The Thinkery: A Preview

The Thinkery is mind-blowingly cool, y’all. And I’m an adult. Just try to imagine it through the eyes of a kid!


My family and I got the opportunity to visit the Thinkery (the new Austin Children’s Museum) for a special preview recently, and let’s just say it lives up to the hype. Located in the Mueller complex, the bright-red building houses what look to be hours upon hours of entertainment aimed at kids from babies all the way through age 11 or 12.

There’s everything from a splashy water-themed room — basically a water table on steroids (and then some) — to an innovative outdoor play area, from a glass wall that kids are encouraged to paint on and then squeegee clean to a room highlighting engineering concepts and facilitating projects that are a little too crazy for the average family’s garage (think flying projectiles and molded rubber), from a babies-only sensory play area to a kitchen lab.


The painting fun is part of the ground-floor Innovator’s Lab, which features a variety of tools — from woodworking to art to electronics — to challenge young minds to create and invent.

The climber, located in the outdoor play area known as Our Backyard (along with a play-encouraged fountain featuring rubber duckies and other fun things) is one of the coolest parts.


It may look intimidating, but staff members insisted that it is navigable by 2- and 3-year olds — and my own kiddo proved that right. I turned around for a moment, and she was all the way at the top! The rope structure makes it easy for those fearless little ones to climb all the way up in no time, while slightly older kids may need to muster the courage — but they’ll still have fun.

“They need the science and the art and the math,” says Kassy Dehart, a staff member, “but they need to just run around, too!”

Despite its undeniable fun, the climber is innovatively designed to make kids think while they play. For example, one area features a series of nets that children must drop through in order to climb out. Sure, they could turn around and go another way, but it pays to puzzle it out.

Back inside is En Mi Familia, a family storytelling exhibit inspired by the art of Carmen Lomas Garza (a carryover from the old space), and right next door is a new feature exhibit called the Light Lab — a darkened room with light pegs and tables and dedicated to the science of tinkering with light.

light lab 1 light lab 2

Upstairs, the water-themed room, Currents, is a dazzler for kids who love to get their hands all wet. Dedicated to fluid dynamics and exploring water, the exhibit features 12 hands-on activity stations that allow kids to have a blast learning about water.



Down the hallway is the Kitchen Lab, which will feature a number of cool hands-on experiments. On this day, we were treated to an ice-tunnels project, which involved sprinkling salt on blocks of ice and then using pipettes to add color.

ice tunnels

“The salt lowers the freezing point of the ice, and it makes all these cool tunnels and divots,” explains staff member Lauren Millikan. “Then we add the color, which lets us see the tunnels.”

Right next door, there’s a Farmer’s Market, where kids can “shop” and weigh their produce, an adjoining a chicken coop (complete with stuffed hens, which were a hit with all the kids) and a cafe, where kids can don an apron to plan and cook pretend meals.

famers market 2

Bloom is a garden-themed play space for infants and toddlers only, featuring lots of sensory play, and right next door is the Move! studio, which encourages little ones to jump, bounce, balance and just generally get the wiggles out. Around the corner there’s storytime nook, and even a comfy nursing room (complete with cushy chair, sink and changing table).

The Thinkery is going to be a great place for families of all shapes and sizes. We had a blast — all of us. And I bet your family will too!

A special members-only preview weekend is coming up on Saturday, November 30 and Sunday, December 1, with the Thinkery’s grand opening (open to the general public) the following weekend (December 7 and 8). Timed tickets (free for the members-only event) are required for both weekends, and are available now on the Thinkery’s web site.

Update 11/20: Wow, that was fast! The Thinkery just let us know that, as of this morning, tickets to both the member preview weekend and the grand opening weekend are sold out. There will still be plenty of time to check out the museum after the grand opening, though.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a two-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on[/author_info] [/author]


Catherine Prystup
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Catherine Prystup founded out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.