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by Gabriella Gerhardt, Development Officer
This summer, Madison Children’s Museum is thrilled to launch a new initiative to give free memberships to first-time parents with a child under 18 months. The First-Time Parent Membership includes two adults and a newborn child, from birth to 18 months. This new membership program is completely free. We want parents to come explore what the museum has to offer for very young learners, and to provide these vital early learning opportunities to everyone in the community.
MCM wants to provide a free membership to ALL first time parents, giving ALL families the tools to thrive. Throughout March and April, MCM will be educating families about our upcoming membership level, launching in summer 2017. This membership is just one branch of MCM’s Access for Everyone programs, which aims to always say yes to play!
The museum is created for families, by families, and in anticipation of launching our new membership program we wanted to better understand what families with young children value about MCM. We spoke to seven families that currently have a membership with a child under 18 months. Their stories and comments emphasized the valuable resource the museum is for early learners, as a place for children to learn and grow while they play. Below is a summary of what we heard.
Exploring the Exhibits
Amanda first visited the museum when her daughter was 6 months old. She was immediately impressed. “I was really drawn to the Wildernest. It was an area that was designated for smaller kids.” The Wildernest is on the first floor of the museum, and is intended for children under 5, where they can freely explore in a safe, age-appropriate environment. There is a sensory play area within the Wildernest intended for the youngest visitors that includes light, texture, movement, and color.
Sara brought her son on his first birthday and they played mostly in the Wildernest. “He couldn’t even walk yet but he was so excited. I think we spent an hour playing the drums… I was really surprised he could do everything downstairs except for the water room before he was walking. And he still had fun checking the other things out.” She purchased a membership the same day, and she feels good about the time they spend here because the “museum was made with development in mind.”
Jessica started bringing her son regularly, and she appreciates the types of toys available in the Wildernest. “You can play with baby dolls, you can put on dress up clothes, and you can do whatever you want. It’s all given here, and it’s not pink, gendered – it’s not separated.” The Wildernest is built with natural and sustainable materials.
Valuing Unstructured Play
The museum is designed to encourage unscripted and open-ended play for our visitors, which is highly valued by our members. Melissa believes it’s important to praise her daughter for the effort she puts into an activity rather than for doing an activity correctly, and the museum’s unstructured play philosophy facilitates that. “I want to provide things that she can try and things she’s never done before and those things are what you want to encourage them to do. So that is what I value about MCM.”
Luba sees the same value for her son, and she appreciates the museum because “you can do whatever you want… everybody is curious at this age and the less you distract them the better.” Sara chimed in to say the museum’s activities are flexible enough that she can choose to structure her son’s day, or let him play spontaneously. And with their membership, they have the freedom to come back another time if the day doesn’t go as planned.
Making Learning Fun from the Very Beginning
Many of the parents agreed that the museum provides a space for experiences that will shape the person their child will become. A baby’s first learning experiences deeply affect their future physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Katie brings her daughter to build her confidence. “I want her to be confident and I want her to know she can do anything. And I think that comes by coming to a place like this and exposing her when she’s young.”
Keri spoke passionately about “cultivating curiosity” in her daughter. She said, “I personally find learning fun and when learning is fun you can do it anywhere… I want my child to know that she can turn anything into a fun learning experience.”
Amanda agreed that the museum is an important source of unique educational experiences and believes that “being exposed to as many things as possible… makes you open and courageous, and an outgoing person,” which is what she wishes for her daughter.
Connecting with Other Parents
All of the families agreed a key advantage of coming to the museum is the opportunity to connect with other parents. Keri purchased a membership knowing that meeting other parents was a big benefit for her. “A huge part of it is socialization not just for the baby, but for me. I can sit on my own floor and play with my own toys, but I would rather come here and sit in the soft space and play with their toys, and not just because I don’t have to clean them up, but because I’m a talker.” Many of the parents she’s met at the museum have become friends.
Amanda agrees, arguing that it’s important for new parents to be around peers who understand their day-to-day experiences. Becoming a parent isn’t easy, but the museum is a supportive place where “no one is going to judge you.” Being a first-time parent of a young child is a unique experience that makes connecting with other caregivers effortless. Spending time at the museum creates opportunities to bond with other adults and share stories. Jessica also appreciates those moments, because for her, “I’ve just been talking to a baby all day… when I go out and there’s other adults I find that I’m a lot calmer by the end of the day … even if it’s just a passing conversation, it’s still nice to have another adult to talk to.”
MCM has an Early Explorers Playgroup to help forge these connections. A play space is set up for children under 3, where they can engage in activities that support various aspects of child development. Parents and caregivers have the opportunity to connect with one another while their children play. The group meets regularly on Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m., check the website for dates and locations.
MCM as a Teaching Resource
Museum members place a high value on the variety of activities available at the museum. Activities in the museum range from climbing and movement, to imaginative and sensory play, to art, nature, science, music, and literacy. Jessica described some of the activities her son enjoys, “there is music, drums, and puppets, and there are baby dolls, and dress up and water and art and blocks and everything.” When he got a bit older, at about 14 months, “the art room became a fun place.” Jessica explained the pressure she feels like this, “You want them to excel in life… so you constantly have to think of things to engage them.” Amanda agreed that she felt a similar pressure, and that the experiences at the museum, “take that pressure off that we need to find creative things for her to do.”
The First-Time Parent Membership will be funded through the museum’s Access for Everyone program. We are thrilled to invest in the young children of our community, and to build a thriving future for everyone. You can find out more about our Access for Everyone programs on our website. Please consider making a gift to support our access programs, including the First-Time Parent Membership.
Photos courtesy of A&J Photography.