Where to Play with Water, Trains and Dinosaurs

The Impression 5 Science Center, with support from The PNC Foundation, provides kids of all ages with interactive exhibits and activities to use their five senses and brains to learn and explore the world they live in.

LANSING, Mich. -- Originally a wagon factory built in 1880, a downtown building has been transformed over a century into a magical place where children experience the power of play.

Impression 5 Science Center opened its doors in 1972 and has grown to become Michigan’s second-largest science center, attracting over 140,000 visitors of all ages each year.

“It’s absolutely hands-on,” said Tara Scott-Miller of Lansing, who has been bringing her son, Kiran, to the science center for most of his five years. “On any given day, you will see kids exploring, interacting and engaging completely with the exhibitions. It truly is a place where you employ all five senses, plus your brain.”


Kiran Miller, 5, enjoys Paleomania, a traveling fossil exhibit displayed at the science center

The Impression 5 building houses more than 30,000 square feet of exhibit space filled with hands-on exhibits throughout the center, including Build Zone; Spectrum; Pop! A Bubble Experience; and the First Impression Room, a 3,000 square foot space for children from birth to four years old and their caregivers that was expanded in 2011 with the help of a $150,000 grant from the PNC Foundation. The grant is part of PNC Grow Up Great, the company’s $350 million initiative to improve early childhood education.

“This age group has transformed the science center,” said Erik Larson, Impression 5 executive director.

Before the first PNC grant, we didn’t see this audience because we didn’t have much for them. Engaging kids in this type of exploration from birth to age four allows them to grow into the rest of the science center and learn to explore the world they live in.

New Water Exhibit to Make a Splash

PNC recently provided a $60,000 gift to construct a new two-story water exhibit that “will be by far the most significant exhibit project in the history of the science center,” Larson said.

Why water? Larson explained that water is one of the things kids naturally love to touch. 

“It’s a hook – like bubbles, trains and dinosaurs,” he explained. “If we build a really neat exhibit around water, kids are going to want to explore that for a long, long time, and will have a blast doing it. We had an existing water room, but it didn’t perform to our new benchmark, which is called ‘play, create, challenge.’”


Children of all ages enjoy the hands-on nature of the exhibits
(Photos courtesy of Impression 5)

Jen Morris, the client and community relations director for PNC's Mid-Michigan region, said the bank has collaborated with the science center over the years for a variety of reasons.

“Impression 5 Science Center is a highly respected partner known for producing quality programs,” she said. “They had a desire to increase their focus on preschool programming, which made the science center a perfect fit for Grow Up Great.”

Morris serves on the center’s board of directors and is among the PNC employees who volunteer regularly at the center. 

Always Something New

Impression 5 is a community resource that has something for kids of all ages. Tara Scott-Miller said her son’s favorite activities have evolved over the years.

“There’s always something new,” she explained. “When Kiran was younger, Impression 5 was known to him as ‘The Water Table,’ because he spent so much time at that exhibit in the First Impression Room.  He loves dinosaurs, so he’s been fascinated with the visiting dinosaur exhibit.

The Impression 5 Science Center allows people to watch their children really explore and get their whole body involved in learning.


The Miller family (from left) Sam, Kiran and Tara are regular visitors at Impression 5
Erik Larson
Erik Larson has been executive director
at Impression 5 for 11 years

All of our investments in the exhibits over the past 7-8 years have been designed around this new vision of creating a space for families to play, create and challenge.