Experimenting with Imaginative Play at Camp Beyond

By Kylie Conover, Program & Outreach Manager

As the museum begins to take shape through the exhibit design process, so too are the programming components of the museum.

Museums are so much more than just the building and the exhibits themselves. Great River Children’s Museum plans on having additional, hands-on learning experiences including field trips and summer camps. 

At the beginning of August I was able to run a pilot summer camp program. I named this experiment Camp Beyond, because what I wanted was us to think past what traditional summer camps at museums often look like. I combined three different elements together for the curriculum of Camp Beyond; practicing social emotional learning skills, hands-ons imaginative play, and TableTop Role Playing Games.

What resulted was a week of absolute joy as I watched a group of campers work together through a series of challenges that culminated in overcoming a challenge and a pizza party at the park!

Over the course of the week GRCM hosted 10 Adventurers (campers), they were broken into groups of five and were led through various activities by their Adventure Guides (camp staff). The various activities included building a world narrative together, making a character and costume, building a cardboard fort, and lastly defeating the bad guy plaguing their world. 

According to our surveys, the day our adventurers got to create their hero personas was a huge highlight for them. Not only did they create their character, they were given the freedom to use cardboard, glue, fabric, and other materials to make a costume to become that character. To wrap up that day each camper got to use a program which allowed for them to create a 3-D model of their character which then got printed on our 3-D printer. 

A key part of Camp Beyond was providing a sense of community and agency among the Adventurers. At the beginning of the week we presented an open door policy, simply stated: If you need to take a moment (or many moments) away from the group you could. There was a space provided with a set of alternative activities that allowed for the camper to take time away if they needed it. This open door policy is a part of a toolkit that allows for each camper to have more agency throughout the programming. 

Ultimately, Camp Beyond was received favorably with requests from campers if they can come back and continue to be involved. I certainly can’t thank my adventurers and their adults more than I already have because they took a chance on a new camp at a not yet open museum.

Museum exhibit design taking shape

You’re invited to sponsor an exhibit

By Heidi L. Everett, PhD GRCM board member and marketing committee chair

What began as a chicken hatchery, eventually morphed into an athletic club, and turned into a bank ultimately will transform into Great River Children’s Museum. Recent initial design schematics hinted at the shape of things to come.

On July 20, 2021, our exhibit designers shared their vision with museum board members and volunteers as well as our construction partner BCI

Split Rock Studios and Haizlip Studios both have decades experience designing children’s museums, and they spent hours this spring walking the halls of the 25,000-square-foot building generously donated by Liberty Bank in downtown St. Cloud. Team members lifted ceiling tiles, peeked under flooring, marveled at the racquet-ball-court-turned conference room, navigated awkward floor transitions between building additions and utility spaces trying to envision what the future museum visitor experience could be.

As designer Reb Haizlip put it, “It was a strange path – awkward and inefficient.”

So the exhibit design team spent a few months reimagining every inch of the space from top to bottom, side to side, inside and out to reconfigure it and to propose an “amazing communal space where everybody is dialed in. The heart of the museum,” Reb said.

The initial design schematics celebrated the diversity and richness of experiences in Central Minnesota, from the ever-changing marketplace with its unique foods, textiles and spices to the many meandering ways in which kiddos can engage, explore and understand water as a recreational platform, habitat, energy source, sacred element and essential piece of commerce.

Climber to the Clouds – an exhibit proudly sponsored by the Coborn Family Foundation – will be the centerpiece of the museum. This multi-story, interactive climbing structure is forecasted to create a flurry of physical and intellectual activities for thrill seekers, storm chasers, and weather enthusiasts alike with its awe-inspiring heights, colors and sound. 

The engineering zone will provide ample space for little ones and their caregivers to harness the wind, shed some light on solar power circuits, build bridges and work with water as an energy source.

Another exhibit will showcase a magical experience of 24-hours in Minnesota and include trees, a tree house, rope bridge, and campsite. This space will play with light and sound transitions between night and day including bird song, loons calling, wind blowing through trees, the crackle of a campfire, and northern lights. The large tent will be ideal for reading books by day and telling stories with shadow puppets as night falls in the exhibit. Stepping stones will invite kiddos to cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, and a canoe will inspire new adventures downstream.

These are just descriptions of the many delightful details soon to follow. In September, we hope to have detailed exhibit designs to share for our core exhibits once the team makes revisions.

In other exciting news, next month Great River Children’s Museum will be announcing our second $1 million exhibit sponsor and details of that exhibit. 

If you’d like to join the Coborn Family Foundation and other exhibit sponsors, please contact our Executive Director Cassie Miles at 320-200-4110 extension 101 or cassie.miles@greatrivercm.org to learn which exhibits are still available.

If your organization is interested in becoming a corporate sponsor of Great River Children’s Museum in a different capacity, please connect with Cassie as well to discuss options.
Finally, to learn more about the process of exhibit design up until now, read our blog Ready, Set … Exhibits.

Coborn Family Foundation gifts $1 million to Great River Children’s Museum

Donation will help open doors to the extraordinary power of play

St. CLOUD – On June 30, 2021, the Coborn Family Foundation announced a $1 million dollar pledge to Great River Children’s Museum for exhibit sponsorship to commemorate the company’s 100-year anniversary celebration. 

“We’re pleased to support Great River Children’s Museum, where families can come together and be strengthened as they experience the joy of play together,” said Emily Coborn, president of the Coborn Family Foundation and vice president of operations for Coborn’s, Inc’s eastern region.  “We are thankful to the Central Minnesota community for the 100 years of support it has provided to Coborn’s, Inc., and we are pleased to give back to Central Minnesota families through this gift,” she said. 

Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM) currently is in the fund-raising phase of museum development. At the same time, the organization is working with three exhibit companies to finalize core museum exhibits. Coborn’s will be the sponsor of one of these exhibits.

“We are grateful for the shared vision of our community partners, who know Great River Children’s Museum will serve as a life source to strengthen families, build community connections, and increase the value of our local economies,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “This gift is incredibly energizing as we continue to work to open our doors in Central Minnesota,”

About Coborn’s, Inc.
St. Cloud, Minn.-based Coborn’s, Inc. is a 100-year-old employee-owned grocery retailer with nearly 9,300 employees and 59 grocery stores across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin under the Coborn’s, Cash Wise Foods, Marketplace Foods and Hornbacher’s banners. Coborn’s, Inc. also owns liquor and pharmacy locations. To support its 130 various retail business units, Coborn’s, Inc. operates its own central bakery, dry cleaning facility and grocery distribution center. In 2021, Coborn’s, Inc. was recognized by the Shelby Report Midwest as their Retailer of the Year.

About Great River Children’s Museum
Great River Children’s Museum is an emerging museum that will reside in downtown St. Cloud, thanks to Liberty Bank’s $1.4 million donation of its building. 

GRCM’s mission is to Open Worlds through the extraordinary power of play. The museum currently is in a capital campaign to develop a place where every child and their caring adults can create, explore, discover and be inspired. The museum’s Board of Directors is working with experienced museum planners, exhibit designers, and architects to transform its 25,000 square foot space into one that celebrates the rich, natural elements, resources and cultures of Central Minnesota. 

GRCM is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization and member of the Association of Children’s Museums

Our Collaborations with Lindgren Childcare Center and ECFE

Lucy Bauer – District 742 ECFE Educator

As a District 742 ECFE parent educator, some of my work is with parents and children one to one. A mom of a 20-month-old toddler was delighted that we could have one of our weekly meetings at the Curious George exhibit in the GRCM preview space. The mom had seen something on Facebook about the museum but wasn’t sure about trying it out. She mentioned that as a first-time mom she wanted to know more about what was available to her and her toddler in the community. 

We met at the museum during an evening time slot, convenient in mom’s work schedule with Grandma and Grandpa coming along. It was amazing! The little one was all about discovery! He easily found the toddler friendly parts of each exhibit: soft furry friends in their habitats, fruits and veggies to put in and take out of baskets, coloring with Grandma, opening little doors to find George and his friends, and turning the big wheels to help George wash the windows. The adults’ eyes were sparkling as they looked around at all the possibilities for play and tried out many activities themselves. The whole family was especially intrigued with the conveyor belt and blocks, planning together to keep the blocks moving. They loved seeing the toddler figure out that he could reach high enough to put the block in at the top of the last ramp, watch it go down, then pick it up and carry it right back and do it again!

What this family enjoyed the most was that they all had fun playing together! They are looking forward to more opportunities with the Great River Children’s Museum. As an educator and a grandparent, I am excited about the future of the children’s museum. It will be a special place for community groups and families to move, play and learn! Thank you GRCM for envisioning and creating this fabulous resource for our community.

Martina Juvera-Paul – SCSU Lindgren Childcare Center Managing Director

We were fortunate to have our Lindgren Early Learning Center children and families visit Great River Children’s Museum’s preview space for both the Storyland and Curious George exhibits. The children were thrilled to share in a special day date with their caregiver. Our families only had great things to say about GRCM! The preview space promotes families and children to connect in meaningful ways, through quality focused time & without household distractions. A couple of parents shared how they loved having time away from home with their child, where it’s so easy to get sucked into competing demands. 

GRCM’s preview space is set-up for children to freely explore and use their imaginations with age appropriate, high-interest materials. Play is powerful and critical for early childhood development. This space fosters learning through a wide variety of activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. Our children and families especially loved the features from the Curious George exhibit that promoted teamwork and collaboration, such as the construction site and sidewalk produce stand. Communication, persistence, creativity and curiosity are other important skills that the exhibit features are intentionally geared to foster.

We are eager to see how GRCM evolves and grows. What a gift for Central Minnesota to have a space especially crafted for children and their families to explore together in a rich, educational environment that nurtures connection. We are so excited for this beautiful project and permanent fixture in our community!

Photos courtesy of Martina Juvera-Paul and the Lindgren Childcare Center group.
Photos courtesy of Martina Juvera-Paul and the Lindgren Childcare Center group.

Tomoko Rebeck – District 742 ECFE Educator

Every single family in my ECFE classes had a fantastic time at the Curious George exhibit!  They enjoyed the exhibit so much because it was engaging and provided a special play opportunity that they don’t get to experience at home nor classrooms.  

I am excited about the future children’s museum because GRCM has a lot to offer! My ECFE families loved having the children’s museum in town instead of driving a long distance with young children. I strongly believe that GRCM will support Central Minnesota children and families by offering what they need to enhance their relationships and bring them all together as a community through play and exploration! I just wanted to thank GRCM for having our ECFE classes at the Curious George exhibit. All my families had a fantastic time! What a great way to spend a parent-child time! I also thought it was a great way to raise awareness of GRCM and hopefully tie in to the fundraising somehow.

Community Partnership in Action

SCSU Students Support Great River Children’s Museum’s Curious George Exhibit by Creating Language and Literacy Extension Activities

By Janet Tilstra, Associate Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders, St Cloud State University

It’s been an exciting spring semester! Students studying language development and disorders worked with Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM) to create activity packets to extend the children’s museum’s traveling Curious George exhibit.  

This project is a model of community engagement, where SCSU students partner with a community organization to apply their newly acquired knowledge and serve a community need. The project involved several steps threaded throughout the semester: 

Step one: Meet our community partner.
Cassie Miles, Great River Children’s Museum’s Executive Director, visited our class Zoom room in early February to talk about the children’s museum and the Curious George traveling exhibit on loan from the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She shared her vision for the project and other activity examples from other GRCM activities. 

Step two: Develop language/literacy activity modules.
For their assignment, students were asked to develop an extension activity for the Curious George exhibit focusing on one specific area of language development. Activities were designed to be fun, build language and literacy skills, use the Curious George theme, and be appropriate for 2- to 6-year-olds. 

Students were asked to keep materials simple and culturally sensitive to match a wide range of families and care settings. 

Project topics included: 

  • Vocabulary building (e.g. nouns, concept words, action words); 
  • Social/pragmatic use of language (e.g. labeling emotions, taking turns); 
  • Language structure (e.g. past, present, future tense or singular vs. plural words); 
  • Language letters and sounds (e.g. rhyming words, counting syllables, matching letters/sounds) 
  • Narrative language structure (e.g. stories include characters, setting, problem, actions, ending). 

Step three: Pitch ideas to the community partner.
Cassie returned to our Zoom classroom mid-March to hear students pitches and see activity demonstrations. There were many excellent ideas. From all the pitches, three group’s ideas were selected to be refined and used in Great River Children’s Museum’s preview space and shared online. 

Step four: Refine the ideas to match needs of the community partner.
In April, the selected groups refined their ideas into deliverable instructions and materials for Curious George extension activities. Other students created instructional videos of how to do each activity. The rest of the class designed a caregiver handout with ideas for promoting children’s language and literacy in everyday life.

Step five: On-campus scholarly presentations.
In late April, all student groups presented as part of SCSU Husky Showcase, an annual event that celebrates University and community research, creative works and scholarship across all disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our students presented as examples of community engagement and applied learning. 

Step six: Visiting the Curious George exhibit!
A final highlight to our semester will be visiting the exhibit in person. It will be exciting to see the full scale of the exhibit and how our classroom contributions support the children’s museum. 

Thank you Cassie Miles & Great River Children’s Museum for partnering! 

Kylie Conover

Kylie Conover
Kylie Conover

Great River Children’s Museum is excited to welcome its newest hire, Kylie Conover! 

Kylie will be instrumental in helping us fulfill our mission of Opening Worlds as the Program and Outreach Manager. 

This is a key position as Great River Children’s Museum continues to raise funds for our 25,000-square-foot renovation and to engage with the community and get everyone excited about a children’s museum in Central Minnesota. 

We were able to hire Kylie thanks to Legacy Funds from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

For the last few weeks, Kylie has been getting acquainted with Board members and volunteers of Great River Children’s Museum and has been having meetings with organizations that serve the families of the greater St. Cloud area. She believes that museums are for everyone and works hard to ensure that the programming she develops is accessible to as many folks as possible. 

In normal circumstances, Kylie would be knee deep in crafting materials and excitedly sharing information about what a comet is made up of or looking at the details of the inside of a flower, but the COVID pandemic is forcing all of us to approach things a little differently. 

She is looking forward to when the museum will be able to do more in-person activities and programming. 

“I am so pleased to be joining Great River Children’s Museum at the very beginning,” Kylie said. “It allows me to ensure that the programs that I am creating for the museum are not only fun and educational but also relevant to the people of St. Cloud and all of Central Minnesota.” 

Kylie hails from Reno, Nevada but she is no stranger to the Midwest. 

She attended the University of South Dakota where she obtained her Master’s Degree in history with a certificate in museum and archival studies. She is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumni where she was a volunteer outreach coordinator for a small nonprofit in Reno. 

Kylie brings with her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of a museum. She worked a year and a half at a hands-on science center as a museum educator, creating programming and demonstrations that appealed to all of the visitors.  

The move to Minnesota is a return home for her husband who is from Minneapolis. When Kylie is not working she is an avid runner and explorer of the outdoors with her border collie, Aspen.

Great River Children’s Museum Hires Executive Director

Work continues to bring an exciting new children’s museum to downtown St. Cloud, MN and today the Great River Children’s Museum announced that another milestone had been reached with the hiring of Cassandra (Cassie) Miles as Executive Director. The Executive Director salary is funded in part with money from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

It’s been four weeks since Cassie stepped into the Executive Director role and her new, temporary office at 111 7th Avenue South. The building, which was donated by Liberty Bank in September of 2018, is quiet now as COVID-19 has halted some of the community engagement work that launched earlier in the year. Regardless, Cassie is energized and ready to lead the project forward. “I am really excited to have a part in creating an imaginative space where families from around Central Minnesota can come to connect, play, explore and discover. There’s really nothing cooler than making a shared dream come to life and I get to work alongside a community that I love and a fantastic Board of Directors and volunteers to do just that! ” 

While the community has quieted some over the last few months, Great River Children’s Museum continues to make progress on their plans to build a children’s museum that will serve the central Minnesota region. Before the initial stay-at-home order was issued, the museum’s board and volunteers had completed initial pre-design work with architects, launched Play Explore Learn Labs, began holding Roundtable discussions with various community groups, and had begun a quiet phase of fundraising. Now, although COVID-19 has caused a disruption, the Board of Directors continues to find ways to pivot where needed and tackle some of the many behind the scenes projects on their plate. For example, while the in-person Play Explore Learn Labs had to be put on hold, the Family Fun Club was born in its place to create activities that would allow families to engage with the museum outside and from their homes. Larger projects like creating detailed exhibit descriptions, meeting with design consultants, capping unused wells, taking soil samples and general preparations for a large remodel project all continued. As other organizations were working to find ways to reopen, the Great River Children’s Museum Board realized that delaying the hiring of an Executive Director would mean pushing a pause button on something that the community is looking forward to and that just didn’t feel like the right decision for the families that the museum will welcome through the doors in the future. 

“We are excited to announce the arrival of our new Executive Director Cassie Miles,” said Board Chair Glen Palm.

“A full time Director will help us strategically focus our efforts so we can achieve the maximum benefit from all the work our volunteers are doing and move closer to our goal of opening the Great River Children’s Museum to serve Central Minnesota.” 

Cassie herself was born and raised in Central Minnesota, just outside of Annandale. She went to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus where she earned her BSB in Finance and BSB in Entrepreneurial Management. She brings her background in the financial sector and her love for locally owned establishments to her new role. She also brings her experience as a mother to an almost 2 year old son who inspires her and reminds her daily that children need safe imaginative spaces to thrive. 

Walking into the space that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has the feeling of something coming full circle for Cassie. “I grew up spending a lot of time at my uncle’s hobby farm and my career started at a bank in Chicago after college. I just think it’s fitting that I get to walk into a building that used to house a hatchery and a bank and make plans for the structure to evolve into something entirely different and wonderful.”
Hiring an Executive Director was just one big step in a series of big steps. The Great River Children’s Museum will continue the quiet phase of raising capital and talking to the community about their hopes and visions for the future museum. Everyone involved with the project knows that taking it day-by-day is necessary when there are a lot of unanswerable questions, but that doesn’t stop them from preparing for the future. “There is a lot going on in the world that we need to pay attention to and learn from each and every day,” Cassie commented. “It can be overwhelming, but it isn’t hard to push ahead with the children’s museum work. Economically, it is going to provide a boost to aid regional recovery from downturns caused by the pandemic. Socially and emotionally, it gives me and everyone else something to look forward to and a place where joy can be experienced and expressed. All we have to do is think about the many smiling faces that will walk through the door of the children’s museum that the community will build together. It’s going to be incredible.”

Family Fun Club

Register for a FREE LIVE Concert online
Saturday, June 20th at 10AM!
Paul Imholte will perform Old McDonald Had a Banjo
joined by drummers, lullabye singers and more!

When you become a member of the new Family Fun Club, you will receive a new activity in your inbox every Saturday all summer long!

Register now at https://greatrivercm.org/familyfunclub/ to guarantee your spot in the live Zoom concert. The concert will be recorded and made available to all!

This is the first of our weekly Family Fun Club activities created by our volunteer team. We will request feedback from participants to help us create quality programming and build a museum that will meet the needs of Central Minnesota families. Join us for fun surprises for the whole family all summer long!

Monica Segura-Schwartz

Monica Segura-Schwartz has been a part of the Great River Children’s Museum from early in the project. She began meeting at Glen Palm and Jane Ellison’s dining room table and has seen the board grow in size along with the scope of the project. Monica worked with Glen and Jane to build a board fully representative of our community. From the building donation to the process of hiring an executive director, she has seen the organization through many milestones and looks forward to many more to come. For Monica it is important to think about representation at all stages of a community project. “There will always be someone who is missing and we need to be aware of that as we move forward,” she says.

Monica brings a wide range of experience to her work as the Secretary on the Board of Directors. She has been a member of the St. Cloud Area School District School Board, GREAT Theater Board of Directors, and the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, among others. She has a broad skill set from past work and study experiences. Her skills in organization, policy and community outreach add insight into many layers of museum board operations. From personnel decisions to organizing files, overarching goals to financial details, Monica adds valuable insights and willingness to take on tasks. She is consistently focused on getting input from as many stakeholders as possible in our community by engaging the museum in a variety of projects, activities and partnerships. She has been a driving force behind the museum’s progress.

Monica is most excited to have a uniquely welcoming community space for families in Central Minnesota. The museum will be a town square of sorts, where people from all backgrounds who share a love for children can gather around shared experiences. Adults and children will play, explore and learn together – about each other and about the wonders of the world around them. These experiences are already happening through the work of the Roundtables, PEL Labs, and community outreach activities. Play will have a permanent home at the Great River Children’s Museum thanks to Monica’s work in furthering the development of this destination attraction that will draw people from town and country to experience all it has to offer.

GRCM Update

Over the last six weeks, the world has changed in ways that none of us could have imagined.  Great River Children’s Museum has continued to make progress even while some activities have been put on pause and many community events have been cancelled.  Committees have continued to meet over Zoom during this time and plan around the COVID-19 crisis as best we can. We know our supporters and our community are interested in our progress.
 
Over the past several months, Play, Explore and Learn (PEL) Labs have been conducted by museum volunteers for the purpose of learning how families engage in a variety of museum activities. These events have been conducted with small groups by invitation. Unfortunately, the PEL Labs planned for April and May have been postponed, but the committee continues to plan and prepare for the time when they can resume. All the while, discussing ways to keep connected to children and families in the community through alternative activies during this challenging time.

Another group of volunteers have been working with a consultant to conduct roundtable discussions with targeted groups around museum development. They have met with two groups of community members, downtown council members and non-profit group representatives, and early childhood teachers. These discussions have added valuable insights at this key phase of development. Additional roundtable sessions will be conducted with other groups of stakeholders when we are able to safely meet in small groups.

Our Exhibits Committee was visiting regional museums to inform their work as they continue to develop the exhibit concepts that were designed by the museum consultants. They visited the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. Unfortunately, they had to postpone upcoming visits to museums that are now closed due to the COVID-19.

The Personnel Committee continues to forge ahead in the search for an executive director. The position posting garnered a lot of interest and interviews were planned before the Covid crisis. The committee has created a list of top candidates. Then, they conducted phone and Zoom interviews. They are on track to bring a recommendation to the board in May with a goal of bringing on an executive director in June.

This is just a sampling of the good work being done by the board, committees and volunteers working with the Great River Children’s Museum. We look forward to the day when we can again bring community members into the building to engage in this exciting work with us. The excitement of children, families and neighbors is what fuels this work.