It's hard to imagine that just 15 years ago, our Children's Museum opened its doors in a small, 900-square foot room in an Oak Lawn Park District building. Three years after we opened, I was hired with the goal of moving the museum from that small facility to a new, nearly 12,000 square foot space.
Our origin story begins, however, prior to opening our doors in 2003. It begins in the late 1990's with a mom, Carol Marsh, who had an idea: to have a Children's Museum in Oak Lawn. She began talking with people and soon, had recruited a volunteer Board of Directors consisting of business professionals and educators. Carol recruited the right people at the right time and a few of those original board members are still on our Board of Directors 15 years later.
In 2004, Mayor Ernie Kolb approached our little nonprofit Children's Museum's Board of Directors and suggested we needed a bigger space, a space that would be available in a new development going in on 95th Street. In 2006, I was hired as the organization's second Executive Director. It was at that time that a capital campaign was started to prepare for our move. We'd need a lot more exhibits and experiences moving from 900 square feet of space to 12,000 square feet and that was going to take money. We brought in educators to help us insure that our exhibits had educational value and we recruited volunteers to assist us in the fundraising.
We signed the lease with the Village of Oak Lawn on the new space in 2007 and on July 27, 2009, we opened our doors at 5100 Museum Drive. A lot has happened since then:
- In 2013, our museum brought forth a community discussion around the idea of the over-scheduled child which included panelists from Governor's State University and Oak Lawn Community High School.
- In 2015, we created a formalized Education Advisory Board. This group largest project included going through the museum exhibit by exhibit to analyze the following:
- How each exhibit aligned with the current learning standards.
- How each exhibit, with a change or addition, could align with current learning standards.
- Offer suggestions on how children and parents could interact at each exhibit to help teachers in the classroom.
- In 2016, we partnered with the Chicago Community Trust to hold our first "On the Table" discussion, inviting key educational partners to the museum for a discussion about the importance of play when it comes to learning. This lead to a grant where we were able to put on a parent workshop.
- In 2017, the Museum was asked to participate in the Children's Museum Research Network by being interviewed for the research and this year we will continue that participation as a site for some of their observation work. More information on that research work can be found here.
- Recently, our Board of Directors formed a subcommittee to begin the process of developing a learning framework for the museum in partnership with St. Xavier University.
If you ever would like to get involved with our organization through volunteering or making a donation, reach out to me. We are always looking for people who want to support our mission: to positively impact a child's potential in life through play-based education.
Yours in play,