Children’s Museum exhibit has been a hit in Elk River

by Jim Boyle

Storyland, a hands-on learning lab created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum with plans for six stops across Minnesota over two years, has been a hit during its stint in Elk River.

There were 720 visitors who chose to sign in during the first month alone  of the “Trip Through Childhood Favorites,” according to Nicole Huntley, the chair of the Elk River Area Early Childhood Coalition that helped bring a slice of the museum to the Handke Family Center.

And that does not include all the repeat visitors.

The whole family can travel into the three popular stories of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “Where’s Spot?” and “The Snowy Day in Storyland: A Trip Through Childhood Favorites.”

There have been big groups, like the time a group of pre-schoolers from the Tri-Valley Migrant Head Start Program turned out, or when a day care sets aside time. Many of the visitors have been moms and dads down the street or across town who bring their little ones. Others have come from as far away as St. Francis, St. Cloud, Monticello, Rogers and Zimmerman.

“Grand Rapids, too,” jokes Ann Hove, a member of the coalition and a regular volunteer in early childhood classrooms who brought her grandchildren in one day.

She has been one of the volunteers to give her time to the exhibit, which is staffed entirely by local folks. Most of the volunteers have come from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program or the Minnesota Reading Corps. There have also been some National Honor Society members.

“It has been a really fun experience so far,” Hove said. “The children really seem to enjoy the sound of their feet crunching when the walk across the bridge and pushing the buttons to hear words spoken in two different languages.”

What the kids see as play time is serious business of early literacy. Research shows that children get ready to read years before they start school. Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write.

What children and parents take away from the exhibit varies, according to volunteers, but many appear to have new insights on how to work on  early literacy skills to help their children become good readers.

“Literacy is a progression,” Huntley said. “It’s an everyday activity, not just when you’re sitting down reading. There’s all sorts of opportunities for parents and children to interact.”

Liz Blake, a volunteer tutor for ECFE through the Minnesota Reading Corps, says it’s exciting to see families come through.

“Each family has a different experience, but it’s great to engage parents in what’s important for early literacy,” Blake said.

“Many have commented on how great it is to have this (the Children’s Museum quality exhibit) here,” Huntley said. “And it doesn’t hurt that it’s free.”

The exhibit is just one feather in the cap of the Elk River Area Early Childhood Coalition. It also held a Speak Out to focus its energies and has plans for a luncheon with keynote speaker Al Quie.

District 728 Community Education and Early Childhood Family Education are coalition partners. The exhibit runs through Jan. 22.

Exhibit hours are:
•9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday
•1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Friday
•5 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday
•11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays

Groups of eight or more are asked to call 612-644-6519 to arrange a visit.