WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Chatting happily about the Curious George of children’s fiction fame, the youngsters created their own monkey puppet, sang funny songs, listened to the story of George and enjoyed a lunch of their own homemade pizza, hand-decorated cookies and banana ice cream, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
In that one Curious George Pizza Party, children demonstrated their creativity and soaked up music, art and storytelling — all goals of the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
“Some of the principles on which we were founded have not changed; we’re still dedicated to story times, music and lots of different arts and crafts,” said Elizabeth Dampier, executive director of the museum, which the Winston-Salem Junior League created as its 75th-anniversary project for the community.
“We’ve been able to grow as our base has grown and have partnered with local artists to do things with us. … We are unique among museums in that our focus is on storytelling and the arts. What we provide are examples of how the arts and play come together, which is neat since we’re in the City of Arts and Innovation.”
Though the needs assessment that the Junior League conducted initially pointed to a safe place for kids to play and focus on literature and the arts, the Children’s Museum has become that and more, Dampier said.
“One thing we try to do in all our programming is to leave things open-ended. So there’s not a right answer, but lots of different ways to come to an answer. We think about the skills kids need and try to give them the gifts of creativity and imagination as well as critical thinking and problem solving — all the pre-learning and pre-literacy skills they need to be more successful as they enter school and then become young adults,” she said.
The museum, located downtown on South Liberty Street, opened its doors on Nov. 20, 2004. This year on Nov. 20, the museum will be open 10 hours, representing its 10 years, and admission will be free to all during that time.
To commemorate “A Decade of Play,” the museum is also hosting special programs and events through December. Monthly and daily schedules can be found on the website,http://childrensmuseumofws.org/wp-content/uploads/July-Calendar.pdf.
For example, on July 19, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, a monthly corporate sponsor, will present The Donut Chef with a special story time and craft session at 11 a.m.
Christine Simonson, director of education at the museum, said that some of her favorite days include events such as Big Bang Boom, a rock ’n’ roll experience for the kids, and Truck ’n’ Treat, which celebrates Halloween on a Sunday.
“It started as Touch a Truck and morphed into an experience where kids can see and touch up to 30 vehicles in the lot. The Halloween event draws more than 1,500 people each year,” said Simonson. “The children love to touch and sometimes actually get in the truck and beep the horn. They see wheels that are sometimes taller than they are. When you’re 4 or 5 and stand next to a Humvee and meet a soldier or you see a guy up in a bucket truck waving at you, it’s amazing.”
The museum is also interested in “offering experiences for children and adults to play together, have fun together, unplug and get away from all the things going on in their lives and sit back and have authentic experiences,” Simonson said.
An example of that is the popular Sophia: The First Tea Party, which children can attend with their parents, grandparents or caregivers.
“In addition to having tea, they get to do crafts and have story time and we make things that the kids can wear as a costume — a wand or a crown or a tutu. We’ve had three of these so far and they’ve sold out every time,” she said.
By all accounts, the museum, which has operated debt-free since 2007 and is 100 percent privately funded, is a success.
“Since we opened, we’ve welcomed over 800,000 visitors. Last year alone, we saw over 90,000,” Dampier said. As of mid-June, Trip Advisor rated the museum in the top five attractions in the city.
The museum received its first Institute of Museum and Library Services designation in 2011, Dampier said. The accompanying grant enabled the museum to redo its Food Lion Exhibit and to bring in its newest exhibit, “Kaleidoscape,” in the outdoor Surprise Garden. Rich colors and textures engage children to climb, swing and experience this large crocheted exhibit. The museum is the first in the U.S. to host a hand-crocheted piece by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, a renowned artist.
Simonson said she is excited to see what the future holds.
“We’re changing as the community changes and identifying partners who can help us increase access for all kids to be able to come to the museum,” she said. “One of my dreams is to have more theater and improv in the museum. I’d love to see a child walk into our Food Lion exhibit and meet a Swedish chef or climb a beanstalk and find Jack or even the giant at the top of the beanstalk.”