Peoria’s PlayHouse Children’s Museum becomes top attraction

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Visitors to the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum build something using real tools and donated recyclable materials at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum. The museum, which opened in 2015, recorded more than 75,000 visitors last year. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum)

The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum may be one of the newest facilities under the 125-year-old Peoria Park District umbrella, but it’s become a favorite destination, attracting more than 75,000 visitors in 2018.

“We are in Glen Oak Park and along with our sister organizations, the Peoria Zoo and Luthy Botanical Gardens, we provide a day-long destination,” said PlayHouse director Rebecca Shulman Herz.

Located at 2218 N. Prospect Road, the PlayHouse was spearheaded by the Junior League of Peoria with support from the Peoria Zoological Society and the Peoria Park District. Opening in June 2015, the project was funded through the Power of Play campaign to renovate the Glen Oak Pavilion.

“I love hearing the excited voices of kids in the galleries,” Herz said. “I love talking to parents and the feedback we get. I think people are really happy to have us here.”

Visitors come from the Tri-County area and also from as far away as Chicago and the Quad Cities. “Two people over the past couple of weeks told me stories about kids who came to visit their grandparents and came to the museum and then asked if they could come back to celebrate their birthdays here,” Herz said. “One child from West Virginia actually did come back and celebrate his birthday here this past weekend.

Kathleen Travers of Peoria Heights recently visited the PlayHouse with her daughter and 2-year-old grandson, Nolan, who were visiting from Chicago. “We were looking for something to do, and he had a blast,” Travers said.

“The ball room held his attention for quite awhile. He also loved the trains and the water room. We all had a great time, and we’ll definitely go back with him. I would highly recommend it,” she added.

Young visitors to the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum in Peoria’s Glen Oak Park explore the “Motion Commotion” exhibit in which kids learn about momentum, gravity and speed with balls that roll down ramps, launch into nets and stand on air. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum)

The PlayHouse is designed to provide children with the tools and inspiration they need to become explorers and creators by learning through play. The museum features six permanent exhibits and a variety of programs for all ages.

“I don’t think the public is fully aware of all that we offer. I wish they were. Marketing is always a challenge for any organization anywhere,” Herz said.

“I would love for everyone to know we have drop-in programs that parents who are home with young children on a weekday can come to. We have yoga for kids on Mondays that adults can also participate in, Tot Time on Wednesdays, and on Fridays we alternate between animal encounters and a partnership with the environmental services department of the park district and an open art studio where we have an art project,” she added.

The museum’s permanent exhibits include:

  • “Peoria, Then and Now,” in which kids can explore the hubcap house, ride a train, perform on Vaudeville and even be scientists in a lab.
  • “Motion Commotion,” where kids can explore momentum, gravity and speed with balls that roll down ramps, launch into nets and stand on air.
  • “Family Farm” in which kids can pick fruits and vegetables, gather eggs and milk a cow.
  • “By Your River Gently Flowing, Illinois,” where children can pretend they’re sailing along the river and play with gently flowing water.
  • “All Construction Great and Small” in which kids can don hard hats and build things using real tools.

Kathleen Travers of Peoria Heights recently brought her 2-year-old grandson, Nolan, to the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, where he enjoyed playing with the trains. Travers said she plans to bring Nolan, who lives in Chicago, back to the museum in Glen Oak Park. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Travers)

This October the PlayHouse will be revealing its first new permanent exhibit since opening. “Fossils Rock” will transform the museum’s existing “Sand Porch” into a natural history space featuring fossils, minerals and a life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull.

“We are keeping our sand table, which has kinetic sand and is much loved by visitors, but it will also have a fossil bed and will become an area in which kids can learn about the prehistoric world,” Herz said.

The new exhibit has been in the planning stages since 2016 when the museum was gifted a collection of mineral and fossil replicas by a private collector. “We’ve taken a couple of years to be thoughtful and fundraise appropriately,” said Herz, adding that $110,000 has been raised toward the exhibit.

The public opening for “Fossil Rocks” is set for Oct. 12.

The PlayHouse also offers monthly maker workshops, a Celebrate Peoria series, a Noon Year’s Eve event, home school programs and field trips.

Upcoming events include two career days to lead up to the annual Be Anything fundraiser that allows adults to bid on on-the-job experiences for children.

“It’s kind of like take somebody else’s kid to work day,” Herz said of the Be Anything event. “We have about 50 to 60 career experiences that people can bid on for their kids, including everything from being a Zamboni driver to being a fireman or an interior decorator or an architect.”

A bike mechanic shows children how to do his job at a recent career day event at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum. Beginning in mid-September, adults can bid on
on-the-job experiences for children for the museum’s Be Anything fundraiser. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum)

The career days, which are free with membership or the cost of admission, will feature a community heroes event on Aug. 17 and people in the neighborhood careers on Sept. 28.

The Be Anything event culminates with an adults-only Cocktails and Careers night featuring a live auction on Oct. 3 at the Trailside Event Center in Peoria Heights.

The public can help the PlayHouse by buying a membership or donating money or recyclable materials such as cans, jars, egg cartons, water bottles, bottle caps and craft materials that are used in the real tools area. Donations can be dropped off at the front desk whenever the PlayHouse is open.

The museum also depends on volunteers. “If someone wants to volunteer here, there’s almost certainly something that would be a good match for them,” Herz said.

Admission to the PlayHouse is $8.50 for kids and adults and $7.50 for active military and seniors 65 and older. The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tuesdays are open to members only from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information, visit or call 309-323-6900.