TAMPA – The Museum of Science & Industry could be defined as a massive playground for those with inquiring minds, no matter the age or gender.
And tucked within the 400,000-square-foot center is the Idea Zone, one of its most popular attractions for kids. It is a place where children of all ages are invited to create objects by combining a bit of personal ingenuity with a broad range of technology.
It’s also a spot where, for the very first time, Santa’s Satellite Workshop has been set up. Several MOSI employees serve as his elves to assist kids in making stocking stuffers for family members and even a thing or two for themselves. It’s open every day through the end of December.
Best of all, everything they create – such as toys that fly and others that spin – is made from recycled materials.
“That’s what Idea Zone is all about,” said MOSI’s education director Anthony Pelaez. “We incorporate science and engineering into making thing like gliders from salvaged Styrofoam.”
The objective, he said, is to open up youngsters’ imaginations and enable them to learn new skills like how to operate a sewing machine, bind materials together by means of a needle and thread, and form objects using laser cutters.
“Santa’s workshop is not about the actual gifts but more about the fun and experience of making them,” Pelaez said. “And because the kids use recycled materials they are creating a very green Christmas.”
Sisters Nicole and Stephanie Cabot of New Tampa visit the Idea Zone almost every Saturday and were thrilled to have the opportunity to make Christmas gifts for one another.
Nicole, 12, created a likeness of Minecraft’s video game character Enderman as a present to her sister. Stephanie, 10, made a roundish unnamed stuffed cuddly creature for Nicole.
And they’ll be back again before Christmas to create more items for other family members and friends.
“I have so much fun here,” Nicole said. “I can do stuff I really enjoy and I can learn new things.”
Stephanie concurred, saying the Idea Zone is the place they always gravitate toward when they arrive at MOSI and it’s generally where they stay the entire day.
Schoolteacher Jennifer Grimaldi of Brandon and her son Kyle, 7, spent an entire afternoon inside MOSI’s Idea Zone during Thanksgiving week because schools were not in session. She’d been there once before with her students but it was Kyle’s first visit to the largest science center in the Southeast.
Kyle learned how to use a needle and thread to create a festive holiday cover for his lollipop.
“I think it’s a nice experience for kids because it involves a lot of hands-on, creative activities,” Grimaldi said.
Carrollwood resident Frances Grillo joined her two sons Ryan, 9, and Logan, 5, in making and painting gliders engineered to fly.
“The boys really enjoy coming here because they both love anything that has to do with science,” said Grillo, who noted as VIP members her family frequents the museum about twice a month.
Five-year-old twins Liz and Kate Moser from Oldsmar were busy making matching bracelets as Christmas gifts to one another. It’s didn’t seem to matter that neither would be surprised by what they received.
“They’ve been wanting to come here for months,” said their nanny, Donna Harris of Tampa.
While she fully intended to have them take advantage of some of the museum’s other attractions, Harris was beginning to doubt that would happen. The girls were fully absorbed in their own creativity.
“My favorite thing is doing the crafts, especially working with yarn,” Liz said. “I’m going to make a necklace next.”
Located at 4801 E. Fowler Ave., MOSI is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. For more information visit MOSI.org or call (813) 987-6000.