BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– The Children’s Museum of South Dakota is opening it’s doors to indoor visitors beginning on June 15, with limited capacity.
The museum closed in mid-March 2020, after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and since then have only had their outdoor exhibits available to the public.
Kate Treiber, Executive Director of the museum said they are very excited to re-open after being closed for such a long period of time.
The museum offers a variety of experiences for all ages; “we are never too old to play,” Treiber said. Their exhibits range from a cloud climber for kids to climb up, a farm to table experience, a splash zone and everything in between.
“We always served as a resource in this community and this region for play and learning,” Treiber said. “Last year, that looked really different. We are just so excited to get back to families and children coming back into our spaces.”
Play and connection are needed, now more than ever, Treiber said.
“That’s what our environment allows,” Treiber said. “It allows those families to come back and play and connect and be together.”
The museum decided that now was the time to re-open, after looking at the health and safety of the community, Treiber said, which has been their top priority. They watched the COVID-19 numbers get lower and the vaccine rates get higher.
“Finding a place that we can open with as little risk as we can, for our littlest guests that we have,” Treiber said. “We want to be as safe and healthy of an environment as we can for that, so we feel like this is a good time, opening with limited capacity will allow a lot of space for families to come and interact and still be able to physical distance and have a meaningful experience.”
The children’s museum has always been a place for children, Treiber said, and over the last 15 months, the museum has been very quiet.
“Hearing the hustle and bustle of dancing and climbing and splashing and creating and most important, laughing, is what we are most excited about,” Treiber said.
The kids are very excited to return to indoor play, Treiber said.
“Recently, one of our youngest members, a seven-year-old, told me as she was planning her first trip to the museum, that she could not wait, she said ‘look out, I’m gonna run down Kid Street and right into the art studio to create something,'” Treiber said. “And then her little sister said, ‘not me, I’m going to go and tune up the car’. So, hearing those play itineraries, from our littlest guests as they are planning their first trip to the museum just fills us up.”
Kristi Donelan was enjoying the outdoor exhibit today with her son at the museum, and is excited for the indoor exhibits to reopen.
“My oldest is sixteen and my youngest is seven…we have been coming here for about ten years and it’s just been like another extension…just another part out in the community that really appreciates play and open-ended play,” Donelan said. “We have at our house tons of toys and then this is just another part of our house where we can get together with other kids and enjoy more group play and stuff like that.”
The museum has been a nice way to connect with other families in the community and get to know people, Donlan said.
In a normal year, the annual average of visitors at the museum is about 102,000-104,000 people, Treiber said. Typically, in a summer they can have 300-400 visitors a day. However, the capacity will be limited to about 10%.
During the pandemic, the indoor exhibits where closed, but in July 2020, they were able to reopen their outdoor space and remained open all fall and winter.
Charles Stuart, Guest Experience Manager at the museum, said that working at the museum during the pandemic has ‘definitely been unique’.
“But, we have found ways to be innovative, to make the most of the experience bringing the museum to our guests, to kids in schools with virtual learning, we’ve done a lot of outreach,” Stuart said. “So while it’s not exactly my normal job function, we’ve still been able to bring play and creativity and discovery to children outside of these walls.”
They have been doing a lot of inventory and cleaning their exhibits to get the museum as fresh and clean as possible before the reopening, Stuart said.
“I’m excited to see play and creativity again inside the museum,” Stuart said. “To watch kids experience the exhibits, play with our loose parts in creative ways, that’s what’s so special about this museum is that it’s open-ended play. There is no right way or wrong way to play and every child has a unique experience.”
It doesn’t matter what age, background, or abilities a child may have, everybody can have an enjoyable experience in the museum, Stuart said. Kids come multiple times and play differently each time.
“As adults, we see the exhibits and have an idea in our head about how they should be used or how we would play in those exhibits, and I love seeing the creative and unique ways kids use those exhibit things that I wouldn’t have ever thought of,” Stuart said.
Since opening ten years ago, they have re-imagined three to four exhibits, Treiber said, and they are constantly looking at their exhibits and seeing if there are things they can update.
“We watch how children and adults interact in the exhibits and how that interaction looks and if we don’t make a major change to an exhibit, we might change some of the loose parts or do some more minor changes in that,” Treiber said. “The beautiful thing about the children’s museum is our exhibits are all connected, our loose parts travel. So, children can bring different toys and props into different areas and still create their own unique play experience.”
When people are looking for fun family activities to do in Brookings, the children’s museum is often at the top of their list, said Laura Schoen Carbonneau, Executive Director of Visit Brookings.
“We are very excited for the re-opening of the museum and we encourage families to come for a few hours or a few days,” Schoen Carbonneau said.
Schoen Carbonneau said they expect leisure travel to rebound over the summer in the city and they know that the museum will draw in visitors.
The hands-on approach makes the museum unique to compared to other attractions in Brookings, she said.
“Kids just love it and parents love it,” Schoen Carbonneau said. “Parents will play with their kids and feel like a kid again…in addition to that, it’s clean, it’s safe.”
The parents who are bringing their kids may have come at a younger age, Schoen Carbonneau said, and can re-live some of those younger memories.
Museum hours will be 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The museum does recommend making reservations online, since with the reduced capacity that will guarantee you a spot, but they will except walk-ins as space allows.