Kid’s Square A Hands-On Feast for the Very Young

It’s labeled as a children’s museum but Kids Square, which opened at Center in the Square in mid-August (on the third floor where the History Museum used to be) isn’t a quiet, dark place with historic paintings on the wall. Instead it’s a colorful, interactive experience designed to “encourage exercise, imagination, education and socialization through play.”

There are permanent, sponsored hands-on exhibits supported by the likes of Kroger, Carilion Children’s, Blue Eagle Credit Union, Member One and Cox Communications (a simulated TV studio). Kids can experience what a bank is like, they can check out a simulated MRI machine, there are doctors and dentist offices, a veterinarian; they can even scan “groceries” at a Kroger store. There’s a camping/forest scenario designed to encourage youngsters that there’s plenty to explore in the Great Outdoors.

The permanent exhibits in the imaginary town are stationed along a “road” that runs down the middle, complete with a yellow dotted line in the middle. Roanoke Catholic School has sponsored a simulated classroom space – albeit with the latest touchscreen digital technology for learning. There’s a sandbox, a crawling area for toddlers and a nursing room for moms. Not to mention a spectacular view of the city market area.

SOL-related programs will mean field trips to a 60-seat classroom; there’s a stage and mock dressing room for budding thespians. Special tactile exhibits and quiet spaces created with guidance from the Blue Ridge Autism Center are designed for those impacted children. There’s also space for revolving exhibitions that will help attract repeat customers.

Two former longtime employees of the Salem YMCA’s “Y Town” afterschool program for children let their imaginations run wild in designing Kids Square. One of them, Veronika Geier, is in charge of education. “When we were hired in April it was a blank page. Then we started creating. We let our imaginations fly.” She calls it “learning through the art of playing.”

For an hour or two Geier hopes to wrest young people away “from the digital world.” If they choose to do so, parents and their children can request challenge questions at the front desk, like one that might ask what certain items cost at the Kroger store. Geier, other staffers and volunteers they seek to recruit will be present to answer any questions. “A lot of people will come and enjoy it.”

Executive director Felicia Branham also came from the Salem YMCA to help get Kids Square off the ground. “We reached out to the right people to make it happen,” says Branham of the finished product. “Otherwise it would just be stuck in our heads.” She says it’s been a lot easier with Geier coming over from the Y as well. Look for a special lighting display during holiday season both in the town section and in the outdoors area, in conjunction with Dickens of a Christmas. “It’s going to be amazing,” promises Branham. Admission to Kids Square is $8 per person. See the Facebook page or kidssquare.org for more information. Cross promotions with the Virginia Museum of Transportation, Mill Mountain Zoo and perhaps other cultural organizations can mean discounted admissions to Kids Place if you have a recent ticket stub from those venues.

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