Behind the Scenes: Mechanical Waterways 2.0 Waterplay Exhibit

Get a behind the scenes look at the incredible work that went into planning, designing, and installing the Mechanical Waterways 2.0 waterplay exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County!

What is Waterplay?

Children of all ages love waterplay! Waterplay refers to any type of play where children engage with water in various ways, such as splashing, pouring, scooping, and exploring objects in water. Through waterplay, children learn about the properties of water – buoyancy, density, and flow – while also developing problem-solving skills as they manipulate the water and experiment with cause and effect. Waterplay is beneficial for early childhood development because it promotes sensory exploration, improves motor skills, enhances social and emotional development, and stimulates cognitive growth.

From Concept to Installation: The Making of Mechanical Waterways 2.0 

Nestled within the expansive Children’s Museum campus lies Mary’s Garden, a sprawling 36,000 square feet of outdoor space dedicated to fostering a love for nature and learning through play among children. This remarkable area is a haven for interactive exhibits that offer exciting, hands-on learning experiences. Cornerstone exhibits in Mary’s Garden are the Little Russian River and Mechanical Waterways attractions. This fully immersive waterplay area includes a naturally filtered spring that cascades down a series of small rocky waterfalls. However, after seven years and over 600,000 little hands and feet touching, pushing, and playing with its parts and pieces, the beloved Mechanical Waterways portion of the exhibit area was in desperate need of refurbishment. 

♥ Mechanical Waterways 2.0 was Made Possible by Generous Gifts from Our Donors

As a non-profit organization, the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County relies on the support of museum members and the generosity of donors to maintain and grow their early childhood education programs, and exhibits. Through the incredible donations provided by the estate of Sally Krahn, the Manitou Fund, Bill and Jeanne Osterland, and the William G. Irwin Charity Foundation, the museum was able to hire an exhibit design firm to completely reimagine this beloved waterplay exhibit.

Partnering with Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions

In late 2020, museum CEO and Founder Collette Michaud, and Exhibit Designer Galen Forrest embarked on a project to redesign the Mechanical Waterways exhibit. Joe Cook was an exhibit designer from an east coast children’s museum when he and Collette met years previously. Joe had recently accepted a job in Nuremberg, Germany with Hüttinger Interactive Exhibits. Hüttinger is known for creating immersive exhibitions that encourage visitors to explore and learn through multi-sensory experiences. Serendipitously, not long after accepting the position, Joe reached out to Collette to inquire about working on an exhibit together. By the summer of 2021, Hüttinger was hired to conceptualize, design, and fabricate a new Mechanical Waterways 2.0 exhibit for the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County.

Reimagining a Beloved Waterplay Exhibit

Over the course of the next year, the CMOSC and Huttinger teams conducted an online survey for museum visitors seeking their input on the desired features for a new waterplay exhibit. This research provided valuable insights, which were used to inform the new custom-design, and fabrication of the Mechanical Waterways 2.0 exhibit commenced in September 2021. 

The key intentions in creating this new waterplay exhibit were to provide museum visitors with a highly interactive experience, while also ensuring durability and ease of maintenance for the Children’s Museum team. The original Mechanical Waterways exhibit was based on three STEM themes, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), which the team strategically integrated into the new exhibit design as well: 

Nature: Water is a recreational and vital feature of our ecosystem. The series of canals, gates, and interactive play stations help children learn that water is a driving force, essential to life, and a resource constantly threatened.

Engineering: Water is something that can be manipulated using mechanical tools. Children can experiment with loose parts like tubes and gutters, teaching them how to negotiate group dynamics.

Science: The exploration of water can help facilitate children’s learning about science, math, and literacy. Waterplay provides the foundation for understanding a variety of scientific concepts such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics. 

Building a World-Class Waterplay Exhibit

Mechanical Waterways 2.0 includes interactive activities all designed to encourage children to experiment, explore, and learn about the wonders of water. Visitors can safely launch toy balls into a spiraling water vortex, or design fun water sculptures using various PVC parts and pieces. The exhibit also allows little learners to experience the power of hydroelectricity up close with the use of fully operable water dams.

The Hüttinger Exhibits Factory

By early November 2022, Collette was on her way to Nuremberg, Germany, to meet with the Hüttinger team and get the first look at the new waterplay exhibit. Before the exhibit started its 5,738-mile journey to the Children’s Museum, Collette and her husband, Steve Purcell, were able to test out all the amazing features and make sure everything was in perfect working order before being disassembled and shipped out.

Riverbed Mosaic Installation

Meanwhile, local Sonoma County artist, Angelina Duckett, was working on a beautiful river mosaic to be installed over the new plumbing pipes needed for the Waterways exhibit. Angelina created a breathtaking cascade of water with brightly colored fish, and together with the Children’s Museum team, the Riverbed Mosaic was fully installed by December 2022.

A New Era of Waterplay at the Children’s Museum

After more than three years, Mechanical Waterways 2.0 arrived at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County on January 24, 2023. Tim Grasser, the Hüttinger Project Manager, and Michael Kobras, their Electronic Designer, immediately got to work on the three-day installation process.

Mechanical Waterways 2.0 Exhibit Soft Opening

The soft-open for the new Mechanical Waterways 2.0 exhibit took place during the Museum’s Lunar New Year celebration on January 29, 2023. It was enjoyed by more than 2,000 children and their caregivers, and as expected, it was a smash hit with visitors of all ages. Stretching 35 feet in length and standing over 12 feet high, Mechanical Waterways 2.0 was designed to fit perfectly next to the Little Russian River.  

While watching the children gleefully play with the exhibit for hours on end, Tim proclaimed that the exhibit is the best water feature they could have ever designed for the location within Mary’s Garden! And the Children’s Museum couldn’t agree more!

Discover the Wonders of Waterplay at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County 

Mechanical Waterways 2.0 is a result of a collaborative effort between the Children’s Museum and the exhibit design team at Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions. We are so proud of all the time, work, and unwavering dedication that went into bringing this project to life and are deeply thankful to the generous donors who made this exhibit possible. The new Mechanical Waterways exhibit is not only a fun and exciting attraction, but also a valuable tool for fostering early childhood learning and development. Thanks to the support of museum members, and our incredibly generous donors, this new exhibit promises to be a highlight for visitors of all ages for years to come.  



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