News Column

Marble Run exhibit at the Children's Museum of Stockton on track for fun

July 18, 2014

By Lori Gilbert, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

July 18--STOCKTON -- As 7-year-old Francisco Carlos discovered that wooden pegs in a piece of pegboard have to be placed closer on a line or the U-shaped piece of wood they're intended to support will slide onto the floor, his buddy Kobi Hoang was stretching the entire length of his 7-year-old body to reach the marbles placed in a box that would be let loose on the track being built.

The two boys, who'd come from Wednesday's swim practice, were the first to discover the challenges presented by the new Marble Run at the Children's Museum of Stockton.

Gary Carlos, Francisco's dad, had just finished installing the hands-on exhibit with an example of how ordinary objects -- pieces of cove molding, ordered by Valley Lumber, cardboard paper towel rollers, PVC pipe pieces and empty plastic tubes -- can be arranged on the pegboard to create a track for marbles to roll down.

The two went to work, sometimes using the track Gary Carlos had built as an example, then setting out to create their own run.

"It's fun," declared Kobi.

"Awesome," Francisco enthused.

The boys react the way Carlos, an artist and professor at San Joaquin Delta College, was hoping for when he approached the museum's board with his idea for the marble run.

"If it doesn't work, you keep adjusting. It becomes addictive," Carlos said. "I was hoping people would get engaged that way. Some will walk away frustrated saying, 'It doesn't work.' Others will figure it out."

The Marble Run is set up in the back of the museum's post office. The tools for creation are stored in the post office boxes for assembly on three panels of installed pegboard walls.

"A lot of the pretend stuff grabs the attention of little ones, but after they get older, this will give them engineering skills. It's going to hold their attention as they mature," said Lisa Jones, director of development for the Children's Museum of Stockton.

It's also going to engage parents, who can't help but offer suggestions and tips.

Linda Fyffe, who arrived from Lodi with grandson Xander Caldwell, 7, and Caleb Caldwell, 3, picked up Caleb so he could drop a marble at the top of Gary Carlos' contraption as Xander looked on. After watching it make its way down the track, Xander began creating a track of his own.

The boys, visiting from Junction City, Kan., made their way to the Children's Museum of Stockton at the suggestion of their aunt, 17-year-old Hannah Fyffe, who'd visited the museum on school field trips as a child.

"It seemed so big when I was little," she said. "Now, it seems like there are a lot of little things."

There is still a grocery store and post office, her two favorite displays, and now a Marble Run in that beloved postal area.

"They like it, which is all that matters," she said as she watched her nephews go to work.

The Marble Run has become a popular feature at other children's museums. Carlos saw it at San Francisco'sExploratorium and found instructions for creating one on the museum's website.

Carlos' pitch to the Children's Museum board was welcomed, as were his ideas for a cardboard play day, a Lego car track that he installed and three pinball machines he created with wooden flippers and open bodies that allow players to change the location of the game's targets.

"The city was going to close us down four years ago (because of its bankruptcy), and the board stepped up to the plate ... and said, 'We're going to make this work,' " said board President Diane Batres. "With the help of the community, people like Gary, (we have)."

Carlos first contacted the museum about helping after he'd read about the city's bankruptcy woes.

He began using his summer vacations to create new activities for the museum.

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 hit him hard, and giving something back to the museum served as a form of therapy, he said.

Coincidentally, the Children's Museum of Stockton was borne of tragedy. Teacher Janet Geng, who was injured in the shooting at Cleveland School in January 1989, testified in Washington D.C., and visited a museum there.

"She came home and said, 'I want a museum, a little place where people can feel safe,'" Batres said.

The city opened the museum in 1994, but when its finances crumbled, it was faced with closing the museum. The board of directors remade the museum on Weber Avenue as a nonprofit entity and continues to grow.

"Stockton should be proud of this place," said Jones, a former student of Carlos and a recent hire as the museum's development director. "People come here to see this from outside of town. Stocktonians forget how big a deal we are. We have 9,000 kids come here on field trips and many of them are from outside the city. This is a major entity."

Plenty of families were enjoying its attractions on Wednesday and children wasted no time finding the newest addition in the post office, which is called "Special Delivery."

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.


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