Yes Play

These Local Working Moms Are Bringing a New Children's Museum to Life

Currently a pop-up bringing hands-on learning and play to kids 0 to 12, the Sarasota Children's Museum founders are looking for a dedicated space to house their concept.

By Kim Doleatto February 6, 2024

Sarasota Children's Museum inaugural pop-up event at The Bay Park last month.

Sarasota, often referred to as Florida’s cultural coast, packs a plethora of performances, galleries and more for adults to choose from year-round. But for kids, that’s less often the case. 

Often at or near the top of the Best Place to Retire lists, more young families are calling our area home these days—and those parents want to expand the area’s cultural footprint with their families in mind, especially since Sarasota has lacked a dedicated children’s museum or immersive educational space since the closure of the Gulf Coast World of Science (GWIZ) in 2012.

Enter: the Sarasota’s Children’s Museum. The new nonprofit, formed in November, is currently a pop-up as it seeks to find its forever home. Inspired by Emma Lewis’ book The Museum of Me, the museum's first event, which took place in January, was a hit. Named after the book title, it was held at The Bay Park by the Ibis Playground. Children heard a reading of Lewis' book and were able to play in and around a collection of objects—including cardboard tunnels—arranged around the playground.

Asya Stuart, a Sarasota Children’s Museum co-founding member and mother of three, moved here from Hong Kong two years ago. Along with a cadre of other local moms, she's also a member of the museum's board. Some of her fellow board members have lived here for 20 years, others have foster kids, and others have children with autism or sensory needs. “We all bring different perspectives, which is so valuable as we’re designing programming,” Stuart says.

Founding members are local working moms.

When she moved here, Stuart struggled to find things to do with her kids, aged 5, 4 and 1. “There aren’t a lot of things to do to include a range of activities for different ages, especially from 0 to 2," she says. "Many families have different-aged kids. You have to provide that piece."

At the Sarasota Children's Museum, those activities vary from crafting a town made of cardboard to encouraging movement. Stuart describes it all as hands-on and immersive.

A cardboard display is among one of the projects the Sarasota Children's Museum aims to spearhead locally.

Contrary to many museum experiences, kids are encouraged to touch and explore. “Our programming is open-ended and allows kids to push, pull, press, crawl and climb," Stuart says. "We're always busy saying 'Don't touch that!' and restricting them. This is our 'yes' space."

"Kids learn through touch and manipulation," she continues. "They physically need to feel, experiment and try things in a space where they're not bonded to a desk or rules."

The museum also reflects the breadth of its board members' experiences and lifestyles. Kate Harris, for example, is a former Montessori teacher and school founder from Atlanta. Before she moved here from Hong Kong, Stuart worked at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, Russia, where she organized children's programming. She and museum co-founder Christina "CC" Fredericks, a mother of four with a degree in early childhood development, say they were driven by the belief that every child deserves access to hands-on learning experiences. "Forming a dedicated board is a collective commitment to ensure they can," Fredericks says. 

A little girl at the Sarasota Children's Museum inaugural event.

The museum may be new, but it's already humming with what's on the horizon. It's currently working on a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom exhibit to make children feel like they're inside the children's board book. It will be part of the 15-day Suncoast Remake Learning Days festival in April and May, and is collaborating with other local nonprofits, like Forty Carrots and Parenting Matters, to include music and bilingual programming. It’s bringing Start With Art, a series of classes about contemporary art, to Sarasota County Libraries' catalog of free programming. It's also collaborating with Ringling College of Art and Design on a summer exhibit at Makerspace, and graphic design students at Ringling are designing the museum's logo and visual assets. 

As for the museum's forever address, they say the wish list includes lots of outdoor space, easy parking and being closer to I-75 to allow families in nearby communities easy access.

"For me, it's not even about whether you have kids. If you care about the future of your community, its leaders, volunteers and donors, this is part of creating a first entry point to becoming familiar with a museum environment that serves as an educational and community hub. It also helps make this a family tourist destination," Stuart says.

Adds museum co-founder Fredericks, "We believe fostering curiosity and creativity in childhood lays the foundation for a brighter, more vibrant future for all.” 

Click here to stay updated on the Sarasota Children's Museum and learn more.

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