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Playing To Learn: Stockton Museum Is Low-Tech, Interactive Experience

STOCKTON — Imagination runs wild for kids at the Children’s Museum of Stockton.

The 22,000-square-foot low-tech, interactive museum where youngsters learn by playing can make them forget about their Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and iPad — at least for a while.

The entrance to the museum at 402 W. Weber St., near the downtown waterfront, has been guarded since 1994 by a pair of colorfully clad and cheerful 40-foot tall toy soldier-styled band members inspired by the Nutcracker.

What awaits inside was born of a tragedy —— the 1989 Cleveland School mass shooting that happened not very far away. Five children were killed and 32 others were wounded by a shooter armed with an automatic weapon, shot while they were playing at recess. Janet Geng was a teacher that was among the 32 wounded. A visit to a similar museum in Washington, D.C., after the shooting inspired her to successfully push for establishment of the Children’s Museum of Stockton as a safe place where children can learn and play away from violence.

The result is a paradise of hands-on learning not just for young kids but also for adults accompanying them.

The exhibits play to childhood curiosity.

There’s a supermarket complete with toy food and boxed goods where you can place your purchases in a basket and ring them up. Sorry, but there are no bar code scanners.

A post office complete with old-fashioned windows and mail postal boxes competes with a real Caterpillar tractor you can climb on for kids’ attention.

Kids can get behind the wheel of a fire engine or climb on top where the hoses go. They can explore the inside of an ambulance, drive a bus, straddle a police motorcycle or steer a Stockton Police car and turn on the emergency lights.

They can see themselves on TV as News10 anchors. They can visit a doctors’ office and look up close at X-rays and other tools of the medical trade or they can play veterinarian and check on the health of stuffed dogs.

They can be downright silly trying on shoes in a shoe store from various work boots and ballet slippers to size 16 basketball shoes.

One exhibit takes them into the human eye with mirrors and flipped real-time images to give them an idea of how they see.

Youngsters can learn about recycling, climb up into a helicopter or walk through the innards of a giant fish.

There are stations that allow them to see how magnets work, how water flows, and experience what it is like to be piloting a boat.

They can be puppeteers and create their own show, grab a book to read, or have their face painted.

There is even a large arts and crafts room where they turn junk into priceless creations.

In short, the Children’s Museum of Stockton is the ultimate “know-know” place for kids where everything is meant to be touched.

The museum is within walking distance of the Stockton Waterfront promenade as well as Weber Point with its massive and whimsical interactive children’s play water feature.