Ohio History Connection

Buckeye Imagination Museum:
Where Imagination Runs Wild

By Tonya Prater

Put a smile on your child’s face at the Buckeye Imagination Museum, all photos by Jim Celuch unless otherwise noted

Step inside the newly reimagined Buckeye Imagination Museum and enter a world of play with over 40 colorful hands-on exhibits that support open-ended play to enthrall children and inspire parents and caregivers to see the world through the eyes of a child. 

The Buckeye Imagination Museum recently “grew up” and moved to a new location in the Imagination District in downtown Mansfield, Ohio. 

The new locale features free on-site parking, complete ADA accessibility, and over 32,000 square feet of space. Brand new exhibits feature many of the same themes kids already know and love from the previous location with new additions to enhance their experience. 

The mission of the Buckeye Imagination Museum is “to provide children and families opportunities to learn and discover through the power of play.” Executive Director Fred Boll states, “We are big proponents of imagination, learning through cooperation and problem-solving. There is not another museum like this.”

Engaging activities spark creativity in kids of all ages.

Expand Your Imagination With Old Favorites and New Exhibits

The Buckeye Imagination Museum elevates imaginative play through bright, fun exhibits geared towards kids ages two to 10, with plans to create an entire floor of competitive and challenging activities for ages 10 and up. 

On the first floor, kids enjoy many of the same themed exhibits from the previous building known as the Little Buckeye Children’s Museum, with a new look to keep things fresh. Kids can explore the theater, which features costumes, seats for the audience and a call window to purchase tickets to the show; the nursery where newborn babies are cared for; a grocery store with carts to load purchases; and the bank with working vacuum tubes. There’s also a post office, fire truck and police station.

Recently added exhibits include a construction zone, where kids can wear safety vests and hard hats while operating the front-end loader; a garden where children can create their own flowers; an optometrist’s office with an ophthalmic vision tester and play glasses; a car wash to clean Little Tykes cars; and a barn with stalls of stuffed animals and tiny leather gloves for the farmhands to wear as they complete their farm chores. 

The popular water table (under construction) will feature a wave table and river table with jets to propel the boats forward so kids can race them. 

The Next Level

While the first floor is designed to engage kids through play, the second floor (also under construction) aims to engage parents too, and encourages everyone to play – with a touch of healthy competition.

The second floor will feature a boulder climbing wall that spins, giant games of skill and strategy like Jenga, Connect 4 and chess, and a mini arcade with skee ball, video games, pinball and a lava room. 

Two of the most intriguing activities will be the timed laser racing tunnel and six-person air hockey table, both of which will be the only known exhibits like them in the world. Imagine the adrenaline as opponents step inside a room with two side-by-side tunnels divided by a half wall. As the lights go out, it’s a race against the clock to maneuver a maze of laser beams to be the first to reach the wall at the end of the tunnel. And why play air hockey for two when you can up the ante with more players? The six-person game will take more skill and coordination. 

When asked where the idea for these two unique exhibits came from, Boll responded simply, “Imagination.” He then elaborated, “I wanted something unique and original that isn’t seen in other museums.” 

Play in the ice cream store.

The second floor will also host traveling exhibits like Paw Patrol, Mastermind Puzzles and Blues Clues. Once the exhibits are completed, each stairway will have a curly slide leading out of the building, over the sidewalk, and back to the first floor. 

The play space will eventually spread outside the museum with musical instruments, levers and pulleys, talking tubes and giant outdoor games. 

Arts & Craft classes are held Thursday through Friday from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. in the new classrooms in the basement, and Music & Movement classes are held on Fridays from 10:15–10:45 a.m. These classes are free with museum admission and for members, making them a perfect addition to your visit.

One could easily spend several hours in the Buckeye Imagination Museum. If the kids are in need of snacks to ward off a hangry mood or parents need fuel to keep up with the kids, they can swing by the snack bar stocked with snacks, refreshments and coffee. 

And for kids who can’t get enough of the museum, there are three program rooms where birthday parties are held. The museum is also available for private parties to make the day extra special.

Explore More and Venture Out into the Imagination District

Outside the doors of the Buckeye Imagination Museum lies the Imagination District, an emerging downtown development area geared toward connecting families through play, education and the arts. 

The museum and its next-door neighbors, Theatre 166 and the Renaissance Theatre, have plans to collaborate to offer classes and summer camps in the future. In the meantime, check out the theater schedule and continue the fun by attending one of the kid-friendly performances offered. 

Beyond the Imagination District, add even more family options to your adventure. The Richland Carrousel Park is only a few blocks away and features the first new hand-carved carousel to be built and operated in the United States since the 1930s. 

Kingwood Center Gardens is less than two miles down the road. Peacock’s Playhouse and the Storybook Trail are great for younger kids, while older ones may enjoy a peek inside the mansion where industrialist Charles Kelley King once lived. Be sure to keep an eye open for one of the resident peacocks known to stroll the grounds. 

The Ohio Bird Sanctuary near Lexington is more than a bird rehabilitation center. It offers educational programming (in their newly built treehouse classroom that is accessible to all), live birds of prey displays and hiking trails on the 90-acre preserve. Buy a cup of mealworms to feed the songbirds in the walk-through aviary. 

Kid-friendly restaurants include Coney Island Diner and the Buckeye Express Diner, which claims to have the world’s largest bobblehead. Make it an overnight adventure with lodging options near the Imagination District or a short drive away at an indoor waterpark that’s perfect for younger kids.

The Buckeye Imagination Museum is a great, central location to start these Mansfield adventures and build lifelong memories with your children.

Tonya Prater is a published author, blogger and content creator at Travelinspiredliving.com. A former full-time RVer and part-time van camper, she longs for the day when she can return to a nomadic lifestyle.