Learning Through Play in Akron

Akron Children’s Museum attracts nearly 28,000 visitors since November 2016

It is no wonder why Akron and surrounding communities have so far embraced the Akron Children’s Museum downtown.

Its vibrant walls and open space welcome families to freely explore the interactive exhibits. Even the characters and graphics painted inside the museum seem to pop out of the walls to greet visitors.

Akron Children's Museum staff meeting

Summit Education Initiative staff meet outside Akron Children’s Museum before exploring the exhibits.

The environment lends itself to playfulness and imagination for all ages—not just the young children the museum was intended to serve. After all, it was imagination, persistence and a lot of creativity that made it happen.

Betsy Hartschuh, board president of Akron Children’s Museum, and her husband, Ryan Hartschuh, co-founded the museum, which officially opened its doors to visitors in November 2016. After visiting a children’s museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, during a family vacation, the Hartschuhs felt inspired to serve their hometown with a similar venue.

That was five years ago. From then on, a lot of research, well-attended pop-up events, hands-on fundraisers and relationship building earned the Hartschuhs the momentum they needed to open their own children’s museum in Akron.

“In the summer of 2015, The City of Akron approached the Hartschuhs about leasing the Summit County Historical Society’s previous space adjacent to Lock 3,” says Maggie Spangler, visitor experience manager at Akron Children’s Museum. Focusing on fundraising the following year allowed the Hartschuhs to sign the lease to that space in August 2016. They opened the museum the day after Thanksgiving last year.

The Value of Free Play

With a master’s degree in museum exhibit design, Spangler never thought she would help put together a children’s museum.

“Here, the emphasis is on learning through play,” Spangler says. “Playing is open-ended; we’re not telling kids how to explore the exhibits.”

Because the museum’s activities and displays target children ages 0 through 12, families with multiple children may experience the museum together. Kids of different ages approach exhibits in different ways; and, as a result, they learn different things.Akron Children's Museum

Local companies have also joined the fun. As well as their current program partners, the Hartschuhs hope to work with more local businesses to offer mini outreach events, where companies can share what they do and potentially inspire future careers.

“Akron Children’s Museum is something new and different for our area,” Spangler says. “It’s needed in Akron, even though residents here may not have realized it was necessary.”

The Hartschuhs’ goal was to have 500 memberships within the first three months of opening. Only four months in, they had approximately 1,300.

“We up to  over 30,000 total visitors,” Spangler says. “We recognize families keep coming back, and we’re learning as we go. We’ve already made little changes to exhibits and have bigger changes planned, so there is something new for our returning visitors.”

Even families living closer to the Cleveland area travel to Akron to visit its Children’s Museum, as The Children’s Museum of Cleveland is undergoing renovation.

Akron Children's Museum“Some families are surprised by how long they stay,” Spangler says. “So far, six hours is the record; some families visit in the morning, then leave for lunch, and come back for more play in the afternoon.” Other children visit the museum after school during the week, or visit during field trips. Considering its proximity to the downtown Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and Trolley stops, Akron Children’s Museum is accessible to many families around the Greater Akron region.

Akron Children’s Museum is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. They offer affordable memberships for families, as well as special programming throughout the year. For more information and a calendar of event dates, visit www.akronkids.org.