Little Buckeye Children's Museum

Melissa Kossler Dutton

Over the years, our family has logged some serious time in children's museums. We have visited the big ones in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Boston, and smaller facilities in Wheeling, W.Va., Oakhurst, Calif., and Lancaster, Ohio.

We've come to know what makes a children's museum fun and exciting. It's a mix of interesting exhibits, opportunities to learn without realizing it and toys that encourage imaginative play.

At the Little Buckeye Children's Museum in Mansfield, the founder clearly understands that formula. Donna Smith, an associate professor of science education at Ohio State University in Mansfield, created the museum because she wanted an interactive play place in her community.

"It's definitely made an impact to our local community," she said. "Our community has never had these resources at their doorsteps."

The museum, which opened in 2011, is meant to appeal to children from infancy to 12 years old.

My boys were instantly intrigued by the colorful museum, which is sectioned into different areas for learning and exploring. Most of the exhibits are sponsored by local businesses and include fun props that bring the space to life. The boys hurried over to the bank and began sending things through the tube system found in bank drive-thru windows. Then they charged into the bank to ogle the stacks of paper money and fake coins.

From there, they headed over to the science station, where workers had set up a simple experiment with food coloring and water. They began mixing different combinations to create new colors. They used funnels to pour the water into beakers and test tubes. They also spilled a great deal. It was making me nuts, but the volunteer working the station happily pulled out a roll of papers and helped them wipe up the mess.

"It's no problem if you spill here," she said.

While they played chemist, I explored the areas of the museum dedicated to little ones.

For the youngest visitors, the Little People Lounge is an inviting space to safely crawl or toddle around. The lounge features soft blocks and shapes to sit or climb on.

The grocery store is fully stocked with food and carts. During our visit, the preschool set spent hours loading up carts and then scanning and ringing up their groceries.

Another popular spot was the beauty salon. Girls happily styled the hair on mannequin heads. After brushing the hair, they would add clips and bows to complete the look.

When I caught up with my budding scientists, Alex, 6, had moved onto the dramatic-play area, where he was staging a show and thoroughly entertaining himself.

I headed upstairs with my 8-year-old, Nick, to see the rest of the museum. He tried out the dentist chair but wouldn't let me examine his teeth. We were excited to find the DeConstruction Zone, an area where children ages 7 and older can take apart computers and other appliances the community donates.

After that, the whole family headed into the Insectigations area. The science exhibit offered a lot of information on bugs, which is a topic that interests the boys.

They also loved the indoor climbing structure and slide that resemble a tree house.

We thoroughly enjoyed the visit and will look for reasons to return.