February 10, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Matt Orand, a day at the office is child’s play—or at least figuring out what children want to play with.

As the Creative Director of the Omaha Children’s Museum, Orand is the one tasked with designing musical steps, creating interactive apps, or making sure that the fake food found in the museum’s play grocery store isn’t so realistic that kids try to take a bite out of it.

Luckily, he can rely on some of the museum’s biggest fans to help him design exhibits that kids will rave about: his children, Lily (7), Simon (5), Milo (18 months) and their fourth child who was born after press time in December. They all happen to fall within the 8-and-under age range that is the Children’s Museum focus.

Orand started at the Children’s Museum eight years ago, when his wife Amy was pregnant with Lily. After graduating with degrees in graphic design and sculpting from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, there weren’t many careers out there where he could have the chance to work with kids in a creative field, but he just happened to stumble upon his dream job at the Children’s Museum.

“He’s just a kid at heart,” explains Amy Orand.

While the Children’s Museum is a perfect fit for a big kid like Orand, it lends itself to an even cooler experience for his four young ones, who essentially get an all-access pass to the museum. The Orands began taking daughter Lily to the museum just a few weeks after she was born, and she can usually be found there whenever Matt needs help or is opening a new exhibit.

As a result, the Children’s Museum holds a special place in the heart of the Orand family. It’s where Lily stood on her own for the first time, thanks to an exhibit designed to help infants pull themselves up. It’s where Orand aided in the restoration of the giant, colorful, zoo characters he himself played on as a child at the Gordmans department store. Now he gets to see his children play on the same playground figures.

“I think for me it’s just been fun to have them around when I can kind of take them behind the scenes,” says Orand. “I can bring them to sneak previews and bring them to see works in progress.”

But it’s not all just fun and games for the Orand family. Matt also enlists his children to test out ideas for new exhibits. He is constantly observing what cartoons his kids are watching, what games they like to play with their friends, or what toys they gravitate toward.

“I’ll just gauge like, ‘what sounds more fun, a superhero or a pirate exhibit?’ says Orand. And they’ll ask questions like, ‘What’s going to be in the exhibit, Dad? If it’s superheroes is it going to have this? Can I put on a cape?’”

It’s all a necessary part of Orand’s job; being able to see the world from a kid’s perspective. He recalls the frustration many kids, including his own, experienced when the museum unveiled an air blast tube in one of its new exhibits.

The tube was located next to a collection of toy balls, so many of the kids thought that when they placed the balls in the tube, the tube would blast the balls in the air. When the tube did no such thing, they became frustrated. The museum took the contraption off the floor, and Orand and the rest of the museum staff redesigned it, re-launching it as a “Ball-istic Blaster.”

“You think you’ve got everything figured out, and you know exactly how they’re going to use it, and you’re totally blown away or something unexpected happens,” says Orand.

Following in their dad’s footsteps, the Orand kids relish creativity. The Orands already notice a budding affinity for art in daughter Lily, who is adamant that she doesn’t want to have a “boring” career when she grows up. Amy, an insurance agent, laughs when she describes how the kids see her career versus Matt’s.

“Mom’s got the boring insurance job, and dad’s got about the coolest job on the face of the planet,” says Amy. “I think they kind of take it for granted, because they haven’t known it any other way.”

But for now, Matt is okay with putting off the day until his kids can fully comprehend all that he does. Son Simon recently started adding an extra line to his nightly prayers—a token of thanks to God for “making my dad good at making robot dinosaurs.”

Simon is referring to the robotic dinosaurs in one of the museum’s traveling exhibits, one of the areas of the museum that does not fall under Matt’s jurisdiction. But Matt says with a chuckle, “I just don’t really have the heart to correct him and tell him that I didn’t make it.”

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