28 Feb Spotlight On: America on Wheels Interactive learning center introduces kids to cars
Kids are putting down their tablets and picking up welding sticks at America on Wheels Museum’s new Kids’ Garage and Restoration Center, a unique learning center designed specifically for children ages three to 12. The non-profit museum in Allentown, PA is on a mission to educate people on the history of automotive transportation, and they’ve made a special effort to engage “Little Wheelers” with a new, hands-on exhibit where kids learn by doing, and have a lot of fun in the process.
Big Plans for Little Wheelers
The idea was an ambitious one: transform one of the museum’s rooms into an interactive garage and restoration center custom scaled for kids 12 and under. Illustrated Designs, Inc. began planning the project with America On Wheels Museum in April 2017, and a mere eight months later, the Kids’ Garage and Restoration Center opened its doors to the delight of young car enthusiasts throughout the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
The Center is designed to be entirely interactive, with modified to give kids hands-on experience with vehicle maintenance and restoration. Kids entering the Garage and Restoration Center are greeted by a mural illustrating the basic parts of a car, a touch screen where they can walk through 10 steps for vehicle restoration, and kid-friendly worksheets for inspection, restoration and inventory.
Under the Hood
At the heart of the Kids’ Garage and Restoration Center is a custom-designed 3-D car with interactive parts. The Illustrated Designs, Inc. team used plywood, foam, Poly-Armor™ Hard Coat, and acrylic paints with a canvas top to construct the car, which sits atop an 8-foot long base and center lift featuring a permanently fixed creeper with undercarriage, exhaust pipes, and two removable mufflers.
The finished product—a custom scaled 3-D car—features the following interactive parts:
- Orbital Sander with sound
- Paint Sprayer with sound
- Welding Stick with sound and light
- Battery tester with light
- Radiator with play antifreeze
- Engine with dipstick and play oil
- Air Filter with removable filters
- Pneumatic Wrench with sound
- Tires including removable and interchangeable wheels and hubcaps
- Air Compressor with sound
Linda Merkel, executive director of America on Wheels Museum, couldn’t be happier with the work. “The fabricator, Illustrated Designs, Inc., has been a treasure to work with and extremely knowledgeable in all areas. The fabricated car allows enough space for ‘Little Wheelers ages 12 and under’ to view the creeper and affix a muffler to the bottom of the car while another youth mechanic works on the engine,” she says. “Children will also change two of the tires using lug nuts and a realistic sounding air drill.”
Thinking Like a Toddler
According to project manager Tracey Piechocki, one of the greatest challenges posed by this project was having to think like a toddler. Care needed to be taken not only to create the 3-D car, tools, and other elements of the interactive exhibit to scale for kids, but also to be sure that the garage and restoration center was durable and safe for little ones.
The Illustrated Designs, Inc. team worked to ensure safety while preserving the real feel of the exhibit by converting tools so they no longer functioned, then adding lights, sound, and vibration. With careful design, young visitors are able to experience what the tools would feel like if they were really using them to work on a car—without the risk of injury from moving parts.
Turning America on Wheels Museum’s vision into a reality required the skill and creativity of a team of talented artists:
Fabricator and dimensional artist Chris Paxson created the 3-D car, audio visual expert Barry Cary programmed the tools and touch screen, graphic designer Jay Scheuerle designed the touch screen documents and wall mural, Michelle Kane provided the voiceovers, and Tracey Piechocki kept everything on track as project manager.
And by all accounts, the end result has exceeded expectation. America on Wheels Museum reports that kids are loving it—in fact, the garage and restoration center is so packed on weekends that the museum is considering adding a maximum occupancy.
For Merkel, the project is a resounding success. “The scope of this learning center was to develop gross and fine motor skills along with eye-hand coordination,” she says. “The Kids’ Garage area introduces children to basic scientific automotive principles and provide excellent tools to instigate discussion and debates.”
Illustrated Designs, Inc. has been creating innovative displays for trade shows, offices, and cultural and educational institutions for 30+ years. From concept to installation, their creative design team specializes in 3-D displays to maximize engagement and interaction.