A Bigger Playhouse
MY Museum launches expansion campaign with parade.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Nine plastic contact-lens cases, six inches of bubble wrap, a few feet of plastic-coated telephone wire, four cardboard tubes, a glue gun, glitter and ta-daa! Well maybe some yarn, yes, and paint, don’t forget the paint…should it have something inside so that it rattles? Yes, you know, this could be a musical instrument—what sounds best inside, beads or rice?
When dad plays in the Creation Station you never know what will happen, but he looks so cute with that little frown of concentration, and the funny way he holds his mouth when he’s thinking. Overall, humans are pretty interesting when they’re at play.
Play is what MY Museum’s all about. So now…does that mean play has become so rare that it requires a museum, with a board of directors and membership fee?
For adults, the only sanctioned playtime is that few weeks in the summer when we are encouraged to release the inner child. But even children can get caught up in the hectic pace of contemporary life.
“People are so overscheduled that even kids’ play is structured these days,” says Lauren Cohen, MY Museum’s executive director.
Bring a child to MY Museum and understand that she or he is gonna be free to have his or her own experience. They might ignore you completely, even if you know exactly how that cardboard tube would gluegun most securely onto that jar lid. It might make you uncomfortable that their constructions are not at right angles—but hey, you get to make a thingmybob yourself. And if you get into the groove maybe the kids’ll play with you or (gasp!) ask you how it’s done.
“Often families will come for the first time and want to know what order they should follow and what they’re supposed to build, learn, teach,” Cohen says. “In fact the exhibits are open-ended so that kids can explore and discover at whatever developmental stage they’re at, and have a whole different experience every time they come. All of our exhibits are built so that a 2-year-old will have just as much fun as an 8-year-old.”
Adults are as welcome as kids at the Creation Station, where there’s lots of stuff to use as art supplies, and glue guns, scissors and markers are on every table. “Parents say, ‘I don’t have any art supplies at home, but now I see I don’t need art supplies, I have yogurt tubs.”
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MY Museum was founded in 1997 after Yvonne Ascher, a member of the local Junior League, visited a children’s museum on the East Coast during a family holiday. There, she saw her husband interact with their children in a new way. Their 3-year-old son was in charge, and dad became a playmate while they sailed an imaginary boat. It was a pivotal moment.
Ascher took the idea to the Junior League, which took it on as a project. The city of Monterey secured a vacant space near Cannery Row and rented it to the organization for $1 a year. Since then, MY Museum has averaged 20,000 visitors a year, and has now outgrown its current site. They will soon be moving to a new 8,500 square foot location at 425 Washington St., with space for 50 interactive exhibits instead of 15, and more room for events and parties.
Museum regulars (there are families who come every week; a $60 annual membership allows a family of four unlimited entry) will be pleased that many existing exhibits will make the transition along with the staff. Kids will still get to build a house, drive a fire truck, learn about magnets, fingerpaint on a computer and operate their own pizzeria.
The new space will add exhibits to teach kids about life in Monterey County including MY Beach, MY Farm, MY Boat, and MY ImagiTree—a huge tree with dozens of activities in its branches and under its roots.
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So, why do about 40 million people a year visit children’s museums? It’s partly Martha Stewart’s fault; crayons, paper, glue and a jar of buttons don’t fit on many kitchen tables in these days of marble-topped islands and refrigerators with inset televisions. And in most neighborhoods, Mom doesn’t open the door and tell little Jenny to “Go out and play.” In fact, it may be true that if she did, Jenny would be stumped: “Well, so, what am I supposed to do?”
Unstructured play is how a child really learns about how things work, and tries out new ideas by using her imagination. This sparks all those little synapses into action, making connections. (Aha! Heavy big things will squash little light things if you put ‘em on top!) Without any directions whatsoever they become little physicists and engineers. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
This Sunday at the site of the new location MY Museum will hold a parade featuring music and arts to launch its capital campaign to raise funds for the expansion. Go imagine. Go play.
MY MUSEUM’S FAMILY FUN DAY AND CAMPAIGN KICKOFF takes place Sunday, Jan. 21, from 1-4pm at 425 Washington St., Monterey. Free. 649-6444 or mymuseum.org.