A new exhibit on ancient architecture at the DuPage Children's Museum is designed to inspire, whatever the age of the kids.
The interactive display, titled "Monumental," provides insight on how science, technology, engineering, art and mathematical principles applied to building styles in the Greek and Mayan cultures. It opened last weekend and will be in place for the next six months.
"It's never too early to start exposing children to a concept, because they're going to get out of it what is developmentally appropriate," said Marcia MacRae, public programs manager. "At very young ages, they're looking at shapes. They're looking at spaces and developing spatial visualization, like a baby in a crib looking up at a mobile or hearing echoes when they go into a large hall or building."
Although the two ancient cultures were separated by the Atlantic Ocean as well as by about 1,000 years, they share elements like the use of science and math in the construction of buildings. MacRae said children can recognize those concepts.
"Our mission is to get kids to think creatively, to inspire curiosity and for them to have an authentic learning experience," she said. "The exhibit shows them there was a culture that created these beautiful structures out of blocks, architecturally profound places like the Parthenon in Greece or the Temple of Kukulkan in the Yucatan (area of Mexico). They only had stone tools at the time."
Interactive elements include constructing miniature monuments out of building blocks, using foam cubes to make a pyramid, dressing in costumes appropriate to the times, and using computer touch screens to simulate adding artistic colors to structures.
"We're not duplicating the colors, we're just giving kids the option to try it," said Sue Kessler, a museum play coordinator. "With today's technology, they found paint chips on the Parthenon and were able to figure out chemically what color some of the columns were. That's how we know they were full of color."
Officials from the National Hellenic Museum and the National Museum of Mexican Art, both in Chicago, were consulted on the development of the new exhibit.
"We tried to go to the source to ask them things like what did these monuments mean to the culture, how were they built and what's important about them. After that, our experts here helped integrate math and science components to the exhibit," MacRae said.
Brian Peterson of Orland Park, who brought his 2-year-old son, was impressed.
"This is quite the experience," he said. "Oliver also has the chance to be here with other children, to learn and enjoy the experience."
Linda Willet of Batavia took her grandson, who was in awe of the structures.
"I like playing here because there's a lot of fun things and I get to learn stuff just like I do in school," said Austin Golovin, 8. "I think the pyramid with the face at the top is neat."
MacRae's not surprised at that reaction to ancient structures like pyramids.
"One of the aspects to monuments is they can be very, very large and have an emotional impact," she said. "Monuments are the backdrops of our lives. They're about very important things like freedom and independence, or about very important people like Washington, Lincoln or Martin Luther King."
The museum, 301 N. Washington St., Naperville, is open seven days a week.