Discovery Museum offers family fun and learning

When passing through the glass doors of the large gray and red brick edifice, one might pause at the sight of the words “Too Much Fun!” boldly embossed in red on a small wooden freight car inside the foyer.

That — or the bearded dragon named Jake.

Since 2001, the Maine Discovery Museum, located on Main Street in Bangor, has been a source of entertainment and education for all generations of families.

With three floors and over 20,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, it is the largest children’s museum north of Boston. The nonprofit welcomes almost 50,000 visitors a year. This fall, it hopes to reach 1 million guests since its opening.

“We’ve really been an anchor for downtown economic development,” Executive Director Niles Parker said.

Most of the exhibits try to bring a touch of Maine to them. This includes a lot of information about nature and animals.

Discovery Museum 17“We try to let our visitors learn about right here in their own backyard and a sense of place, learning, discovery and exploration,” Parker explained.

A two-story tree house stands in the first floor of the museum that kids can climb and learn about trails. They can learn about the origin, scientific name and habitat of a painted turtle or leopard gecko.

“Our exhibits are intentionally designed, trying to get at a variety of learning styles and age-appropriate levels,” Parker said. “So you know for younger kids it would be about gross motor skills and the fact that they can climb up maybe one or two levels. Then for older ages: reading and more advanced learning as possible.”

Museum-goers can learn how to make paper at the “Paper Factory” on the first floor.

“[It’s] so we can teach about one of the really historically important industries in Maine,” Parker said. “People can try their hand at actually making paper and seeing the science involved.”

Walking up the stairs to the second floor of the kids-focused museum, Parker explains one of the museum’s larger exhibits.

“This is called trading winds,” he said, pointing toward the room with a large map of the world on its floor. “The idea behind it is to see how the world connects and who [Maine’s] major trading partners are. So, what do we export? What do we import?”

When kids check in downstairs, they can receive a passport. When they bring the passport around and experience the different stations throughout the museum, they can get their passport stamped.

Discovery Museum 24Presently the museum is looking to update its third floor. Its ongoing exhibit is called “Body Journey”. The new exhibit it has begun raising funds for would be called “Kids in Motion”.

“It’s all about getting kids active and getting kids outside in Maine and places they can go explore,” Parker said.

Currently the museum is seeking about $450,000 in funds for the updates it would like to make to the space.

“It would allow us to come up with more exhibits that would really engage a wide variety of kids,” Parker said.

According to an article by the Washington Post that breaks down a 2014 study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Hancock County is in the top five counties in the country for museums per capita. The study shows that there are 111.2 museums per 100,000 residents. Washington County makes the top 10 with 90.1 museums per 100,000 residents.

“Maine is a great state and has a number of learning opportunities, museums and things like that…but a lot of people don’t realize that they don’t realize the amount of museums, historical societies, libraries and Maine is near the top of the pack,” Parker said.

But above all, the Maine Discovery Museum has one central goal: kids and learning.

“Early childhood learning is critical,” Parker said. “The earlier, the better. Whether it’s literacy or basic math skills or just socialization, it is critical to brain development and successful educational development going forward.

“We also know and studies are increasingly showing that out-of-school-time learning in a fun, engaging, hands-on, interactive way is huge.”

The Maine Discovery Museum is located at 74 Main St. in Bangor and can be reached by telephone at 262-7200.

Kansas City native Madalyne Bird was a 2014 summer intern for the Ellsworth American working primarily for the paper's summer guide to Downeast Maine, Out and About.