Lehi • Imagine a place where children can learn more about the world around them: Where an exhibit about a rainforest jumps to life with insects chirping and a majestic swing through imaginary treetops turns into a lesson about ecosystems, culture and healthy living. Where water splashing from displays and flowing through pipes teaches children about weather and physics. Where kids can think about who they'll one day become in a playful environment that offers chances to dress up as a performer, build machines in a pretend shop, or pursue the dream of another imagined career.
Those ideas are at the heart of Thanksgiving Point's newest planned addition, The Museum of Natural Curiosity, which has been in the works since 2005 and is set to open in the spring of 2014.
With a backdrop of fireworks, sixth-graders with shovels and hard hats on Monday broke ground on the estimated $27 million facility that officials hope will draw thousands of new visitors to one of Utah County's best-known attractions.
At the ground breaking ceremony Monday, the CEO and founders of Thanksgiving Point joined with Gov. Gary Herbert, museum donors, students, teachers and neighbors to unveil plans for the museum and celebrate a $3 million donation from the Barbara Barrington Jones Family Foundation that helped construction get under way.
But $3.6 million in additional funding is still needed to complete the 45,000-square-foot museum. As of Oct. 1, $23.4 million has been raised through private donations as well as public contributions from the state and county, museum officials said.
Aimed at children ages 3 to 12, The Museum of Natural Curiosity will strive to increase children's enthusiasm for science by bringing textbooks to life through exhibits that won't just tout facts but offer lessons through a variety of perspectives, museum officials said.
The museum will feature five main exhibit areas called Rainforest, Waterworks, Kidopolis, Children's Discovery Garden and Traveling Exhibits. These areas will hold more than 150 exhibits relating to science, arts, history and culture.
Mike Washburn, president and CEO of Thanksgiving Point, said the exhibits are strategically planned so that kids have a blast while at the same time learning through discovery.
"First and foremost the museum will be fun," Washburn said. "But all of this fun will also be educational and it will all be tied back to common core curriculum."
For example, the Waterworks exhibit area will focus on helping guests learn about energy, weather and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through hands-on experiences involving Utah rocks, a giant mechanical water mover, a water geyser, sand tables and an ice tower while Rainforest's exhibits gets guests moving and swinging through treetops.
In Kidopolis, a city for kids, young learners will tinker with basic machinery and unleash their creativity with dance, movie and music studios.
But Washburn said the goals of the new children's museum extend beyond learning.
"Children's museum is a bit of a misnomer. They're really family museums. These are places where families come together and form bonds and experiences that will last a lifetime," he said.
At Monday's event, Herbert presented two students with "Curious Kid Awards," as well as the "Cultivator of Curiosity Award" to sixth-grade teacher Karre Nevarez from Westfield Elementary in Alpine.
Nevarez knows the importance of curiosity because she teaches advanced learners who need to be challenged academically, she said. She and her students try to find ways to move past the books and into a new realm of learning.
"Many people believe that curiosity and intelligence are two different things," Nevarez said after receiving her award. "I take a different viewpoint. To me creativity is the highest form of intelligence."
Studying is important, she said, but after students graduate they need to be equipped with curiosity so they can face the challenges of the real world.
She cited Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurs as examples of people who take what they know and extend their talents to new heights.
"That's what I want my students to do when they grow up. That's where curiosity will take them," she said.
Nevarez said she can't wait to take kids to the museum, and she's not the only one.
Stacy and Tammy Runia from Provo are thrilled to have a new museum coming to their area.
Stacy Runia of Provo, a parent of two, said she's excited to have a new venue to bring her children to.
"To come and have somewhere where they can play and learn and dress up and see other kids and do fun things, I think it's going to be great for Utah County especially," she said.
Tammy Runia, who is a grandparent, added, "It's just a wonderful opportunity for families to gather and have experiences that are different than what we normally have."
New children's museum
What >> The Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi
When • Anticipated to be open in spring 2014
Features • Five main exhibits: Rainforest, Waterworks, Kidopolis, Children's Discovery Garden and Traveling Exhibits
Cost • Additional funding is still needed to completed the project, which has an estimated $27 million budget. As of Oct. 1, $23.4 million has been raised