2023 Fall Block Champion – Vanessa Beetz of Kids Discovery Factory


Kids Discovery Factory, a 501C3 located in southeastern Indiana, provides hands-on STEAM learning experiences for students in Pre-K all the way through 8th grade. Their mission is to “inspire young learners to innovate and create through exploration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).” This goal is brought to fruition through both their portable outreach programs and their NEW mini-museum space.

The STEAM-learning outreach program, the Mobile Factory, was first launched in 2017 as a compact educational experience that could be accessible to schools and students in the surrounding area.  Today, the Mobile Factory is a dedicated box truck that transports and delivers up to 10 various exhibits at a time to schools across the state. Upon arrival at one of the 90+ schools and various other organizations that have participated, the truck is unloaded, and the unique STEAM exhibits are set up in the gym for students of all grades to learn through play. 

Along with their ongoing outreach program, Kids Discovery Factory opened their stationary mini-museum space in 2022, which has been a wonderful addition to fulfilling their goal of reaching as many children as possible through educational play.  In 2023 alone, the fast-growing new space coupled with Mobile Factory outreach impacted over 15,000 people in over 15 counties in Indiana and Ohio.

Kids Discovery Factory joined the Imagination Playground play family in their inaugural year with their first set of Medium Blue Blocks. After seeing the iconic Blocks in action at other museums and through their work with exhibit designers at MindSplash, the lightweight Blocks were a no-brainer for their portable play programs.

In 2019, Vanessa Beetz joined the team and now proudly holds the title of Program Director. Although Vanessa was not there when Kids Discovery Factory first got their beloved Blue Blocks, they are one of her favorite hands-on exhibits to utilize! In fact, Vanessa says “Block play is not only fun, but it builds confidence and makes us more curious about the world around us and how it works.”

Our Block Champion went on to explain that the innovative play that happens with the Blue Blocks is incredible for all age groups, which is sometimes surprising to educators. Often, Vanessa observes preschoolers and 7th/8th graders working together, collaborating, with the Blocks. The older kids tend to create these elaborate stories with the Blocks, which act as “a gateway to imaginative play” and they can express themselves, sometimes unknowingly. Vanessa explains the teens and pre-teens that engage with the Blue Blocks are able to “still tap into their imagination without having to outwardly break their ‘cool’ shell.”  As pre-teens turn to teens, their brains still need to play, and the open-ended aspect of the Blocks engage their creative and innovative minds in a fun, playful way.

For both the Mobile Factory and the stationary space, some of their builders’ favorite Block Builds are creative flex-seating options and intricate forts. Vanessa says the parents tend to find Block-play an easy way to join in and engage with their children. However, one Blue Block activity that Vanessa told us is popular for their preschool and kindergarten-age builders was so unique that we hadn’t even heard of anyone doing this! She explained that they like to set the Blocks up on their ends to create buildings and a city scape… and then the kids pretend to be giants or Godzilla and stomp through their “city” – the endless possibilities of a child’s imagination!

Even after 6 years of constant transporting and rigorous play by thousands of children, Kids Discovery Factory’s Blue Blocks are still in good condition, although they have had to replace a few of their play balls which have a habit of rolling away 😉.  Thanks to their vital regional partnerships, donors, and other sponsorships the museum was able to expand and add to their exhibits, including the purchase of a Large Loose-Part Bones Set.

When asked what she would tell other museums that were considering adding an Imagination Playground exhibit, Vanessa explained that not only are the Blue Blocks visually appealing, but they are also super easy to transport, which is vital for smaller and/or emerging museums. “Because of their bright, fun color and intricate shapes, when you take them out into the community for public events, they are a tremendous attraction for visitors. The iconic look of the blocks has become synonymous with our museum.”

One unique quality about the Blue Blocks that Vanessa pointed out to us is the sculptural quality. She says visitors can use the Blocks to create and manipulate to express things artistically, and the Blocks can be used again and again, cutting down on sculpting waste. Not only do the Blocks encourage creativity and art exploration, but they also allow the museum to provide that experience in a renewable and responsible way.

If you are in the area, make sure to stop by Kids Discovery Factory and say hello to our newest Block Champion, Vanessa! Or, if you are an educator located in Southeastern Indiana, reach out to the Kids Discovery Factory to see if the Mobile Factory can stop by your school!

Until then, remember no matter where you are, to BUILD ON!