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Be a Bee Keeper or a Bean Counter At New Hands-On Children's Museum

The Sound
by Amy J. Barry
August 2, 2001
Imagine walking inside the great, green room in the beloved children's book "Goodnight Moon" - complete with the famous "comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush," and being able to lie down on the bed and, look out on a moonlit ski, play by the fireplace, or open a cabinet filled with clocks and wind them all up.

Kids can do just that at the Connecticut Children's Museum, which opened this past February in New Haven and has already had close to 8,000 visitors.

An ingenious, interactive, hands-on museum for ages three to 10, kids can also play steel drums and compose music on a magnetic wall In the "Musical Room," become bean counters, donning green visors at a kidney bean-shaped table in the "Logical- Mathematical Room," design buildings with architectural blocks in the “Spatial Room,” dress-up as bees and butterflies and watch thousands of Spring-arriving honey bees in a real observation hive in the "Naturalist Room."

You get the picture.

The literacy and arts-based museum consists of eight thematic and community-inspired rooms.

"We held six community meetings, starting last February, for people to come up with inspirational ideas, and then a committee fashioned them into the rooms,” explains museum director Sandy Malmquist, who holds a bachelor's degree in child development and anthropology.

"The rooms are all multi-layered for kids to get beyond the surface and really explore things,” she stresses. “It’s based on Harvard psychologist Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences theory that people learn about the world in different ways. We provide multiple opportunities for kids to learn."

Each room has a work station where children can make something to take home and a reading corner filled with books that enrich the exhibit. In addition, The Creating Readers literacy project (funded by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven) ensures that each child who visits leaves with a book in either English, Spanish or Braille.

“We have a lot of programming for kids with special needs,” Malmquist says, pointing out the sign language and Braille learning aides throughout the halls and rooms.

The beautifully designed museum is further enhanced by colorful murals - many depicting local scenes.

Malmquist explains, "We wanted artwork representative of children's art, and so we created a

'Making Murals’ program in which 124 children’s drawings were painted by 14 professional muralists.”

The museum is located in the Children’s Building on the corner of Orange and Wall Streets. The renovation was completed with a loan from New Haven Savings Bank, donations from local businesses, and a grant from the city. SBC/SNET funded all the phone lines.

“ A lot of funding comes through teacher in-services and field trips.” Malmquist explains. “Branford and Guilford schools have already had field trips here. And it’s a very popular destination for Shoreline families. About two-thirds of our visitors come from outside of New Haven – a huge percentage of which is from the Shoreline.”

Malmquist points out that an average visit is between two and four hours, and many families are regulars, visiting every week or so because there is so much to see and do.

"We're completely thrilled," she says. “I don’t think we even realized what a need there was for this. My delight has been how quickly parents take the exhibits and use them as fun and educational earning activities with their kids. It's like you’ve given them a whole set of tools. Parents and educators use the exhibits as much as the kids. They realize play is learning."

Malmquist is very happy with the way the museum has come together, but she never believed the project wouldn’t work out. She says her parents, Madison residents Lois and Dutch Heilman, instilled the belief in her as a child that anything was attainable.

"My dad was a baker, and my mom was a seamstress," she says. "If I wanted a tree house, my dad would say, 'Okay, let’s go out and build one.' I think about them everyday."