When History is Cutting Edge: Conner Prairie Interactive History Park

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I just wrote about one of my favorite local treasures, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, a few days ago. Now I’m about to talk up another local gem, Conner Prairie. I realize that The Risky Kids isn’t a hyperlocal blog, but they’re doing things at Conner Prairie that I can’t NOT talk about! So bear with me … and if you’re not from around here? You should really consider a visit!

Allow me to give you a little background on Conner Prairie, a place I’ve been visiting since I was a child. The museum is situated on land that belonged to William Conner in the early 1800s. A wealthy business and statesman, Conner built a beautiful home overlooking the White River. In the 1930s, another wealthy businessman, Eli Lilly (of Lilly Pharmaceutical fame), discovered Conner’s rundown home. A passionate believer in the importance of history, Lilly purchased the home and the land surrounding it and used it for historical reenactments. In the 1970s Conner Prairie was opened to the public as a living history museum. It consisted of “Prairietown,” a village permanently set in 1836. Visitors could walk through the village and meet its inhabitants, where staff dressed, spoke and interacted with visitors as if you’d traveled back in time.

Today, Prairietown is still the cornerstone of Conner Prairie. But what impresses me so much about this particular museum is how it’s constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of today. In the 7 years since I’ve relocated back to Indianapolis with my family, I’ve seen a different Conner Prairie than the one I grew up with. And what excites me so much about this museum is the effort it makes to bring the past and the future together to get kids excited about history, math, science, and creating.

A couple of weekends ago Conner Prairie hosted a “Curiosity Fair.” The Fair was born out of the museum’s passion for figuring out what kids are curious about and helping them explore the unknown. They asked kids what they wanted to know more about, and then gave them a weekend full of hands-on activities to quench that curiosity. I took Eli and he couldn’t get enough!

He explored how an engine works with the people behind Mechanics Camp. Believing that youth today are missing out on the joy of taking things apart and learning how they work, they are developing programs to get kids dismantling, building, and discovering.

Mechanics Camp

We watched a craft stick bomb set up by 11-year-old Guinness Book of World Record Holder Andre Jefferson.

Craft Stick Bomb

He tried circus tricks.

Conner Prairie Curiosity Fair

He tinkered in the Deconstruction Zone, a tent filled with discarded toys and electronics and every tool you need to take them apart … just to see what’s inside.

Kid deconstructing an appliance

He built an egg protector and then tested it in the Egg-a-Pult to see if his egg could survive.

Egg-a-pult Conner Prairie

He saw how hot air balloons work up close and personal.

Hot Air Balloon Conner Prairie

This was just one weekend, but year round Conner Prairie finds ways to encourage kids’ curiosity. We spend hours in the winter exploring Create.Connect. To keep things fresh, the museum meshes favorite exhibits with new activities based on monthly themes. This month’s theme is Adapting, something our kids will have to do as they face new challenges with less time to devote to play and tinkering. Conner Prairie recognizes this, and does its best to incorporate these vital parts of development into its programming. I appreciate this so much, and know how lucky we are to have an “old-fashioned” museum that is on the cutting edge of arts and science programming for kids.

Much as the pioneers of 1836 embraced an unknown landscape full of possibility with a spirit of adventure, eagerness and ingenuity, Conner Prairie applies that same spirit to inspire kids of today to do the same. I hope if you find yourselves nearby you’ll make time for a visit to Conner Prairie. And I hope as word of the amazing things Conner Prairie is doing spreads, many more museums and institutions will follow in their footsteps.

This post is not sponsored by Conner Prairie in any way.  I am simply a museum member and supporter who loves the work they’re doing.



  1. Thanks for sharing your experience at Conner Prairie, Angie! It’s truly a gem and a great asset to our local community, and families from across the country should consider it a can’t-miss destination when visiting our state.