By Kristen Basham and Tiet Tran

Tucked away in the old, nearly abandoned, Mountaineer Mall sits a facility full of robots, nanotechnology and inquisitive explorers.  This isn’t a science laboratory though, it’s a children’s museum.

The Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia hosts a variety of activities for children.  Since its beginning in 2008, the Museum has always had an area set aside for science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM), but a recent influx of grant money has allowed the museum to increase its STEM education pursuits.

Kaylyn Pyle, 6, explores how magnets work during a Science Saturday event at the Morgantown Children's Museum on Oct. 19.  The museum hosts a new science centered hands on activity every Saturday.  Photo by Kristen Basham

Kaylyn Pyle, 6, explores how magnets work during a Science Saturday event at the Morgantown Children’s Museum on Oct. 19. The museum hosts a new science-centered, hands-on activity every Saturday. Photo by Kristen Basham

In 2013, the museum received a grant for $2,113 from the LEGO Foundation.  This grant allowed for the purchase of hands-on exhibits such as a robotic arm, able to pick up small items like foam balls, plastic cups, and marbles, and a three-dimensional marble racetrack that allows children to manipulate the marble’s path.

Another grant the museum received this year came from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education (NISE) Network.  This grant, worth $2,623, will be put towards outreach efforts to the Boys and Girls Club, as well as a special 400-square-foot, nano science exhibit coming in 2014.

Abigail Arnold the Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Morgantown says that the club has a great connection to the museum.

“We have a great symbiotic relationship with the museum.  The kids love going there to learn, and the staff do a really good job making them feel welcomed.”

The items provided by the recent grants allow the museum to host Science Saturday events.  These events are centered on certain topics, such as magnets, and include hands on activities for children of all ages.  Susan Grant, the science coordinator of the museum, usually leads these events.

Kanjo Edris helps his daughter, Lena Edris, 2, pic up paperclips as part of a demonstration on magnets at the Morgantown Children's Museum on Oct. 19.  The event was part of the museum's Science Saturdays.  Every Saturday, kids are invited to learn about a science topic through hands-on experimenting.  Photo by Kristen Basham

Kanjo Edris helps his daughter, Lena Edris, 2, pic up paperclips as part of a demonstration on magnets at the Morgantown Children’s Museum on Oct. 19. The event was part of the museum’s Science Saturdays. Every Saturday, kids are invited to learn about a science topic through hands-on experimenting. Photo by Kristen Basham

“I think kids should learn about science early, so they can get a good grasp on it later on.  We’re also incredibly lucky to be able to use grants to show kids things they normally wouldn’t see inside a typical classroom,” Grant said.

While the Science Saturday events are for everyone, an area of the museum is sectioned off for kids from ages 5-11.  This area features the hands-on activities that may involve small pieces that could be a choking hazard, or activities that may involve breakable items.  Although the museum tends to attract a younger crowd, there are older, interested visitors that stop by.

Brian Menear brings his son, Joel Menear, 7, and his daughter, Ella Menear, 6, to the museum often. On one recent trip in October, Joel and Ella took advantage of the new features and hands-on exhibits.

“It was actually my son’s idea to come up here this Saturday.  He said he didn’t want to stay inside and do nothing for the day.  He really enjoys being able to touch and build things.”

The museum is largely supported by the cost of admission and private donors.   In 2013, the Mylan Foundation awarded the museum $10,000 to be used towards field trips, outreach programs, and a science-centered teacher workshop.

Julie Bryan, the director of the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia said that though the museum always benefits from grant money, 2013 has been a particularly good year.

“We’re so excited to be able to offer exhibits and activities that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Morgantown.  For example, one of the nano science exhibits we’ll be showing in 2014 is one of only 500 of its kind.  That’s an awesome opportunity for us and the community,” Bryan said.

Sabrina Basden, 7, looks through a microscope at the Children's Museum of Morgantown with the help of museum director, Julie Bryan on Oct. 21.  The Museum received multiple grants this year in order to provide a hands-on science area for kids ages 5-11.  The hands-on science activities for older kids are held on every other Saturday.  Photo by Kristen Basham

Sabrina Basden, 7, looks through a microscope at the Children’s Museum of Morgantown with the help of museum director, Julie Bryan on Oct. 21. The Museum received multiple grants this year in order to provide a hands-on science area for kids ages 5-11. The hands-on science activities for older kids are held on every other Saturday. Photo by Kristen Basham

The museum opened in 2008 under the name “The Fun Factory.”  Since then, it has undergone a few changes.  Although in its early days, it offered many of the same exhibits you can find in today’s museum, there was less emphasis on learning and very few structured activities.  When the museum changed its name to the Children’s Discovery Museum of Morgantown in 2011, science, health, and art became the primary focus. Since 2008, the museum has occupied three different locations in the Mountaineer Mall.  Its current location is beside the Women’s Fitness Center and accessible directly from the parking lot.

Popular exhibits include a dinosaur discovery area, where kids can “dig” for bones; an imagination station, where kids can perform plays with a variety of puppets, and an arts and crafts section that invites kids to paint, color, and draw.

In 2012, the museum drew 7,500 visitors.  This year, Bryan hopes to surpass 10,00.

The museum is opened Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.  Science Saturday events are held every Saturday, and the hands-on learning area for kids 5-11 is open every other Saturday.  Admission is $4 for children over 12 months of age.