Exploring Local Treasures through Geocaching

By Jayne Balicky, GRCM exhibits committee member and Early Childhood Special Education teacher District 742

As a member of the Great River Children’s Museum exhibits committee, I am especially excited to know our exhibits were designed to celebrate all that is great about Central Minnesota. You see, I love living here and raising my children here. I’m also always looking for ways to share with my kids the beauty of St. Cloud and its surrounding areas. 

This summer, my family learned about a new way to explore our local treasures—through geocaching. Geocaching is a bit like treasure hunting, where people use GPS coordinates to search for hidden objects. Geocaching is actually not new… it’s been around over 20 years. More recently, it became popular during the pandemic as a family-friendly way to enjoy the outdoors. 

It was remarkably easy to begin our new hobby. We downloaded the free Geocaching app. After creating an account, we gained access to hundreds of local treasures, called “caches”. Using clues and the GPS included in the Geocaching app, we’ve now found over 40 local caches! Each cache looks a little different, but all are a container of some kind. Inside each cache is a log sheet, so you can make a record of your find. There are often small trinkets or toys, too, and feel free to take one if you have something to leave behind in its place. 

My seven-year-old is hooked on geocaching, and is especially good at tracking down our treasures, but my four-year-old also has fun and has found several caches on her own, too. Along the way we’ve checked out beautiful local communities, trails, and parks. If you’re in search of some family fun this fall, give geocaching a try! You’ll be amazed at the treasures that await right where we live.

Organic ways to grow and connect

This summer we’ve been able to connect with children, families, and community members in our region outside of St. Cloud. Families and caregivers are excited to learn that a children’s museum is coming to Central Minnesota! Through our partnership with Great River Regional Library, and through visits to various farmers markets, we’ve been able to provide simple and interactive programming for kids and their caring adults to enjoy and learn through play. 

Farmers markets are a great way to meet neighbors in your community. Supporting your local farmers market is an important piece of community involvement too. Not only are you getting fresh and nourishing food that you need, but you’re also connecting with local growers!

The farmers market is a great place to learn where your food comes from and how it’s grown by simply chatting with the farmers and growers. You can ask them where the food gets planted, how long it takes to grow, when it was picked, and more. Sometimes, they might even have recipes and cooking ideas to share. After all, they’re the ones who are there from seed to sprout!

Taking a walk through the farmers market is a great way to learn more about your community and those around you. It can be a great place to try new foods, learn about local arts and trades, and meet new people. For some kids, farmers markets can be a more comfortable environment to experiment with food, ask questions, and in our case spend some time playing while learning about Great River Children’s Museum.

We’re designing an exhibit space that will celebrate the diversity of Central Minnesota’s communities through art, food, and music. The goal is to demonstrate that even though we’re all different and come from different backgrounds or cultures, we are all connected. Community Connections will include a Global Market to explore food, spices, and more from different cultures and parts of the world. You and the kids you love will be able to explore various scents by smelling spices, textures by touching food, and colors and sizes by assembling flower bouquets and sorting produce.

We want to thank all of the local farmers markets that have allowed us to be there with a fun and engaging experience for children and their caring adults. We’ve met and connected with so many amazing people!

A Great (River!) Partnership

Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library share a common goal to spark curiosity and learning while encouraging the exploration of new ideas.

Over the next year, Great River Children’s Museum and Great River Regional Library are proud to be bringing the communities of Central Minnesota a small glimpse of the future of Great River Children’s Museum (“GRCM”) through Pop-up Exhibit Experiences hosted by libraries around the region! This is the perfect opportunity to share the potential of future museum exhibits, programming, and experiences with those we look forward to serving in our region.

The library’s goal to have a patron-centered organization is an excellent fit with the museum’s plan to bring play and exploration to Central Minnesota’s children and families. 

“The library has specific goals to try new ideas, innovate, and create partnerships that promote libraries and their services, so this feels like a natural extension of key parts of our goals,” says GRRL’s Beth Stolpman.

Great River Children’s Museum aspires to be a place where there is something for everyone and all are welcome, much like Great River Regional Library. Our goal is to bring awareness to those in our region who may not know we are in development. Library patrons outside of the St. Cloud metro area will get a sneak peek of what the future holds for Great River Children’s Museum through displays and exhibit related programming in the familiarity of their local library.

GRRL Librarian Jade Lauber, said, “We are so excited to have the opportunity to have the pop-up exhibits from Great River Children’s Museum! These exhibits will give our patrons the chance to experience what the museum has to offer, and will be an excellent addition to our summer programming. This year, we have a lot of outdoor, nature, and camping activities tying into our annual Summer Reading Program, ‘Read Beyond the Beaten Path.’ We can’t wait to see how well the museum’s Pop-up Exhibit Experiences compliment our existing library resources and programs, and how our patrons will interact with the exhibits!”

Cohort 1 of the Pop-up Exhibit Experiences begin Sunday, May 1 2022 at these Great River Regional Library locations: Annandale, Becker, Clearwater, Paynesville, Pierz, Richmond, and Swanville.

GRCM will also be taking part in this years Llama Llama Pajama Party at the St. Cloud Great River Regional Library on May 10th from 5-7pm. Come by to chat with us and enjoy an activity as well as a coloring contest, storytime, prizes, and more provided by United Way of Central Minnesota, GRRL, and others.

We look forward to connecting with the patrons of Great River Regional Library and to all future partnership opportunities that will support children, their families, and their love of learning through play!

Connecting with Children’s Museums in Greater Minnesota

During 2021, we focused on building relationships and partnerships that will strengthen our ability to serve Central Minnesota families when our doors open. Establishing collaborative relationships with children’s museums across the state was a top priority and an effective way to spread our mission beyond our region.

Thus, the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition was formed. We are joined by 7 other children’s museums across Minnesota to make a difference in the lives of children and their caring adults throughout the entire state. 

From left: Peter Olson (WonderTrek Children’s Museum), Greg Reigstad (Great River Children’s Museum), Janie Heitz (Children’s Discovery Museum), and Katie Ganoe (Otter Cove Children’s Museum)

Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition members will serve nearly 500,000 guests annually, capturing visitors from nearly 100% of the state’s 87 counties. The coalition includes Otter Cove Children’s Museum, the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Duluth Children’s Museum, Spark Children’s Museum, and more. We aim to focus on the areas surrounding the Twin Cities that may not receive as much support.

Our goal is to raise the voice of children’s museums to:

  • Reveal the impact children’s museums have on early childhood development
  • Strengthen bonds between children, their caring adults, and our shared communities
  • Increase cross-cultural competency through early exposure to diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds
  • Drive economic development and improve quality of life of families in the regions we serve
  • Bridge the gap in funding for children’s museums in greater Minnesota
  • Drive tourism to Greater Minnesota

Collectively, the coalition has submitted a bill requesting $36M in state funds towards capital projects underway at children’s museums throughout greater Minnesota. Many of the museums will use this funding for building and exhibit design, renovations and construction in order to create and expand our abilities to spark joy and enhance learning through play! A substantial economic return of 5x the investment will be experienced through direct, indirect, and induced spending and job creation.

For more information, please visit the respective organization’s website. Click here to find them!

Painting a partnership with herARTS in Action

By Sarah Drake, CEO & Teaching Artist of herARTS in Action

When I (herARTS in Action) was presented with the opportunity to create artwork for Great River Children’s Museum, I knew I needed to invite the children I work with at my artist residencies to help. The space is transforming for the kids, and their families, to use while learning and having fun, so they needed a voice. 

In the summer of 2021, I was able to tie this to my work with the United Way of Central Minnesota and 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC). I also happened to have some students in paid mentorship with me as well. They got hands-on experience in not only the creative but also the business side of how projects work.

Sarah Drake adds finishing touches to the window murals

Students aged 1-20 and with heritage indigenous to this land, Africa, Asia, central and north Americas, and Europe, and with various religious backgrounds and abilities worked on the project. The common theme that emerged from them all: The Mississippi River and activities to do in, on, and around it. 

Hanging in the windows, you can see the river as it starts in the spring at the headwaters, meanders down through St. Cloud in the summer and fall, and ends up in the Twin Cities in the winter. The seven clans of the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe are represented in the animals. 

You may have read this far and recently drove by GRCM and are thinking to yourself, I didn’t see any artwork in the museum’s north windows on 7th Avenue. You’re right! To keep them safe, they were temporarily taken down during demolition. They will be back up soon though. AND with some new additions!

Thanks to my classes through United Way, we have another group of students working on artwork for the windows in the south building. As spring flowers start to peek through the snow, the artwork will be popping up in the GRCM windows again!

Thank you to all of the funders who made this possible, the organization sites, but even more so to the kids who shared their brilliant ideas and talents!

The project for Great River Children’s Museum was possible because of funding from the Morgan Family Foundation and United Way 21CCLC. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Visit www.herartsinaction.org for more information about the organization and for a copy of Sarah’s first published book “Nanou’s Promise: A Journey Beyond Hauling Water.” She wrote and created the collage art for the book, which is inspired by her volunteerism in Burkina Faso for access to clean water, sanitation, and education.

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.

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!

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.

African Cultural Festival

The Great River Children’s Museum had the opportunity to share play activities and information at the African Cultural Festival at Lake George on Sunday, September 15th. It was a beautiful day for the first annual outdoor event. Our volunteers were able to connect with a wide range of community members who shared their ideas about what they would like to see in a children’s museum serving Central Minnesota. They were also fortunate to be able to enjoy wonderful entertainment including African drumming, dance, poetry and song. Thanks to all who stopped by our booth and to the St. Cloud African Cultural Organization for inviting us!

PEL Labs and Roundtables

You may be wondering… What is a PEL Lab? What happens around round tables?  The Museum is beginning to reach out strategically to community members to gather input into museum creation. Board members and community volunteers are putting together two unique series of events, each with its own purpose.

Play, Explore and Learn Labs, or PEL Labs for short, are events for adults and children to come to into the museum for a small sample of a museum experience. The goal is for the Museum to learn how to design exhibits and programming that work for our community. A group of professionals will design each experience and invite families to come play and explore. Museum volunteers will use this as an opportunity to learn what works well and what doesn’t. The information will be used for planning museum spaces, exhibits and activities.

Roundtables are opportunities for board members and the museum planning team to ask key questions of community members. Through these discussions, the Museum hopes to hear from a wide range of diverse voices from throughout Central Minnesota. This input will help the Museum understand what the community wants in a museum and how best to serve the Greater St. Cloud Area. There is great value in taking time to sit around a table and talk face-to-face about big ideas for improving a community, in this case, through the creation of a children’s museum.

If you would like to take part in either of these events, please make sure you have completed our survey. We have been collecting input over the last six months via this same survey. It has been circulating at events and on social media. If you have not yet completed it, we would like to hear your voice. At the end of the survey, there is an opportunity to express your interest in participating in roundtable discussions. Thank you for your input into the project!