Different children's museums and play centers use different formats. Here are some of the key elements in the design plan for the North Iowa Children's Discovery Center:

Open Plan
The North Iowa Children’s Discovery Center will be based on an open, one-room format used by the Children’s Discovery Center in Clinton, IA.  The facility, which is housed in a former grocery store, is arranged in a ‘village’ format along the outside walls of one large main room, with additional activity areas in the center. A large aisle circles the room, allowing extra space for children to move freely, as well as drive toy cars from one activity center to the next.  Each display is intentionally designed so that a caregiver with multiple children who each have different interests can easily see each child from any point in the room. This ‘open plan’ also allows maximum space for children with higher kinetic needs to move about the room safely without running into other people or objects.

Safe and Secure
In addition to the benefits of the open plan, child safety will be assured by having a secured entry/ exit gate that must be opened by an adult.  Ample space for coats, bags, and strollers will be provided near the entrance. Accessible, family-friendly bathrooms including diaper-changing stations will be located within the facility. The CDC in Clinton uses a closed-circuit video system to assure additional safety, particularly around the entrances/ exits and bathrooms, and the North Iowa CDC will pursue fundraising for this goal. To ensure the safety of all children in the Center, no child will be allowed inside without an adult, and no adult will be allowed inside without a child in their care.

Kid-Friendly, Crowd-Friendly, Share-Friendly
Displays will use toys that are large enough to be picked up easily and put away, and are not choking hazards. Toys will encourage collaboration (a grocery store has a checkout station one child can use while another child pulls up with a shopping cart); and enough toys that several children can play in each area. Toys and displays used will be durable enough to withstand use by many children each day, over a long period of time. Each display is also designed to be large enough to allow caregivers to play alongside their children.

Technology plays a heavy role in our world today, but the use of personal electronics can also interfere with children’s time for imaginative play, as well as time for parents and children to play together. High-tech displays can also come with high costs and high maintenance needs. Displays will be simple to encourage learning through hands-on imaginative and collaborative play. NICDC encourages parents to use their smartphones to take pictures of and with their children at play, but to otherwise set phones aside.