Monday was a busy night at Marbles Kids Museum. More than 500 people came out to see the Raleigh museum's major new exhibit called Kid Grid, a mini power grid that teaches kids that electricity doesn't originate in the plug on the wall.
Kids bounced from the generation station to the power center to the smart home and back, dumping, moving and pushing so-called power pucks, hockey puck-like discs, around the exhibit. My four-year-old was among them, donning a construction hat and work vest and pulling herself up through the small, indoor climbing structure that's part of the generation station, one piece of this exhibit.
It was the kind of play that you'd expect at Marbles - creative and a little bit frenzied all at once. I had to pull my daughter out of there with a promise that we'd be back the next day when I was scheduled to return for an interview.
A 900-square-foot outdoor patio was enclosed in December to make way for Kid Grid, which exists thanks to a $1 million grant from ABB, a power and automation technologies firm with North American headquarters in Cary and on the campus of N.C. State's Centennial Campus. Some of the components in the exhibit are actual ABB switches, buttons and plugs.
There are multiple goals here: To expose kids to the fact that energy is moving all around us; to spark curiosity in kids about how things work; to empower kids and their families to make smart energy choices; to introduce kids and families to different kinds of energy sources; and to interest boys and girls in science, technology, engineering and math careers.
To do that, Marbles created its own little network within Kid Grid. It begins with the generation station where kids can "generate power" by moving those power pucks through the rest of the exhibit. Each puck represents a different kind of power - solar, wind, water, coal and nuclear. The station includes a small indoor piece that kids can climb up with their bags of power pucks to put back into the grid.
From there, if you were walking through this in order, you might then head over to the power control center, where kids can pretend they are determining where the power should go. Finally, they can land at the smart house where the focus is on making smart energy choices. There's even a play electric car to plug in.
The thing about this exhibit is that it's all interconnected. Kids must work together to move those power pucks from the generation station to the power control center or smart house, for instance. Green LED lights light up on the ground or above only if kids are pulling the levers or pushing the buttons.
"You really have to work together through the exhibit to make things happen," said Melissa Ward, a Marbles design specialist.
And that's really the lesson in Kid Grid.
Said Ward: "We're all part of this large power grid and it's all interconnected.
Watch the video for a tour of Kid Grid. Marbles, on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh, will celebrate the grand opening of Kid Grid from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Kids will have the chance to build their own city on Curiosity Square on the first floor and check out the new exhibit.
Kid Grid and the grand opening ceremony activities are free with admission, which is $5 per person.