Collette Michaud, founder and CEO of the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, believes low-tech learning is on the rise.
"I believe in the importance of 'real-time' interactive hands-on learning versus simulated interactivity," she says. "Kids nowadays get plenty of exposure to computers and technology. What seems harder is getting them to spend time outside just getting their hands dirty in the mud."
One day, while visiting the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito with her sons, Michaud was surprised to learn there was nothing comparable in Sonoma County. Inspired by the museums of her childhood, and with the help of local leaders and community businesses, she founded the Children's Museum of Sonoma County (CMOSC).
The CMOSC operates a popular traveling van called Museum-on-the-Go that appears at community events around Sonoma County. But the museum entered a growth phase late last year by leasing a site next to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. Expected to serve 50,000 visitors by the end of 2014, the 5,400-square-foot building on 4.2 acres of property will provide indoor and outdoor museum features.
"The exhibits and experiences that are offered at a Museum-on-the-Go event support whole-body learning through play—generating electricity with your own body, discovering the power of magnetism, investigating polymers, making art paper from old newspaper and creating sculptures with cornstarch packing peanuts while learning about decomposition," says Theresa Giacomino, director of programs and education. Of the new location, Giacomino adds that "having a permanent site will allow visitors a safe and happy place to explore through play."
Mary's Garden, an outdoor play area and garden, will educate children on how to be good environmental stewards. The Toddler Gallery, for children under three, will offer an environment that encourages exploration and stimulation of all five senses. The Science Gallery will focus on hands-on discovery, and Ella's Art Room will inspire creativity through artistic exploration.
Museum founder Michaud worked as a designer and artist of educational computer games for 20 years. In 2001, Michaud left the software industry to raise her two sons, Russell and Ian, with her husband, Steve Purcell, a writer-director at Pixar Studios.
After six years of operating the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, Michaud is thrilled at the prospect of a permanent home near the Schulz Museum.
"While there are many cultural and educational opportunities in our community, a year-round affordable venue that is developmentally geared toward the cultural enrichment needs of all children under the age of 10 does not exist yet in Sonoma County," says Michaud. "My hope is that the Children's Museum will help better prepare children for learning and give them confidence to become strong, independent, creative and productive adult citizens."