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Children’s Museum offers innovative childcare at The Muse

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Since its inception in 1986, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma has been striving to fulfill its mission statement, “to champion children and honor play.” This is the first private, non-profit children’s museum in the nation to offer Pay As You Will admission, sponsored by KeyBank, and the museum’s free outreach program, Play to Learn, has 14 sites for children under six to enjoy, regardless of economic limitations.

Starting Feb. 8, the Children’s Museum will be expanding its impressive repertoire even further with the addition of a new licensed childcare facility The Muse: A Children’s Center. The program was developed in partnership with the University of Washington Tacoma in order to address the need for quality child care in the downtown Tacoma area, and to create a childcare model for the community that demonstrates inspired environments and child-centered learning philosophies. The facility, which can take in between 68 and 74 children aged 12 months to five years, will give priority to UWT faculty, students and staff, but enrollment is still open.

There are only two other Children’s Museums in the country that offer a children’s childcare center, meaning that the addition here locally is another innovative step for the Tacoma museum. The center is located in the lower level of the United Way Building at 1501 Pacific Ave., where the Children’s Museum is also housed. It was designed by local BCRA architects to follow the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of childcare. “We wanted the space to be an inspiration for children, to inspire them toward creativity and exploration,” said Children’s Museum Deputy Director Brenda Morrison.

Every parent will have their own security code for the entrance to the space, which opens to a dining area. For both breakfast and lunch a chef will serve a variety of fresh, nutritious options. Parents are welcome to stay and eat breakfast as well, which will be served on real dishware. “There’s no plastic,” said Morrison, “I don’t think we need it.” In addition, there are plans to set up a garden in the outdoor play space so that in the future the children could be eating what they grow. This is all part of the larger effort to make sure the children feel that they’re contributing to their learning experience.

The facility has two toddler rooms, each with a capacity of 14 children, as well as two pre-school classes with 20 children each. These classes will each be supervised by two main teachers, as well as other staff, all of whom have plenty of experience and at least a bachelor’s degree. The director of the program, Christina Aubel, has a BA in visual art, a Master’s in early childhood curriculum and instruction, as well as 30 years experience. Other staff members have a variety of backgrounds, including a professional artist, a former yoga instructor and an ESL teacher, which is just one of the reasons The Muse is such a unique program. It plans to offer collaborative art among the children to help build a sense of community, using high quality art supplies such as clay – a far cry from the macaroni necklaces most people remember from when they were young.

The Children’s Museum space will also be utilized, though it is not currently clear how often. The museum is closed to the public on Tuesdays and though the mornings are blocked out for use by children with special needs, there is a block of space in the afternoon where The Muse may be able to have a private play time. All Muse families are also Museum members, so they will be welcome to drop by any other time during the week as well. Then there’s the outdoor play space, which will include a mud kitchen and array of donated sculptures.

“We’ll go outside twice a day, every day, rain or shine,” said Morrison. For the little ones, that will mean there will be no shortage of play time.

As The Muse is a licensed childcare center, there will be a curriculum for the pre-school children. Organized learning time will happen several times a day, but The Muse also plans to incorporate plenty of instances of self-guided exploration for the children, guiding them as they learn independently from their environment.

“We want children to feel capable and contributing,” said Morrison. “We aspire for them to be creative and loved.” Certainly, The Muse seems to be a place where this is possible.

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