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Thursday, May 11, 2017 12:07 am

Peoria putting the play in playhouse

Toddlers especially like the meandering water table in the lower level of the Peoria PlayHouse. With an Illinois River theme, the table provides learning along with fun.
PHOTOS BY NELLIE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

While Springfield has struggled for years to get a children’s museum up and running, Peoria has found the right formula for fun. At the Peoria PlayHouse, kids can splash away at a massive water table, send colorful balls whooshing through tubes and create music merely by crossing a bridge.

It being Peoria, they also can explore replica Caterpillar equipment, learn about life along the Illinois River and work with tools in a “Construction Great and Small” area.

Head there on June 11 for the PlayHouse’s second anniversary celebration and join in the Barnyard Birthday Bash with free admission, a petting zoo, real tractors and a bluegrass band.

The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum opened in 2015 in Glen Oak Park in an 1890s pavilion. The building features three levels, a
wrap-around porch and large, sunny rooms to give children plenty of space to explore.
Director Rebecca Herz expects a big crowd that day, but the PlayHouse in Peoria’s Glen Oak Park is popular most days. She says 87,000 visitors came in 2016 and 2,500 families have joined as members. Some extend their visit to the park’s zoo, extensive playground and botanical garden.

The PlayHouse was 15 years in the making, with the Junior League of Peoria spearheading the $8 million fundraising goal. Like Springfield’s efforts, opening a children’s museum in Peoria wasn’t easy with economic hard times slowing progress. The Peoria Park District administration’s move to different space in 2014 cleared the way to create the PlayHouse in the park’s historic pavilion, a three-level 1890s structure.

“Exhibits were built with ages 0-8 in mind and most visitors are 10 and under,” Herz says.

The family farm area of the Peoria PlayHouse is a popular place with a barn, kitchen, garden and hayloft.
PHOTOS BY NELLIE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

A farmhouse kitchen and “Motion Commotion” are favored spots. The latter sends balls through wind tubes and drops them all at once while the Bradley University fight song plays. When children and adults hear the song starting, they rush to see the balls drop, cheering and laughing all the while.

In the construction area, children can build with real tools under adult supervision. A family farm area houses the kitchen, a replica barn, “crops” to plant and harvest and a hayloft. One part of the wrap-around porch offers play with kinetic sand, and a purple bridge makes music when stepped on.

The PlayHouse offers Tot Time for developing language, small motor and social skills; family workshops to explore puppet theater, birdhouse construction and other hands-on activities; kid workshops that might feature painting, weaving and robot building; birthday parties and special holiday celebrations.

Adults can have fun at Adult Maker Nights where local engineers and artists challenge individuals or teams to invent or build something, helped along with food, beer and wine.

The PlayHouse is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and Tuesday mornings for members only. Admission is free for children under 1, $8 for those 1 to 64, $7 for 65 and older and for active military personnel. Military families are free from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

For more information on the Peoria PlayHouse, go to www.peoriaplayhouse.org or call 309-323-6900.

Mary Bohlen is a Springfield freelance writer and former UIS journalism professor.

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