Museum Grows from Dream to 3-Story Building Home for Children's Exhibits Could Open in May

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Stevens Daily Herald Staff Writer

Over the past 13 years, the founders of the DuPage Children's Museum have dropped one requirement from their list of criteria for new exhibits.

They no longer have to fit in the back of a station wagon.

Long past the days when they carted their interactive exhibits from one suburb to the next, Dorothy Carpenter and Louise Beem soon will have more space than they ever imagined.

Three floors of a former lumber warehouse on Washington Street in Naperville are undergoing a transformation with some creative architecture and bright paint. By May, they hope to throw open the doors to the new home of the children's museum.

"We never envisioned it would be this big, but we did envision we'd be doing these things," Beem said.

Since the two grandmothers started, they've held the same mission: developing the creativity, thinking and problem-solving skills children need to learn.

Both come from backgrounds in early childhood education. And early on, both saw the value in creating interactive experiences for kids rather than cookie-cutter projects.

"If children are going to think creatively, they need a real understanding of the world around them, and that comes from an understanding of science and the arts," Beem said.

Carpenter got the inspiration for an educational discovery center in DuPage County from a trip she took with a grandchild to the Expressways Children's Museum in Chicago, now the Chicago Children's Museum.

She recruited Beem, and the two began their enterprise from Carpenter's kitchen table, storing their files in a cardboard turkey carton.

From 1987 to 1991, the DuPage Children's Museum existed as a set of traveling exhibits that opened on Saturdays at park districts and other sites.

Once, while set up in a Downers Grove church, Beem and Carpenter arrived to find all their exhibits in a corner of the room, which had been used for a spaghetti dinner the night before.

"Most places we were, we had to pull everything out and put it away at the end of the day," Carpenter said.

Soon the volunteer-run organization hired its first paid employee, and in 1992 the museum opened its pilot location in the lower level of the Wheaton Park District Community Center. …