Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis Bids Adieu to Mookie

Last October, I had the great - by which I mean unimaginably fun - pleasure of visiting the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and taking a look at how they do what they do. What they do is deliver top-notch, engaging education to kids, cleverly disguising it as having a heck of a fun time. As Josh Estes, manager of the museum's centerpiece, The Dinosphere, guided me through the exhibit, I received a crash course in exhibit design and visitor interaction. I met a crew of people who put their hearts into giving children an unforgettable experience. They do it by making the children feel like an integral part of the experience. More than facts, children visiting the museum come away with the experience of problem solving and thinking critically.

To read more about my visit, please check out my weeklong series devoted to it. Today, I want to give a few words to one of the most memorable people I met that day, Mookie Harris. I met him as he was taking part in an activity with a young visitor, in which he draws a reconstruction of an animal based on a child's observations of a tapir skull. The results, you might guess, vary widely. What I love about it is that the "right or wrong" of the child's guesses as to the skull's original owner don't matter. What matters is that the child figures out that he or she has just done the exact same thing a paleontologist does with a fossil. They have the tools to do it - all they lack is a bit of comparative anatomy education. I've since seen him do the same with my niece, Molly, and she was just as engaged.

In a post about one of the museum's big attractions, Dracorex, I wrote, "Mookie told me that he's really heartened by the level of knowledge displayed by his young visitors, especially the increasing numbers of girls who have a real investment in dinosaurs. He thinks that it has a lot to do with documentaries in the style of Walking With Dinosaurs, which portray dinosaurs as animals rather than monsters."

This was a new insight to me. Mookie, your Jedi powers work on adults, too.

This week, the Children's Museum bids Mookie farewell as he leaves for a new opportunity at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa, Florida. I'm sure the folks there believe they've made a good choice, but I think they'll be pleasantly surprised by just how good it is. This is a man who understands that making a personal connection with the children who come to the museum is more important than delivering facts, even more important than demonstrating the process of science. Those things are important, no doubt. But they mean more when they come with a human relationship. I'm reminded of another time I saw Mookie talking with a boy in the Children's Museum's simulated dig site. As the boy rattled off theories about dinosaur migration, Mookie was totally engaged with him, and I'll bet that after the boy left the museum with his parents, that experience of being taken seriously and tossing ideas around with an interested adult will stick with him.

In my interview with Josh Estes last year, I embedded one of the museum's "This Week's Wow!" videos, in which Mookie's talents as a performer are put to good use. If you haven't checked these out, take some time to browse through the Children's Museum's Youtube Channel. And enjoy this one, in which Josh gives Mookie an appropriately geeky send-off.

See you in Tampa, Mookie!


  1. I really have to check that museum out next time I'm in Indiana.

  2. What an unusual lot of animal paintings. You obviously enjoy painting them. Lots of animal paintings can be browsed at who supplies canvas prints from the images. How about this one?: by Archibald Thorburn, a Scottish bird artist,, of a Great Auk.

  3. (Philosoraptor = Mookie)

    I have no idea how I am just now seeing this. I'm speechless. David, this means so very much to me.

    And to make things even better, I've come back to Indy, back to the Children's Museum and specifically, back to Dinosphere! In fact, I'm reading this from my office right now. I am now the coordinator of that gallery and would love to get together with you again soon.

    I wish I had more time, but this was merely a dinner break on one of our free family nights that Target makes possible. Greatest surprise i could have received. Take care, my friend!


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