Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Nyla John, 7, of Chicago, serves plastic food to her mother Sheryl John in Bessie’s
Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Nyla John, 7, of Chicago, serves plastic food to her mother Sheryl John in Bessie's Diner, a miniature diner that's part of the model train depot. At left is Nyla's cousin Christian Alakkatt, 8, of Acton. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

ACTON -- There aren't many places where you can take your children without constantly reminding them, "Don't touch."

But at the Discovery Museum in Acton, kids are enchanted, lively and curious as soon as they walk through the doors.

"We want them to touch everything and feel empowered to go home and do the same thing or try new things," said Ann Sgarzi, the museum's director of marketing.

The museum opened its all-new facility in March after raising $8.8 million for the expansion and renovation. The new facility offers accessibility to those with disabilities, so they too can fully enjoy the experience of the new exhibits.

The Discovery Museum features Especially for Me! events, during which time the museum is open only for families with children who have disabilities.

Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Molly Magit, 4, of Natick, makes patterns with a Sand Spinner. SUN/Julia Malakie)
Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Molly Magit, 4, of Natick, makes patterns with a Sand Spinner. SUN/Julia Malakie)

"It's really important to our staff to have to have financial, physical and cultural access," Sgarzi said. "The main goal was to make this accessible. It's a wonderful space."

There are three lively, leisure-filled levels to the building. Denise LeBlanc, the museum's director of learning experiences, said simple materials can do unusual and intriguing things not only for the kids, but also for the adults who accompany them.

"You want to know it has potential and is open-ended enough that they want to spend a long time," LeBlanc said of the exhibits.

Beth O'Sullivan, of Arlington, Va., recently visited the museum with her three children, ages 10, 8 and 5. When she visits her parents, who live in Acton, she makes it a point to stop by the museum.


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Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Jordyn Lewis, 6, of Auburn, tucks in dolls in the play area for toddlers with their adults.
Discovery Museum in Acton, and the outdoor activity tree house. Jordyn Lewis, 6, of Auburn, tucks in dolls in the play area for toddlers with their adults. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

"We love it. I grew up coming here because I grew up down the street," O'Sullivan said. "It's just always been a great place to bring children. I work at a preschool now, and I get good ideas. It just keeps getting better."

Here are just some exhibits you should take time to tinker during your Discovery Museum visit.

Light & Color Gallery

This darkened room allows kids and their curious caretakers to try their hand at manipulating light and color. With various materials and machines, like mirrors, lenses and projectors, they can change the trajectory of light, create unique patterns with color and even control how a line of Gumby figures alter in hue.

Axis Lewis, 2, of Auburn, has a ball in the toddler area at Discovery Museum in Acton. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
Axis Lewis, 2, of Auburn, has a ball in the toddler area at Discovery Museum in Acton. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

"You can play with them in a very open-ended way, and for the older children, they can be much more deliberate with experiments," LeBlanc said.

Water Gallery

If you were wet behind the ears before you entered this exhibit, your tinkering and experimenting will have changed all that.

Kids fiddle with the fluid, making miniature dams, watching plastic balls shoot up into a tube by a single stream of water -- completely unbothered that their smocks do not shield them from every splash.

"This room has so much staying power," Sgarzi said. "Kids love to play with water. Everything is open-ended. You try things out, and you see how it reacts differently."

da Vinci Workshop

Isla Noll, 3, of Boston, blows out a bubble wall in a chamber where kids can use a pulley to make walls of soapy water.
Isla Noll, 3, of Boston, blows out a bubble wall in a chamber where kids can use a pulley to make walls of soapy water.

Want to be expressive, but through art? The da Vinci Workshop is the place for you to set up shop, whether you want to draw or use recycled materials to make a masterpiece or flip through books of Leonardo da Vinci's works.

"Some kids don't do this at home," LeBlanc said. "To give them this opportunity is really, really important. We try to have a nook for all different interests. It's about creating a safe spot to try new things. You don't have to make an art piece, but you can learn about different materials."

Bessie's Diner

A popular space among especially small kids is Bessie's Diner.

Behind the kitchen counter, kids whip out gourmet (plastic) meals and serve them up at the diner's booths.

Leslie Harwood of Westford and her son, Patrick, 2 1/2, check out the treehouse at Discovery Woods.
Leslie Harwood of Westford and her son, Patrick, 2 1/2, check out the treehouse at Discovery Woods.

Kids don't just use their creativity and sharpen their customer service skills, they also make use of some math by using play money to charge for their meals.

"It's a chance for the kids to take control, be the lead and be the chef of the kitchen," said Alli Leake, director of early-childhood education at the museum.

Community Gallery

This is one of the quieter spaces in the museum. Kids can sit at a table and lose themselves in a book, or choose from a variety of small- and large-scale materials, like blocks sticks and more, to build something from scratch.

The transformative space, sponsored by Middlesex Savings Bank, will also allow for the museum to bring in different exhibits and events. Visitors should be on the lookout for what upcoming events may be in story.

"We never had this flexible space before," Sgarzi said. "It is our chance to bring in things that complement what we already do."

Discovery Woods

Outside, directly across from the museum is the large whimsical treehouse you've always imagined in the children's books you read as a kid. The treehouse is open and completely wheelchair-accessible.

From 15 feet above the ground, the treehouse overlooks a playground area. Kids play on a communal swing, tackle Adventure Hill and have fun in the gravel pit.

Discovery Woods is open year-round, so kids can even enjoy the winter wonderland.

LeBlanc said the goal is to get people outside as well.

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.

Museum Info

Address:

177 Main St., Acton

Discovery Museum & Woods Summer Hours:

9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; Free admission Fridays from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Admission:

Adults, $14.50; Seniors (60+), $13.50; Children, $14.50; Children under 1, free; Teachers, free.

For more information, visit www.discoveryacton.org.

The Discovery Museum in Acton has tons of July events lined up for your little ones to enjoy. Here are some of the fun things that will be going on.

Friday, July 6

n Backyard and Beyond: Forest Fridays; 10 to 10:45 a.m.

n Summer Friday Nights Free!; free admission from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 7

n Make a Mess: Spray and Splatter; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tuesday, July 10

n Teddy Bear Picnic Day; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Wednesday, July 11

n Everyday Engineers: Scribble Bots; 2 to 4 p.m.

Thursday, July 12

n Make a Mess: Make an Impression Like Monet; 10 to 11 a.m.

Friday, July 13

n Cold as Ice: Exploring a 300-pound Block of Ice; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

n Summer Friday Nights Free!; free admission from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 14

n Backyard and Beyond: Shelter Building with "PrimiTim"; 2 to 4 p.m.

n Especially for Me! Free Autism-Friendly Evening; 5 to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 17

n Try It Out Tuesday; 10 to 11 a.m.

Thursday, July 19

n Doggy Days: Out for a Walk; 10 to 11 a.m.

Friday, July 20

n Free Fun Friday; free admission from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday-Friday, July 23-27

n LEGO ZONE; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday, July 27

n Backyard and Beyond: Forest Fridays; 10 to 10:45 a.m.

n Summer Friday Nights Free!; free admission from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 28

n Especially for Me! Evening for Families with Deaf, Hard of Hearing or KODA (kids of deaf adults) children; 5 to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 31

n Make a Mess: Explore Kinetic Sand; 10 to 11 a.m.

For more information on the events, visit www.discoveryacton.org.