For many parents, it has been a year of saying “no” to their children — no in-person school, no playdates with friends, no visits to see grandparents or family. But despite pandemic setbacks, KidsQuest Children’s Museum offered families ways to maintain connections and find joy in learning through play.

As Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” During the pandemic, KidsQuest Children’s Museum has focused on being a helper, collaborating with libraries, school districts and social service agencies to enrich programs with playful activities that support mental health and education, and ensuring distribution to those who need services the most.

Why? Research shows that play is critical to the healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development of children. In times of crisis, play becomes essential for children to emotionally process challenging situations and continue to learn in changing circumstances. As KidsQuest President and CEO Putter Bert reminds us, “For children, play is a basic need, as important as food, clothing, or shelter.”

Water play offers tactile learning experiences for children of all ages.
Water play offers tactile learning experiences for children of all ages.

Play is a natural learning strategy, and parents can help suggest playful activities that are particularly meaningful as children emerge from the past year of virtual learning, social isolation and indoor confinement. “Getting children off screens and using real materials has always been important, but it’s critical now,” advises Jamie Bonnett, KidsQuest director of education. “Encourage children to create an invention with recycled materials of what they feel the world needs, and then have them tell you about it. Reconnect with distant friends and family members by helping children write and illustrate letters to send in the mail. Take a nature walk and try to find something for every letter of the alphabet … or take several walks over time and create a collection of objects, or a scrapbook of their illustrations and photographs.” 

This is what KidsQuest does best: hands-on, interactive learning with real stuff that serves as an antidote to children’s increasingly virtual world. A visit to the Museum, or a parent and child playing with new toys borrowed from the KidsQuest toy library, strengthens family bonds that may have begun to fray during social isolation.

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“Parents are a child’s first teacher,” Bonnett continues. “If there’s a positive outcome of the pandemic, it’s that many adults have been thrown into intergenerational learning as they’ve spent more time with their children at home, and in many cases have facilitated online learning. This can be very stressful initially, but as children play to learn, adults can learn to play. Use laundry day as a sorting activity; cook together to learn fractions and measurements; pick up toys by color or shape, and suddenly the whole room is clean!”

Anne, from a retirement home near KidsQuest, works alongside a KidsQuest educator prior to the pandemic.
Anne, from a retirement home near KidsQuest, works alongside a KidsQuest educator prior to the pandemic.

And let’s face it, while it’s essential for children to play and learn, parents need a little joy these days, too. At KidsQuest, activities like the wind tube open up new experiences for young and old alike. One father was heard to say, “I don’t know where the kids went, I was having so much fun!” Even the neighboring community benefits when children are at play. A KidsQuest neighbor shares their delight: “I’m 82 and I get my hair cut across the street from you. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the happy ‘little voices’ until I walked by your parking lot. “

The pandemic hit KidsQuest hard: 11 months of required closure, a devastating loss of earned revenue, and a 75% staffing reduction. The Museum overcame these challenges and continued to serve the community through education resource kits, online learning and after-school activities.

Contributions are essential to help remove the barriers families may face in accessing the KidsQuest experience — and to reach the families who may not even be aware of the Museum as an educational resource. KidsQuest is grateful for your investment, because even behind masks, the smiles shine through!

KidsQuest Children’s Museum creates learning through the power of play and exploration that connects children to their communities and the world. Make reservations to visit and learn more about their access programs at www.kidsquestmuseum.org