Admitting that “things are moving quickly now,” Katey Kamoku from the Sun Prairie-based Explore Children’s Museum described some of the process behind establishing the museum and some of its planned exhibits, during a one-hour “Sunny Side Up” online session hosted by the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce on April 7.
“Explore Children’s Museum has been an organization for almost a year and a half,” Kamoku said, referring to the museum’s 2020 501©(3) status. “We have a fantastic board of directors made up of Sun Prairie residents, former teachers, parents, and people with a variety of skills who are really excited about seeing this project come to life.”
Kamoku’s work both as a nursery school and a high school teacher for almost two decades has familiarized her with the needs of kids.
“We’re working as a team to really bring this to a community that we care deeply about,” Kamoku said. “At Explore Children’s Museum, our mission is to provide meaningful opportunities to inspire participation in purposeful play and to promote lifelong learning.”
In the midst of a capital fundraising campaign, Explore has secured a Main Street location with about 4,800 sq. ft. of space and hopes to add more, or move to a larger one elsewhere in Sun Prairie, according to Kamoku.
“It’s so important that we equip future generations with those internal tools in their brains. So that’s, in a nutshell, our goal with the children’s museum. Yes, it’s a place to play, it’s indoor recreation and also something that, in Wisconsin, is really important for families. But it’s so much more than that. And I hope that I got that message across,” Kamoku said.
Among the planned exhibits are :
• Leap into Literature. Kamoku described the rotating exhibit as “an opportunity for children to jump into a book.”
“We love books, we love literature, we love literacy, all of those things,” Kamoku said. The first book chosen is “There was an old woman who lived in a Shoe,” which she also said was “a little Vilas Zoo recognition for that old play structure that I remember as a child, but also it’s a really special book.
“It celebrates caregivers, which is really important, but we’re going to build this book,” Kamoku said. “So there’s the shoe, they have a shoe car, so children get the opportunity to play in the book. We’ll also have the book there for parents to read to their children, but it just really brings that literature to life for that.”
• The Super Service Center. Created by the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee, the Super Service Center allows kids to get under a model of a car to change oil, work the service desk, change tires and see how a motor vehicle works.
“There’s all sorts of different tools. And, we think the trades are a fantastic career opportunity for kids,” Kamoku said. “And we really want to highlight some of those in our museum.”
• The Recycling Truck. Admitting it’s an exhibit that she has to pull her kids away from at other children’s museums, Kamoku said the exhibit will be similar to others and teach kids about the environment.
“The kids can drive it, they can sort recyclables. They are learning about recycling — another really important value that we want to teach kids about in the museum,” Kamoku said.
• A climbing structure. The exhibit will have a series of steps and platforms where kids will have to work together to move around each other to progress up the steps. It will be built against a wall and use netting to keep kids from falling.
“They’re building those large muscles and problem solving, cooperating with other kids in the space, using their words to get through — they’re using that brainpower to motor plan, and motor planning as a huge developmental milestone for kids to be able to look at something and figure out how am I going to get from here to there?” Kamoku said.
The museum will also have a maker space, a toddler area and an art studio, as well as a classroom space where the museum could host children’s birthday parties.
“I’m very passionate about childhood development and things like that, but communicating that to other people and getting them on board and getting them to a point where they feel this is a good investment for them to make, is challenging,” Kamoku said.
Kamoku has reached out, scheduled presentations or given presentations to Sun Prairie’s civic organizations including the Optimist Club, the Rotary Club and the Sun Prairie Lions Club. But she has yet to reach out to the Exchange Club.
“This dream of having this space for children and family in our community can only happen through donations from community members and local businesses and hopefully down the road grants, but we’re finding in the process that grants really don’t want to support a capital campaign,” Kamoku said. “They want to support a specific project.”.
She said Explore wants to work with the McKenzie Family Boys and Girls Club, Sunshine Place, Firemens Park in the Prairie, the Sun Prairie Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, the Sun Prairie Public Library and more.