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Discovery Museums launches effort to get families outdoors

The museums welcome visitors of all ages.

The museums welcome visitors of all ages.

The Discovery Museums in Acton have received a $136,275 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to kick-start a new initiative, Natural Connections, that aims to get families to spend more time outdoors.

“The museums are already a successful institution for families,” said Neil Gordon, the organization’s chief executive officer, and the new initiative is a good match.

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The grant will be used to create an outdoor learning center with a fully accessible tree house that will serve as a base for a series of fixed and changing exhibits, Gordon said. The tree house will be designed for use by all children, including those with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges.

“It’s going to be good for everybody of all ages,” he added.

The tree house is part of a large-scale renovation and expansion of the museums that is in its early stages, and is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

Natural Connections has been in the works this year, according to Gordon, and the additional funding will give the Acton institution the opportunity to work on perfecting outdoor activities that appeal to children and families and make them “want to connect to nature even more.”

Gordon said evidence indicates that spending time outdoors results in higher levels of creativity, focus, and concentration in children, and that a weaker connection with nature has been linked to rises in childhood obesity and increased levels of ADHD.

Partnering with the Acton museums are the Institute for Human Centered Design and its New England Americans with Disabilities Act Center, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at Boston Children’s Hospital , the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, the Autism Alliance of MetroWest, and the Tree House Guys, according to an announcement.

“Our goal is not that the Discovery Museums become the new place for families to go to be outdoors,” Gordon said. “Our goal is kind of the opposite of that. The goal is that people will come here expecting to have an indoor experience and end up having an indoor and outdoor experience, and be motivated to take advantage of and explore all the outdoor experiences that are already waiting for them in their own communities.”

Shandana Mufti can be reached at shandana.mufti@globe.com.
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