Recent donations have catapulted Great River Children’s Museum more than halfway to its fundraising goal

New construction is within sight

Design rendering of the Headwaters exhibit sponsored by Cross Works Foundation

Recent donations have brought Great River Children’s Museum’s capital campaign efforts to more than $8.2 million, more than halfway to the campaign goal.

“We are beyond thrilled to reach this milestone,” said Cassie Miles, executive director of Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM). “Our next milestone is $10.5 million – which we hope to reach before year’s end – so we can begin construction.”

Recent donations include $2.5 million from Cross Works Foundation, $500,000 from an anonymous donor, $500,000 from Joyce and Tom Schlough, $250,000 from Dr. John and Joyce Matsuura, and $250,000 from Minnwest Bank.

GRCM currently is in the fundraising phase of museum development with a current campaign goal of $13.5 million. To date, more than 250 organizations and individuals have donated or pledged their financial support to bring the second largest children’s museum in Minnesota to our region. Coborn’s Family Foundation as well as Barbara and Rollie Anderson sponsored the museum’s first two core exhibits, Climber to the Clouds and Great Big River, each for $1 million.

At the same time, GRCM is working with three exhibit companies to finalize designs and begin fabricating core museum exhibits. Interior demolition of the museum’s 25,000-square-foot facility in downtown St. Cloud began in December 2021. More than 21 tons of demolition debris was recycled or salvaged as the museum gears up for the construction phase.

“Our volunteer team has been working tirelessly the past two years to bring necessary funds in the door,” Miles said. “The passion and enthusiasm for this project becomes more and more pronounced as we close in on the reality of starting construction. We are always looking for more volunteers to help us raise the additional funds.”

About Great River Children’s Museum

Learning together as we go

By Jane Ellison, GRCM board member and volunteer

Great River Children’s Museum offered a Play, Explore and Learn (PEL) Lab for Somali families on October 8 at our downtown building. This was a rich co-learning experience, where families learned about the children’s museum and children’s learning through play. GRCM volunteers listened to suggestions for the future museum and were able to field test a welcoming display of cultural fabrics, carvings, metalwork, and local artwork.

The PEL Lab offered activities one might find in the future exhibits, and efforts were made to integrate Somali materials, such as hijabs for the baby dolls and children’s books in English and Somali.

The program included time for parents and children to play together, storytelling, snack and play for children while parents learned about museum plans and gave input on ways to incorporate Somali culture into the Community Connections exhibit. The PEL Lab closed with a multi-cultural music performance by the Lullaby Singers for parents and children together. The singing experience was SO enjoyable – some children brought the baby dolls to hold on their laps while listening to the music and a few of the parents joined the performers in a fun sing-a-long.  Everyone left with smiles.  No wonder music is a universal language.

GRCM volunteers were impressed with the kindness and cooperation among the fifteen children from 8 mos. – 13 years. Older children included and helped younger children, independently creating an amazing bus big enough for all – with a door that opened and closed, and an awesome steering wheel.

We are continuing to learn from the wider community that has much to offer the museum with its talents, ideas, creativity, support and encouragement. Many thanks to the Cultural Navigators Anisa and Naima, video production team Mohamed (XIDIG TV) and Bashir (C.A.I.R.O.), volunteers, and the Lullaby Singers!

Improving Mental Health Through Play

Reviewed by Vincent Miles, PsyD LP; Jane Ellison, LMFT; Jill Amsberry, DO; Bruce Broman, MD; and Barbara Skodje-Mack, EdD, LMFT

The modern children’s museum is a place of wonder, a place of awe, a place of fun, and a place of playful learning. As a location separate from home and from school, this “third-space” creates an environment that is rich with the many childhood needs of healthy growth and development as well as a space for family and community to come together. One benefit of this unique environment is how it strengthens mental health and physical wellness by providing a space that is active, engaging, joyful, socially interactive, iterative and meaningful.1

While the primary effects are on the children who enter the doors, the secondary effects of these benefits can be traced to the family and back into the Central Minnesota community as a whole. The wellbeing of our next generation will undoubtedly reverberate in all of our lives.

In recent years childhood stressors have been increasing2 and with the effect of the pandemic a tremendous burden has been placed on children, families, and our healthcare systems. This is, in part, evidenced by the extended wait times and high numbers of children on waitlists for mental health services throughout our 12 county region. The importance of play is growing and community demand for healthy spaces for childhood development is at an all-time high.

The physical and mental health benefits of play are well documented.3 4 5 In addition to encouraging healthy physical development, Great River Children’s Museum will reinforce the long-term socio-emotional benefits provided by play-rich environments by: supporting healthy relationships, strengthening core life skills, reducing sources of toxic stress, fostering creativity, and developing mental flexibility, understanding, and acceptance.

1 Hirsh-Pasek, K., et al. (2020). A new path to education reform: playful learning promotes 21st century skills in school and beyond. Brookings Institute, Policy Brief. 2 Twenge, J. M., et al. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 185-199. 3 Yogman, M., et al. (2018) The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics, 142(3). 4 White, R. E. (2012). The power of play: A research summary on play and learning. Minnesota Children’s Museum. 5 MuseumNext (2022). The role of museums in supporting the wellbeing of children and families. Retrieved August 2022 from www.museumnext.com

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!

Not your everyday PLAY: Our adventures at ACM and AAM

Last week, museum staff ventured out to attend the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences as a way to connect with other museums and gain more insight about the ever-changing industry.

Program and Outreach Manager, Kylie headed off to St. Louis, Missouri for InterActivity 2022 ACM annual conference. This year’s theme, PLAY The Long Game, explored how to adjust to today’s dynamics, while also preparing for the future of serving the many generations of children and families ahead. It was held at the St. Louis Children’s Museum, also known as “The Magic House.” The conference included an emerging museums track, which was especially beneficial to us in our pre-construction state.

Kylie teamed up with Exhibit Designer, Betsy Loring, of expLoring exhibits & engagement and Game and Experience Designer, Greg Trefry, of Gigantic Mechanic to host a session on Role Play Games (RPG) in museum settings and how it can help to spark children’s creativity and encourage collaboration. Kylie shared ideas around how RPGs can expand programming for older children (and even adults!) in a children’s museum setting. Since there are many other benefits to RPGs like imaginative learning and communication skills, they can be adjusted to use for a variety of audiences. 

Executive Director, Cassie and Social Media Coordinator, Jessica attended the AAM annual MuseumExpo conference held in Boston this year. The focus was on organizational culture, innovation, museums in society, and financial wellness. Much like ACM, this convention is filled with museum professionals who have created solutions for some of the most challenging behind the scenes and public facing issues we face everyday on a much broader scale. 

Our very first session was held at the Boston Children’s Museum where we were tasked with designing a prototype exhibit themed around music and culture. The goal was to encourage connection and self-expression while keeping inclusion and accessibility at the forefront. This session was followed by some ‘research’ (aka playing) at the children’s museum and was a great way to start off the weekend! 

We were thrilled to attend an in-person (finally!) conference this year to hear stories and experiences from other museums. Here’s to a great year ahead and looking forward to attending, and maybe even presenting, again next year!

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!

Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of awesome

A picture containing indoor, room

Description automatically generated

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.