we kept the exhibit always open to guests.
WHAT HAPPENS IN CECIL’S IMAGINEERING LOFT?
There are three ways the Loft is used:
- Daily exploration through STEAM activities: “The process of testing, trying, and creating forges a path of lifelong learning. An adolescent’s launching of a self-made model rocket, a seven-year-old’s first exposure to 3D printing, or a multigenerational family’s exploration into wind turbine blade design, the Loft supports science investigation in unique ways.” The magnet wall, the light table, a window through which to watch the cool construction project across the street – the Loft has something for everyone!
- Regular Weekly Programming: Currently, the Art Explorers, LEGO Explorers, and Young Explorers programs are held in the Loft.
- Special Events: Non-School Day or Early-Out School Day programming is often held in the Loft; visiting events, like this month’s Mini Med School with Mayo Clinic can be held up there; and specific Pop-Up Programs involving robotics, video production, sculpture, and much more can take place in the Loft. The goal is to inspire children to create and use materials in an open-ended way, so they can expand their own experience.
When families come into the Museum, we want them to always find something exciting and new. A new experiment, a new art project, a new way to view the world or themselves. The Loft is a key exhibit for those moments, keeping our families coming back over and over. The Loft is truly a place for creativity and problem-solving. Check it out next time you’re visiting the Museum!