The long-term goal (and third phase) of the organization is to build a permanent, brick and mortar children’s museum in Clark County
For Clark County Today
With the closure of the Portland Children’s Museum, there is now a 175-mile span – from Olympia down to Salem, Oregon – without a children’s museum. This little-known fact was pointed out by Jeanne Bennett, the board chair for the Columbia Play Project (CPP), who is seeking to remedy that deficit.
“There are seven cities in the state of Washington,” she said, “who are smaller than Vancouver but have their own children’s museums.”
The CPP was officially started in October of 2020 after a nine-month delay due to the pandemic. The long-term goal (and third phase) of the organization is to build a permanent, brick and mortar children’s museum in Clark County, but, Bennett said, COVID put those intentions on hold as well.
“Even the playgrounds were closed during the pandemic!” she said. “We realized that the need for exploratory play was immediate, and so we started our Mobile Museum.”
The Mobile Museum is phase two of the CPP, which consists of a van and trailer filled with equipment, art materials, and toys that can be loaded up and brought to a park, a business, or anywhere with enough space to allow children to gather and play in what the group calls a Pop Up Party. This was made possible by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, who generously donated $150,000 to the organization, and the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, who awarded them a grant for their cause. These pop-up parties can host up to 500 children in one day and have been to several locations all over Clark County since they started.
Phase one of the CPP is the play kits they offer. The kits include six wooden creatures with fun and imagination-inspiring names, such as Doug the Slug and Bess the Beaver, a 100-page book featuring the creatures, colored pencils, stickers, and a canvas backpack. The book encourages children to engage with others, discusses the ecosystem – specifically for the area of the Columbia River – and adds in elements of science. Part of the book encourages kids and parents to participate in a “noticing parade,” which is where they venture outside and look around.
“The world is fascinating,” Bennett said, “and kids constantly absorb it. Sometimes adults forget to look around, and this is a wonderful opportunity for them to observe things together.” To date, there have been 175 kits sold, of which 80 percent have been purchased for donation to charity groups such as the Boys and Girls Club.
The theme of the CPP is STREAM, which is both illustrative of the Columbia River, which flows through our community and demonstrative of the many categories in which the CPP hope to help develop in children. The theme was ushered in by board member Amelia Shelley, who is also the director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library. The STREAM learning method includes science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math. Bennett said, “Amelia noticed that we were missing an important piece of childhood development when we were choosing to focus on STEAM, and that is of course reading. We are happy with our theme because it provides a holistic and cumulative approach to learning.”
This summer, the CPP will be seen at various community events in Clark County, including the Four Days of Aloha Celebration, Healthy Kid Day, and Fridays in July and August in Camas. On June 24, the CPP will be hosting an event called the Day of the Child at the Vancouver Waterfront. Additionally, several events will be held monthly at the Kiggins Theater in Vancouver in a series titled Wiggles and Giggles.
“These events are great,” Bennett said, “because these little kids get to stand up and wiggle, and they giggle! They hear jokes, they learn science, they are amazed by magic and singing along with music. By doing these things, they’re creating neural pathways in their brains that lay the architecture for future learning. It floods their little bodies with positive hormones and helps them become happier, more content, and better behaved. The more they’re exposed to things like this, the better.”
Bennett said that this type of environment can help children become more capable of learning. She said it goes hand in hand with formal education where kids learn to be good citizens, function properly in today’s world, and help develop their brains. It can help kids be more successful in life, she said, which also positively impacts the community as a whole.
CPP is looking for supporters, whether one-time or long-term donors. They also are in need of companies to sponsor them and nonprofits with whom they can partner. Readers may learn more about the organization at www.columbiaplayproject.org.
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