As if turning 5 in early February next year isn't enough, my son, Ellis, has something else to look forward to in 2012: a brand new and improved space for the Children's Museum of Tacoma.
2011 marks the museum's 25th birthday, and another milestone is just around the corner – a new state of the art facility, nearly three times the size (and fun!) of the museum's current space.
"January may sound far away, but to us, it feels so soon," says Director of Communications Brenda Hanan. Soon, the Children's Museum of Tacoma will have its new home, an 8,600-square-foot facility, alongside the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma's museum district, at 1501 Pacific Ave. Construction is now underway after breaking ground late last month, when Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Chairman of the Museum Board Dave Edwards were both on hand for the ceremony .
The Children's Museum of Tacoma is currently a 3,000 square-foot child's wonderland, located just a bit off the beaten path in downtown Tacoma. The museum's modest storefront entry at 936 Broadway Ave. belies the thrilling world encountered within, a maze of intriguing, educational and mysterious stations to inspire and inform young visitors. A few of these stations will travel with the museum to its new location.
"The Whoosh Wall is coming with us," Hanan affirms. As she says this, I watch Ellis poke ball after colorful ball into the magical, vertical, marble chute-type wall maze, where the balls are propelled upward by suction and downward once again by gravity. Nearby, several young builders toil away at an elaborate structure they are designing with large foam blocks.
Hanan nods in that direction: "The imagination playground blocks are coming, too."
Most of the new museum, however, will be devoted to new exhibits, a series of Icon Areas: Woods, Water and Voyager.
The woods area will be accessed over a bridge or a path of tree stump steps, where the visitor enters a labyrinth of play spaces in which to climb and pretend. The exhibit is designed to allow children the joy of discovering the woods, as well as the opportunity to contribute to the space as they build forts and send supplies up and down on pulleys.
The water area will be a place for visitors to explore water in different states – running, falling, still water – even frozen.
The Voyager exhibit will become whatever visitors want it to be, as it is all about imagination and pretend. The space focuses around a vessel and a tower in which children can load cargo, play with loose props and discover new communication processes as they engage in the major work of childhood: play.
There will also be hands-on studio and construction areas that allow children to focus on creative processes and enjoy control over the objects and environment around them.
All of these plans add up to an innovative and brave new design for the Children's Museum on its 25th birthday. Braver yet, perhaps, is that the museum is moving to a "pay as you will" model.
At the moment, the Museum charges admission of $6 for both adults and children, with a membership option. There are also free days, such as Free Fridays, the first Friday of every month, and this year, as a special celebration for the museum's birthday, admission is just $.25 on the 25th of every month (with the exception of December 25th). The "pay as you will" model is something the Museum Board has been exploring for some time.
"We just really wanted to reach out to the community and make sure that everyone has access to what we have to offer," explains Hanan. "We have the support of our members and a very generous gift from Key Bank which will be funding the first five years of this ‘pay as you will' model."
In brief remarks at the ground-breaking ceremony, Mayor Strickland said: "If you make a city a great place to be a child, and to raise a child, everything else falls into place."
The Children's Museum of Tacoma is helping to do just that, taking that extra step to see that every child has the opportunity to learn, imagine and play in a facility dedicated to education through fun and discovery.
As we wait for the grand opening at on Pacific Avenue, Ellis plans on mastering the Whoosh Wall at the current museum on Broadway. But, he is definitely counting the days until January 14th. On that day, I am fairly sure he will happily climb aboard the vessel in the Voyager Area and look far and wide, seeing all that the world has to offer, and how he can be a part of it.
IF YOU GO
Where:936 Broadway Ave., Tacoma.
When:Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults and children,$6, under 1 year old, free. Half price, Monday through Friday, 3 to 5 p.m. 25 cents, 25thof each month. Free first Friday of each month.
Jenni Prange Boren is a Tacoma-based screenwriter and freelancer. She’s the mother of a busy 4-year-old.