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Duluth Children's Museum: Laboratory of the mind

Clayton Zervas shows Noah Laessig how to clean real dinosaur bones.(Photo by John Shirley)1 / 2
Shawn Weddel monitors the Haglin family (Nora, Jarod, Kira, and Samantha) as they build models of the Lift Bridge.(Photo by John Shirley)2 / 2

John Shirley

For the Budgeteer

Children in Duluth are already working as paleontologists, engineers, scientists and high-level brokers on the stock exchange. In a large West Duluth building, classes and exhibits allow kids to assume these roles, if only for the afternoon.

Duluth Children's Museum hosts a variety of hands-on classes and exhibits at its facility, 115 S. 29th Ave West. The nonprofit organization encourages children to learn to play and play to learn. All the exhibits and classes involve doing something hands-on, usually related to science.

"Our mission is to spark children's curiosity; that is, to get children excited about learning," said Museum education director Peter Jacobsen. "Children can learn that they themselves can be scientists. They can learn about history and a wide range of subjects."

The "Nano Labs" exhibit is one place where it is alright for kids to be small-minded. The exhibit allows kids to explore the often unexpected properties of extremely small particles.

Children can manipulate progressively smaller particles of magnetic sand to see how its properties change as it gets smaller. After that, they can assemble a model carbon nanotube, scaled up to allow kids to see it. The signs tell the moral of the story: understanding and manipulating these nano particles will lead to advances in many areas in science and technology.

"Coming to the museum gives children the time to learn in a hands-on way," said Bridget Carter, a member and parent.

After the "Nano" exhibit, it is time to think big, with the Dino Lab: a pit filled with simulated dinosaur fossils buried in plastic "pebbles." Young paleontologists can hunt for samples and carefully brush off the pebbles to reveal the artifacts. They can then identify the objects, by comparing them to pictures in the field manual provided.

Funds permitting, the museum plans to move into a larger, nearby building, to put more exhibits on display. The museum is the fifth-oldest children's museum in the country. During its history, the organization has acquired many items.

Six days a week, educational and interactive classes are taught at the museum's "Kid's Create" section. The schedule changes monthly, with the website showing the current schedule.

Currently, the "Dino Lab: Amber Lab" class is a large part of the curriculum. In some Dino classes, kids can investigate samples of insects trapped in hardened ancient tree resin. Then they can create their own replica specimens.

These are just some of the many classes taught, which vary each month. Schedules of the current months event, can be found through "Exhibits & Programs" tab, on the Duluth Children's Museum website.

Through Memorial Day, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $7.50 and children under one get in for free. Memberships start at $65. For more information call (218) 733-7543 or visit

Link: Read more about current programs at the museum