Article & Photos By: Emily Hajec
In 2015, the Chico Children’s Museum was simply an idea: a hopeful and valiant vision to bring something magical to Downtown Chico. It was the brainchild of philanthropist and museum founder, Dana Leslie. The mission? To dedicate a place for families that would be devoted entirely to learning and connecting through play.
Fast forward four years, and—with the tireless and dedicated efforts of the CCM Board of Directors, community volunteers, and the support from donors—the Chico Children’s Museum successfully opened its doors to the public during their soft opening phase in January 2019.
What exactly is a “children’s museum?” Hear the word museum and it may conjure thoughts of priceless art on display while silent on-lookers admire each piece from a respectable distance; whilst small placards reading, “Please do not touch” are attached to each one of the exhibits. So, at face value and first glance, perhaps there is a bit of juxtaposition (and irony) in the title, “Children’s Museum.”
In Greek Mythology, the word museum—in part—literally means: a building devoted to learning and arts. That is exactly what a children’s museum is all about. More so, the Chico Children’s Museum is devoted to learning on all levels: socially, academically, emotionally, imaginatively, and developmentally. And not just for the kids—it is a place where parents, too, can connect with their children, and engage through play and pretend.
The CCM Executive Director, Leslie Amani, believes strongly in the mission of the museum, and the power of play. “We see the museum as a gathering place for joy—a place where grown-up and child interaction is nurtured through engagement and imagination.”
In a current culture where cell phone use and screen time is creating an alarming disconnect, one of the museum’s goals is to encourage and foster open-ended questions between parent and child. Take an ordinary object and simply observe it in a new way through exploration and imagination. And this philosophy is partly why—on the CCM website and facility rules—it is asked that cell phone use be discontinued, or limited, while visiting the museum so as not to inhibit being present and engaged with your child. Just as with any museum, the space is for learning and discovery. “We not only want the children to play and discover, we want the grown-ups to do so as well,” says Amani, “to watch the joy of your child as his or her curiosity peaks.” Which is, in part, what makes this museum such a unique place for families. Unlike other play areas you might visit, the museum requires parents to stay with their child for the duration of the visit and not simply “drop off.”
In addition to creating a place of genuine family interaction, the Chico Children’s Museum is also nurturing the revitalization of the Downtown Chico business community. Amani, however, put an interesting spin on the concept: “Places aren’t what revitalize. People are what revitalize.” She stresses the importance of engaging in the community in order for these places to develop and thrive. “We don’t want to lose sight of what makes Chico such a wonderful community,” she says. And it is so true. The hope is that the museum will encourage people not to retreat from the downtown area, but instead connect with it. Amani’s hope is that the museum will inspire families to nurture and enjoy the shops and businesses surrounding the museum—to spend a wonderful morning or afternoon exploring the museum, and then rediscover the shops and restaurants surrounding City Plaza and the Chico State campus.
In the upcoming months, there is much planned for the Chico Children’s Museum. Scheduled field trips for local schools will begin in Fall 2019. Additionally, the museum plans to host space for birthday celebrations and corporate events; literacy and exhibit events; and parent education classes are just a few of the future ideas that both the Executive Director and Board of Directors have suggested for this year’s goals.
Just as with any non-profit organization, the Chico Children’s Museum stays operational with the support from the community and donors. To find out how you or your business can help through volunteer work, exhibit sponsorship, and/or donation, please visit www.chicochildrensmuseum.org for more information, or call 530-809-1492.