GAINESVILLE — It’s just like any other town — they’ve got a grocery store, a bank, a hair salon and a doctor’s office. But at Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, it’s children, not grown-ups, who run the show.
INK, a nonprofit children’s museum on Chestnut Street, keeps kids busy with pint-sized "businesses" located on equally pint-sized "streets."
Whether it’s math, reading, science or even social skills, there’s a lot to learn at INK. But don’t tell the kids that. They think they’re just playing.
"Wow," said Lauryn Moats, 4, of Suwanee, when she saw the little "neighborhood."
Lauryn’s family — parents LeAnne and Steve Moats and brothers Matthew, 5, and Michael, 2 — came to INK on Dec. 26.
"My son came here on a field trip from school, and I wanted to bring the rest of the family here," LeAnne Moats said. "The kids can just have fun and play."
Mikel and Pam Hill of Flowery Branch also brought their son, John Hill, 5, and other relatives visiting from Toronto.
John kept busy using the intercom and scanning grits, waffles and potato chips at the tiny J&J Foods located inside the museum, but said his favorite exhibit is the toy train, "because it makes noise."
"The concept is for caregivers to role-play and interact with the children the entire time that they’re here," said Dana Miller, marketing director for INK.
Parents can work at the post office, giving children mail to deliver throughout the neighborhood, or sit back and let kids give them a check-up in the dentist chair.
"We consider ourselves an extension of the classroom," Miller said.
Teachers bring their classes to INK for field trips, and the museum plays host to about eight birthday parties on an average Saturday.
The "You’re Fired" paint-your-own-pottery studio, previously located on the downtown Gainesville square, is now located inside INK, and children can create their own usable art.
Miller said a stage with a hidden costume closet lets girls transform into anything "from a bride to a Georgia Bulldog cheerleader, and the guys can dress up to be a firefighter or a police officer to a Ninja Turtle."
For special events like the New Year’s Eve Celebration held on Monday, the stage makes way for visitors like magician Jeff McClure.
Grandpappy Airlines, a new exhibit, showcases a polka-dotted 1955 Aero Commander 560 aircraft. Children can explore inside, pretend to maneuver the plane and call the tower to ask for permission to land.
Within weeks, INK will expand to include a parent-teacher resource room and a new exhibit designed by Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Miller said the museum will also add a "giant boy," with models of human organs and kiosks that teach children proper nutrition and the effects of drinking alcohol, smoking, diabetes and childhood obesity.