When Covid-19 forced the Monterey-based nonprofit children’s museum MY Museum to close, Executive Director Lauren Cohen knew she needed to find a way to continue serving the children and families that normally fill the museum.
“We realized that kids still need to play,” she says. “Things are different now, but they can still be fun.”
So the museum got started on a big undertaking—conceptualizing, creating and distributing 2,500 free “Shelter in Play” boxes to families around the county. The idea behind this box, Cohen says, is to teach children how to keep themselves safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms they can understand.
To this end, the boxes contained things like a six-foot jump rope to help children conceptualize that distance; a handkerchief, coffee filter and rubber bands for mask making; hand sanitizer, and more. The boxes were funded via partnerships with First 5 Monterey County, Montage Health and others, then distributed through local schools and childcare programs.
This idea of teaching children about pandemic safety in a fun and accessible way is very much in line with the ethos of the museum’s normal operations, where physical locations and artifacts within the museum—a theater where kids can put on a show, for example, or a miniature golf area where they learn about the science of golf—allow kids a largely self-guided opportunity to learn about their world. “We don’t teach them anything other than how to learn,” Cohen says.
During the pandemic, museum staff also put together 500 boxes of craft materials, which they made available, for a fee, to anyone who follows the museum on social media.
MY museum’s Big Idea for this year’s Monterey Gives! is to provide operating support for the museum while it tries to stay afloat during the pandemic. In a typical year, Cohen says, the museum would see around 60,000 visitors. Those ticket sales, in addition to donations, normally help keep programs going strong. This year, however, revenue is down about 60 percent, and the museum cut its budget from $500,000 a year to $200,000.
MY Museum also wants to continue making craft kits and Shelter in Play boxes available to families who need them. Cohen already has a spring Shelter in Play box planned, this time focused on transportation safety.
“Basically we’re sending a little bit of the museum, and a little bit of play and joy and fun, to families in their homes,” Cohen says.