EarlyWorks Children’s Museum The EarlyWorks Children’s Museum, the largest hands-on history museum in the South, is located in downtown Huntsville, Madison County. The museum is notable for encouraging visitors to touch and interact with exhibits that were conceived of and designed by educators. Day and overnight field trips bring children from all over the Southeast to experience Alabama history. Guided visits are aligned with classroom curriculum and are focused by grade level for pre-school through elementary school students.
A panel of local classroom teachers, known as the Storyline Committee, was chosen in 1995 by the museum executive director and board of directors to help determine the content of museum exhibits that would help support history education in the classroom. The result of this design process was a museum that brings history to life for thousands of school children each year. Construction of the 50,000-square-foot facility was completed in fall 1998 and opened to the public in December of the same year. The construction was funded through federal grants, city and state funding, and private donations. Originally called the Center for Southern Life, the museum name was changed to the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum upon its opening.
EarlyWorks Talking Tree Self-guided tours of the museum begin with a short film narrated by Auburn University football star and Alabama native Vincent “Bo” Jackson. From the theater, guests may visit a Native American exhibit featuring the five most significant tribes of Alabama, an exhibit about the life of Helen Keller, and rotating exhibits that include historic clothes, toys, and games. The museum houses a “Talking Tree” that spins tales about southern history, Native American cultures, and noted educator and inventor George Washington Carver. A historically accurate 46-foot keelboat enables visitors of all ages to experience river travel in the 1800s. The Alabama Bandstand offers hands-on over-sized instruments that encourage visitors to “play” music written by Alabama natives. Songs include “Hey, Good Lookin'” by Hank Williams Sr., “What a Difference a Day Makes” by Dinah Washington, and “Alabama,” the official state song, by Julia Strudwick Tutwiler and Edna Gockel-Gussen.
Period Dress-up A talking clock outside a facsimile Alabama courthouse shares state facts, and visitors may try on period hats, bonnets, and clothes inside a nineteenth-century Federal-style house. In the General Store, visitors can pretend to trade their wares, and they can stoke a fire to cook dinner in the Log Cabin. The Victorian House features building blocks to construct historic homes, and a large state map tests visitors on their Alabama knowledge. A cotton exhibit features a working cotton gin and tools, such as toothed cards used to process cotton.
In 2000, the museum added the preschool learning center, “Biscuit’s Backyard.” This specially designed area enables the youngest visitors to play and learn. They may explore farming by picking vegetables in a garden, pretending to milk a dairy cow, and gathering eggs from the chicken coop. These activities teach children that the food they eat does not come from the supermarket. All activities are designed to encourage parental participation and teach through repetition and other strategies.
Keelboat Exhibit History, learning, and play are incorporated into special exhibits as well. The Hall of Presidents offers activities that promote memory skills through presenting facts that make learning fun, such as James Monroe being the first president to ride on a steamboat. Special summertime programming was added in 2016. “The Dog Days of Summer” feature enabled guests to explore the impact that dogs have had on our culture. The exhibit encouraged matching skills and reading and highlighted notable canines such as film star Rin Tin Tin and the dogs that helped with the rescue efforts after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The EarlyWorks Children’s Museum, along with Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park and Museum and Historic Depot Park, is part of the EarlyWorks Museums, a non-profit agency of the City of Huntsville.