GRCM Executive Director featured on Minnesota Live!

In October, our Executive Director, Cassie Miles, was able to share Central Minnesota’s vision for the creation of the 2nd largest children’s museum in the state with the Twin Cities market on Minnesota Live with KSTP-TV. This has been our biggest audience yet!

As Great River Children’s Museum continues to design a space that will bring play filled learning opportunities to children and their families for generations to come, we’re seeking corporate and family gifts to help us reach the first $8 million in our $12 million capital campaign. We can’t wait to start knocking down walls and swinging sledgehammers!

Will your employer be the next Great River Children’s Museum supporter? Help Help us Open Doors and Open Worlds of exploration and delight for families in our region by spreading the word and talking to your employer today!

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

And we’re rolling, rolling with the river

Kiddos will set a course for adventure as they head downstream on the Great River. This exhibit celebrates and teaches about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a sacred resource and lifeline for our communities.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. At the Great River, museum visitors will hear and read stories about relationships with the river throughout history.

A massive water table flows with ample space for boat races, movement of goods, building locks, dams and more.
Humans aren’t the only ones who live along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, and families can get “deep into the weeds” to learn more about critical habitats and the critters who call the river home. With rapids, beaver dams and a water wheel, rest assured, kiddos will get wet! And there’s so much fun in that!

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Barbara and Rollie Anderson for sponsoring this exhibit.

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To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director
Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of awesome

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Kids will soon have their head in the clouds (hands, feet and whole self, too!).

Higher and higher, kiddos will climb above cityscapes and rivers in Climber to the Clouds, an exhibit sponsored by Coborn Family Foundation.

On Oct. 9, 2021, Great River Children’s Museum board members and committee volunteers were wowed with the second round of design schematics for the museum’s core exhibits. 

Climber to the Clouds will be the heart of the museum, awing museum visitors as they enter the spectacular atrium. 

Once museum visitors pass through the ticketing area, the museum space opens up to reveal the towering, immersive exhibit.

Scattered throughout Climber are physical play features to scurry over, under and around. Cranks and buttons invite explorers to interact to learn about weather systems and even create their own rain, thunder, wind, and rainbows. 

Passersby also will be captivated by the illuminated, three-story, cloud-filled sky visible from outside.

Great River Children’s Museum would like to thank Coborn Family Foundation for sponsoring this exhibit.

To learn more about sponsorship or corporate partnerships, please contact Executive Director Cassie Miles at Cassie.Miles@greatrivercm.org

$1 million Anderson gift drives Great River Children’s Museum closer to Opening Doors and Opening Worlds

Sponsorship of river exhibit keeps museum plans flowing

St. CLOUD – Barbara and Rollie Anderson have announced a personal $1 million dollar pledge to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit. 

“We’ve always said family is the most important thing,” Rollie explained. “Great River Children’s Museum will be a welcome addition to Central Minnesota as a space for families to explore, discover and learn together, and we’re proud to be a part of its development.”

The Andersons have a deep history of strengthening families in our region through their work with Early Childhood Family Education, service, community engagement, and history of generosity with Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, CentraCare, and Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, to name a few.

Sponsorship of the “Great River” exhibit is particularly meaningful. Museum goers will learn about the importance of water as habitat, a means of transportation for commerce as well as a lifeline for communities. For Barbara and Rollie, their family-owned company, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), played a key role helping the millions of Puerto Rico residents who were devastated following Hurricane Maria in 2017. ATS has been doing business in Puerto Rico since 1995 and helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with generators and pumps to save a dam from breaking, the U.S. Coast Guard with providing potable water to residents, and relief agencies with delivery of other cargo, including shower trailers, laundry trailers, traffic lights, generators, fuel, 28,000 telephone and utility poles, 60,000 miles of cable, transformers, bucket trucks, portable cellular towers, and the list goes on.

“We’re honored to deepen the sense of community in our region by sharing our wonderful heritage and history of life along the river with families,” Barbara said. “Great River Children’s Museum will deliver on the importance of children having an opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.” 

GRCM currently is in the fund-raising phase of museum development. At the same time, the organization is working with three professional exhibit design firms to finalize core museum exhibits. 

The Andersons join the Coborn Family Foundation as the museum’s first two exhibit sponsors.

“We are at an exhilarating point in our fund raising and development,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “Each gift brings us one step closer to opening our doors.”

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 shine a bright light on the power of play to spark children’s learning, strengthen families, and build community connections. 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

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.

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! 

Monkey business underway at GRCM

David Mohs
David Mohs

By: David Mohs
GRCM Facilities Committee co-chair
Exhibits Committee member

On a daily basis for over two years, I have and continue to provide behind-the-scenes volunteer support to the emerging Great River Children’s Museum. My information technology background within a secondary education environment was a natural fit for the museum’s interim networking, computing, audio-visual, and security needs.

Though the pandemic has hampered in-person activities, persistent planning for the museum’s launch continues. Given that Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” imagine how many hours of preparation are required to convert a 25,000-square-foot, 100-room banking facility into a bustling children’s museum. Upon opening its doors, Great River Children’s Museum will open worlds of exploration, discovery and creativity in Downtown Saint Cloud.

In the meantime, while we at Great River Children’s Museum figuratively sharpen our axe, Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul has collaborated with us to bring a second small traveling exhibit to the future home of Great River Children’s Museum.

On a recent winter morning, Curious George™ swung out of a freight truck and into the museum’s preview space. Tugged behind him was a bit of countryside. He proceeded to set up an apartment within and is actively constructing a small city. Perhaps, if we have enough bananas, Curious George and his crew will restore our building to its original 16-foot ceiling height! Stay tuned to our Facebook page for pictures.

Like our first traveling exhibit, Storyland, this exhibit will be available for a limited time to limited audiences given pandemic conditions. We were able to welcome 40 small groups through Storyland. Our hope is to invite more than 100 small groups for Curious George.

Our museum team will be scheduling reservations with educational partners and childcare providers first because of their already established “pandemic bubbles.” Then, we will invite individual families to reserve time with the exhibit.

Between guests, the space will be disinfected. Our volunteers will be working hard.

Further details will be announced on our website, via our Facebook page and through our e-newsletter. You can sign up to receive the e-newsletter here.

Rest assured, Curious George’s presence in Saint Cloud will not interfere with his television stardom on tpt and other PBS Kids affiliates.

Curious George
Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Company and used under license. Licensed by Universal Studios Licensing LLP. All rights reserved.

READY, SET… EXHIBITS

Dr. Vincent Miles
Dr. Vincent Miles

By: Dr. Vincent Miles
GRCM Board Member and Exhibits Committee chair

2020 was a busy year for the Great River Children’s Museum Exhibits Committee, and 2021 is kicking off with an even higher level of energy as we start to see our vision come to life.

What is an Exhibits Committee?

GRCM’s Exhibits Committee is tasked with taking initial exhibit ideas and concepts of the Board, further conceptualizing them, and readying the concepts to present to exhibit design professionals. Essentially, we’re carrying the baton from the museum master plan vision forward to the best-suited exhibit designers to execute that vision.

The Committee includes Board members and community members with various backgrounds, including early childhood education, mental health, business, higher-education, arts programming, and law (to name a few). Additional community voices include those specifically who have children currently within the target demographic age of the museum.

What has the Exhibits Committee accomplished so far?

After a lengthy process, we closed out 2020 selecting a collaborative joint-bid of three exhibit design-build companies — Split Rock Studios (St. Paul, MN), Haizlip Studio (Memphis, TN), and  KidZibits (St. Paul, MN). 

Here’s how we got there.

In January 2020, we focused on developing the 5 major permanent exhibits identified in the museum master plan. These exhibits include: 1) Great Big River, 2) Climber To The Clouds, 3) Big Woods Workshop, 4) Bridges To The World, and 5) Great Explorations. 

Small workgroups of 4 or 5 members each were formed around each of these exhibits with the goal to discuss, further the concepts, and prepare reports in a consistent format presentable to future consultants and contractors.

Simultaneously, our committee identified 5 children’s museums and other similar organizations to visit and gain insight on exhibit experiences; however, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with our plans as stay-at-home orders and social distancing became a priority. As a result, we were only able to visit 2 locations: the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. These targeted visits answered many questions we had about the exhibit development process.

As we settled into the new normal that the pandemic brought, we shifted interactions online and continued to hold committee and small group meetings regularly. 

When our new executive director was hired in July 2020, our committee brought her up to speed on exhibit visions and insights captured. 

The next step was to create a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that could be posted online and sent out to known firms that specialize in museum exhibit development. This comprehensive RFQ document was sent to 19 firms (many of which connected to our professional organization, the Association of Children’s Museums), posted on an online database, and posted publicly on our website. The RFQ closed October 23, 2020 and ultimately yielded 12 proposals submitted by many high-quality, capable, and nationally recognized exhibit design firms, including three from Minnesota.

We developed a rubric to evaluate and score the prospective design firms. Then, members of our Exhibits Committee, Board, and Facilities Committee embarked on the monumental task of reading through all of the proposals (some 50 pages each) and scoring them. Scores were compiled and analyzed to determine the best fit for the needs of our museum.

After follow-up interviews and reference checks, we formally made our recommendation to the Board to move forward hiring the collaborative team. Contracts were drafted, reviewed by attorneys, approved by the Board in January 2021, and the contract was signed.

What are the next steps to bring exhibits to life?

Now the fun really starts to take-off. We will use the first half of 2021 to catapult our vision into a workable plan. 

The design firms are set to hold a kick-off event with us in February. This will lead to initial sketches of what our exhibit designs will be. We then move into the schematic phase as they nail down how these exhibits will fit our space and our needs.

Concurrently with this process, our Exhibits Committee will shift some of our focus to additional exhibit planning needs of our museum. Most notably, we will further concept our outdoor play space, explore further STEM and technology offerings of our museum, and begin discussion on smaller minor exhibits to round out our entire exhibit experience for museum visitors.

With the continued support of our community, additional exhibit sponsorships, and ongoing volunteer engagement, we anticipate sharing these one-of-a-kind exhibit details within the year.

These images showcase other collaborative museum design builds from the firms selected to bring Great River Children’s Museum exhibits to life.