25 Years of Learning

The Children's Museum Tucson is turning 25—and there is certainly a lot to celebrate.

"Silver is a big deal," said Peggy Solís, community relations and marketing director at the museum.

The folks at the museum are throwing a big block party on Saturday, March 19. There will be a rock wall, a jumping castle, a mini-train, stilt walkers, jugglers, hula-hoopers, balloon animals, face-painting and so on. Of course, there's everything inside the museum to explore, too.

Solís and her colleague, Brooke Sanders-Silverman, the museum's director of education, think the event could be a great opportunity for families. "There's not always a lot to do as a family," said Sanders-Silverman, "so it feels good to have your children come and participate in a cultural event (like this)."

Reaching the 25th anniversary has led to a lot of reflecting for people involved with the museum. The museum was started in 1986 by a group of passionate local educators who wanted to provide a space for kids to learn outside of a classroom environment. One of those founding members, Evelyn Carswell-Bing, now 92, is still involved with the museum as an honorary board member.

A retired teacher, professor and principal, Carswell-Bing was inspired when she realized something about the state of education: "(There was) more and more pressure for kids to be less and less childlike," she said. She wanted to create a space where kids could learn and have fun simultaneously.

Carswell-Bing firmly believes in the importance of out-of-classroom learning. The museum offers a wide variety of things to learn about, she said, and this variety is important to kids, because it allows them to choose what they want to learn about. "When I choose to learn something, I do better at it," said Carswell-Bing.

Carswell-Bing has been able to watch the museum grow and change over 2 ½ decades. The museum started out in a tiny, one-room building over at Fort Lowell Park. From there, it moved to other locations before ultimately ending up on Sixth Avenue, in the Carnegie Library Building. The museum has been operating from there for 20 years now.

More recently, Solís and Sanders-Silverman said, the museum has been growing in "leaps and bounds," with more daily exhibits, more sponsorships and increases in attendance. The museum now has nine regular exhibits and tons of monthly events.

About two weeks ago, the museum staff was notified that the Children's Museum Tucson would be one of the 2011 recipients of a grant from the Angel Charity for Children. The $236,500—coming at a time when government funding for education is being slashed—will go toward Investigation Station, "a new hands-on, interactive exhibit that is focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics," according to the Angel Charity website. All three women agree that the new exhibit will help the museum become even more important to the community. According to Solís and Sanders-Silverman, some of the money may be used to revamp the dinosaur exhibit as well.

"You see kids leaving every day, crying, because they don't want to leave," said Sanders-Silverman. "When you say you work at the Children's Museum, you get an instant smile from people."

It's clear that there's something special about the Children's Museum Tucson, and Carswell-Bing is positive that the museum is not going anywhere.

"I've been so pleased with the way it's grown," she said. "Just walking in there and watching the kids have a good time. ... Hey, it's not all about money. Just learn, love and have fun."

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