(From left) Ayla, 5, and Dante Suarez cut a shape of a star into a piece of paper with a stencil.
(From left) Ayla, 5, and Dante Suarez cut a piece of paper into the shape of a star with a stencil at The DoSeum's spring exhibition, How People Make Things. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A new exhibit that aims to teach children about the processes behind the mass-produced items that fill our lives opened last weekend at The DoSeum, the fully updated, 21st-century reincarnation of the San Antonio Children’s Museum.

Entitled How People Make Things, the exhibit takes its inspiration from a popular facet of the beloved TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – the factory tours segments.

The traveling exhibit was created by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in collaboration with Family Communications, the creators of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments.

Housed in The DoSeum’s downstairs special exhibitions space, the exhibit teaches museum-goers about some of the basic manufacturing processes – cutting, molding, deforming, assembling – through video guides, environmental text, demonstrations, diagrams, and hands-on experiences tailored to young learners.

Ranging from low-tech to high-tech, from intricate to simple, the exhibit’s stations provide a range of entry points for all academic and age levels.

“Every object has a story of how it is made,” The DoSeum’s website reads, and at its core, How People Make Things aims to inspire wonder, curiosity, and critical thinking about how we use and transform materials in the process of creating products.

Much “deliberate thought about young learners” went into planning this exhibit, DoSeum CEO Daniel Menelly said, adding he is “excited by the way [the exhibit’s creators] have packaged these sophisticated processes for creating and working in a way that is accessible to children.

“That’s the great thing about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics]. You can take a simple idea and look at it in a complex way or take a complex idea and look at it in a simple way.”

Meredith Doby, The DoSeum’s vice president of exhibits, lamented that kids “often don’t know how the things in their lives are made.” This exhibit “encourages young people to understand making from the ground up and develop skill sets to engage it in innovative ways,” she added. 

The entrance to the DoSeum spring exhibition How People Make Things.
The entrance to The DoSeum’s spring exhibition, How People Make Things. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The DoSeum’s presentation of How People Make Things also features a local connection via contributions from area companies Bolner’s Fiesta Products and San Antonio Shoes. Both companies contributed exhibit elements that show visitors how aspects of their particular products are manufactured and put together.

“We wanted to continue in the tradition of that neighborhood connection,” Doby said of the local involvement, nodding to the spirit of the show that inspired the exhibit.

Menelly said the two local companies helped integrate “a sense of place-based learning” into the exhibit, a concept that is important to the museum. 

Considering the exhibit in the context of The DoSeum’s larger goals, Menelly said parents, who will recognize aspects of their own experiences in the exhibit, can help maximize their kids’ take home by getting engaged themselves.

“When the parent helps the kid navigate the exhibit, it opens up crucial conversations,” he said. “An exhibit has been successful if [visitors] are still talking about it in the car on the way home.”

The DoSeum’s ultimate goal in promoting experiential learning and explorational thinking, as Menelly succinctly put it, is for “children to self-identify as makers.”

How People Make Things will be on view until May 12. 

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.