Think of a typical museum and in your mind, you probably see a place with some combination of beautiful works of art, sculpture, rare books, instruments, antiques, artifacts, and examples of natural history. And the kind of place where you keep your hands in your pockets or to your sides, try not to speak too loudly or get too close to the exhibited items and, especially, you don’t touch anything.
If you’ve got kids, you might certainly take them to art museums but sometimes you might want to take them to a museum where they can just run around and have fun (especially with the upcoming school vacation, with days of wide open time ahead). The new Bucks County Children’s Museum in Union Square in New Hope (the former site of the New Hope branch of the Michener Art Museum) is not the place to find antiquities and precious, lovely things that you almost can’t breathe on. It is the place for little ones — especially ages eight and under — to dig, discover, climb, slide, laugh, and most of all, to touch.
The museum opened on Tuesday, November 1, and in a little more than a month has become a destination. This is just the beginning, says president and director Kelly Krumenacker, a former elementary school teacher in the Pennsauken school system, as well as a tutor in the Doylestown, PA, area. She had been thinking about launching such a venue for more than 10 years.
“After having three children, full-time teaching was no longer an option, so I started dreaming of creating this museum for Bucks County,” Krumenacker says. “We incorporated in 2006 and spent the last several years doing feasibility studies and finding an appropriate site. We came across (the location in) Union Square last summer and knew that it could be opened up quickly. It’s a beautiful spot.”
The 5,000 square-foot facility is a singular experience in the New Hope-Lambertville area, designed to offer educational, fun, and interactive experiences to young learners and their families. But it is also a cheerful place, with an airy, open feel, bright decor, custom-constructed attractions designed for little hands and young creative minds, and lovely murals by noted New Hope-based illustrator and muralist Karina Raude.
Enter the museum and the first thing you will see is the ticket and information booth housed in a replica of an old train station, custom made for the museum by volunteers. Just around the corner is something that delights both kids and adults — a simulated hot air balloon flight, which takes “riders” on a tour of gorgeous Bucks County summertime countryside from above. Step into the authentic balloon basket — donated by one of the museum’s many benefactors — touch the controls, and voila, it’s liftoff.
In “Factory Works” children can build their own race cars from parts made by K’nex, the Pennsylvania-based company known for its construction and building toys. Kids are invited to stoke their imaginations, make the coolest race car, and then test drive it down a 12-foot-long racetrack.
“The Big Dig” gives children the chance to go on an archaeological exploration, dig in a spacious pit (not real dirt, but recycled tire mulch), and discover artifacts that have Bucks County-area provenance. Kids might find a wagon wheel; a piece of a replicated Durham boat — the kind used by George Washington and his troops when crossing the Delaware; a replica of a Civil War-era bugle; and even a model of a trilobite, Pennsylvania’s state fossil.
Since the Keystone State had the nation’s first covered bridge, there is an evolving exhibit featuring a 12-foot scaled red covered bridge, which kids can work on, hammering pegs into the work-in-progress, referring to a nearby mural map, which shows actual locations of the county’s covered bridges.
There is also a sizable, science-based treehouse with a ship’s wheel and a slide. Check out the snake maze, as well as an old-fashioned post office complete with P.O. boxes so grown-ups can teach kids about snail mail. In the turn-of-the-century-style general store, shoppers can choose from bins of play bread and produce, they can straighten the boxes of dog biscuits, and ring up their choices on a vintage cash register.
Then they can take their goodies on the BCCM Express, a replica of a vintage train car, where riders can “cook” in the galley and share their creations with other riders. They can wander over to the interactive farm, garden, or town square gazebo. There is a basket nearby filled with old-fashioned costumes for dress-up, to take kids and their imaginations back to another era.
All the exhibits pay homage in some way to the Bucks County region, which shows how much Krumenacker wanted to share her love for the area with visitors, especially young ones.
“I do have a fondness for the area,” Krumenacker says. Her father started out as a teacher, then moved into education administration and then he became a college athletic director. Growing up, Krumenacker lived all over the United States. “Depending on how his teams were doing, we either stayed in one place or moved quickly. It seems like we moved every four years or so. But finally, my dad got a job at La Salle University, we moved here from Colorado, and I just fell in love with the area. We’ve been here since 1986.”
Given her love for Bucks County, Krumenacker says she “wanted to dig in deep,” when creating the museum. “Also, my background in education set the tone for all the exhibits.”
Observing how her middle child, Matthew, now 15, responded so positively to various children’s museums in other parts of the country got Krumenacker thinking about addressing the needs of children from this area who might learn differently.
“My parents moved to New England, and there are all kinds of children’s museums there,” she says. “Of course, we have the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, but not really anything here in Bucks County.
“I walked the idea around to everyone I knew in education, as well as business owners and community leaders,” Krumenacker continues. “The idea got very positive feedback. It took a tremendous amount of effort to get things off the ground, especially considering that we were starting from scratch. So, just to get the momentum behind the project took several years. But the community really has taken ownership. If it wasn’t for the volunteers, we wouldn’t be here at this time.”
In February, 2007, the founding board of directors was assembled, and the Bucks County Children’s Museum received 501(c)3 non-profit status the following month.
Born in Dubuque, Iowa, Krumenacker says her father at that time was teaching at a high school just across the river in Illinois. She describes her mother as a jack-of-all-trades, who was also a teacher for a while, but also worked in the insurance industry. “She did a little bit of everything, then took the time to raise all of us,” Krumenacker says.
Her own love for teaching, especially elementary and special education, came almost as soon as she enrolled at La Salle, where Krumenacker originally planned to be a biology major. “I enjoyed going to some of the classes about behavioral and cognitive development, so I switched my major from biology to education, and I just knew it was a field in which I felt comfortable and challenged,” says Krumenacker, who graduated in 1990 with a dual degree in elementary and special education, and jumped into teaching immediately afterward.
“I taught in a pilot program, then called the Resource Center, in Pennsauken, and I worked there for several years,” she says. “It was very challenging, dealing with children with learning disabilities. In order to teach them, we really had to modify the curriculum to make certain concepts more hands-on, for example, how to make long division hands-on. That’s where my love of hands-on learning came from. Then I had a tutoring business in Doylestown, and then I got totally involved in the museum project.”
Krumenacker is married to Paul Krumenacker, a financial/investment advisor and principal partner with Wealth Advisory Services in Doylestown. The couple, who live in Buckingham Township, have three children: Casey, 18, who attends West Virginia University; 15-year-old Matthew; and 10-year old Riley. In 2007 Krumenacker returned to La Salle’s School of Business and earned a certification in non-profit management.
The museum can host birthday parties on weekends and is enthused about hosting school trips and other private events. They recently welcomed dancers from the Lambertville-based Roxey Ballet, in full costume, to give young museumgoers an up-close look at how “The Nutcracker” is staged.
Krumenacker is pleased to have the museum up and humming but is ready to expand the exhibits. “It’s a great start but it’s not finished,” she says. “We’d like to put together lesson plans for teachers, visitation guides for parents, just build out what we’ve started here. We like to watch the kids and see how they interact with the exhibits, and sometimes it’s not how we thought they would. So we want to come up with ways to accommodate what they want. I’m happy now, but there’s always something new to add and change.”
The Bucks County Children’s Museum, 500 Union Square, New Hope, PA. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission, $7, ages one and up. 215-693-1290 or www.buckskids.org.