Inside a colourful room, seven-year-old Rahul Jain is hard at work. Clad in yellow overalls — akin to a construction worker’s outfit — he is building his first Formula 1 car. He stares fixedly at a visual of world racing champion Sebastian Vettel’s superfast Red Bull RB8 up on a screen and emulates the design with cardboard pieces. He then moves on the build a city with the same pieces.
Spread across over 10,000 sq ft in Gurgaon’s Ambience Mall, Stellar Children’s Museum is the first of its kind in the country. Set up by Akshay Sethi and Anjana Menon, a young couple, and real estate developer Stellar, the museum has been built at a whopping cost of a million dollars. The group also plans to set up such museums in Delhi and Bangalore.
A popular concept in Europe and the US, children’s museums offer a place of recreation and learning through ‘exhibits’, designed to teach elementary concepts such as gravity, dimensions, shapes, colours and the basic workings of a machine.
“The museum will address the need for edu-recreational facilities for children in India,” hopes Sethi. While it’s only a week old, the museum has already hosted its first birthday party where it entertained around 40 children. The museum caters to children between two and eight years. A child with one adult can walk in with an admission fee of Rs 600; annual membership for a family of four is Rs 15,000.
Designed by Chicago-based RedBox Workshop (which has also designed the Chicago Children’s Museum and Lincoln Park Zoo in the US), Stellar Children’s Museum has seven galleries — Invent It, Build It, Discover It, Explore It, Live It, Create It and Splash It. Each gallery offers different activities to capture the imagination of children. For instance, in ‘Invent It’, a magnetic ball track is used teach basic concepts like gravity. “When a child throws the ball down the track, he might not know the science behind it but he will learn that the ball will always come down due to gravity.” The museum is managed by a staff of 15, including supervisors and teachers.
The most fascinating gallery is ‘Discover it’. The cheerful room is divided into different countries, each characterised by the flora and fauna intrinsic to the region. So a child receives his passport from a ‘passport station’ and then travels the world. In Africa, he can hear sounds of hyenas. In Antarctica, he is greeted with a gush of cold air. “The elements make the child aware about climate and wildlife,” says Menon.
The museum encourages children to express themselves through music and art. As an enthusiastic child hits a few utensils hanging on a wall with a drumstick, Sethi smiles, “He can’t do that at home!”
Around 30 per cent of the equipment — a unique ‘heart drum’ to check heart rate, an X-ray machine to teach the child about bone structure, a water table to illustrate the functions of dams and turbines — has been imported from the US. A theatre will host storytelling sessions, workshops on music, dramatics and “Mom & Me” programmes for toddlers and parents.
But is a mall the ideal place for such a set up? “In India, adequate parking space and the required infrastructure for such a set-up is found in malls only.”
Sethi insists that the museum is not a playpen. “This is a space where parents and children can bond. While they might drop off their kids with a caretaker, we encourage them to come along with their children.”