By THERESA WINSLOW
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Story Time at the Chesapeake Children’s Museum this month featured a book, “Inch by Inch,” about an intrepid inchworm.
The museum’s founder, Dr. Deborah Wood, read the tale and passed out rulers so children could measure different things.
The book was apropos for more than its entertainment and educational value. In a sense, the museum itself came together inch by inch, as Wood lined up volunteers, donations and venues.
As she prepares to celebrate the CCM’s 20th anniversary this summer, Wood and others looked back at its humble beginnings and reflected on its importance to local families.
The museum opened at its present location, 25 Silopanna Road in Annapolis, in fall 2002. Prior to this, it was an itinerant museum, with short stints inside schools and at shopping centers. The initial meeting about CCM was held June 28, 1992. The museum’s birthday party will be held on July 22, although half-price admission will be offered on June 28.
“It seems like yesterday, last week maybe,” Wood said. “I was pretty sure it would happen. It was something that had to be.”
Others weren’t quite as sure, though they recognized the need for the museum, too.
Mel Wilkins of the Spa Creek Conservancy remembers when he first laid eyes on the Silopanna building, the former site of WYRE. “It looked like it was left over from World War II,” he said.
But he worked on the exterior and the grounds, and many others contributed to make it a bright and cheerful place to bring children. “Piece by piece, volunteer by volunteer, it (became) a safe and useable space,” Wilkins said.
The CCM is filled with interactive attractions, from a toy boat and dress-up room to lots of live animals in tanks and information about a host of subjects. The grounds offer nature and Underground Railroad trails.
The one thing you won’t find are computers — and that’s on purpose.
Wood, a child development specialist, wants children to experience more hands-on, open-ended play.
“In today’s world, there are very few settings in which children can be children,” she said. “We’re trying to make them scholars, athletes and musicians and not letting them be children.”
Added CCM board member Anastasia Trent: “Children’s work is their play.”
She got involved with the museum shortly after moving to the area in January. She’d been to many other children’s museums and realized their importance.
“It’s a place for children to explore,” she said. “It’s a fun place for kids to learn.”
Wood got the idea for the museum after a visit to the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., with her children. The museum is now called the National Children’s Museum.
“I decided this is something every family should do — it should be in every community,” Wood said.
Several years passed, though, before she took action. She was busy raising her children and earning graduate degrees. When she had finally had time, she placed ads seeking people interested in creating a local museum. About 20 people initially responded, and the group started to plan events to spread the word.
Two years and 20 events later, the group secured its first space at Odenton Elementary School. They used five classrooms during summer vacation. From there, the museum moved to the Festival at Riva. It remained there for 5 1/2 years before moving to the Eastport Shopping Center, then Eastport Elementary School.
“This museum has struggled, (but) it gives so much to the community,” said Brigitte Dubois, secretary of the museum’s board. “It’s a place where children of all backgrounds come together.”
The Eastport Elementary location was only for the summer of 2000. After finding the WYRE space, it took two years before city government signed off on the project, funding was secured and the building was ready for occupancy.
“I don’t take no for an answer,” said Wood, now a grandmother. “This is one of my personality quirks. I see things through children’s eyes. You always believe in possibilities. Children are optimists.”
Her viewpoint helped her decide what exhibits to put in the museum, but she was also careful to consult plenty of children. She didn’t want the CCM to be “just what grown-ups think kids like.”
In coming months, she’ll supervise an expansion which will add more classroom space in the basement by knocking down a wall and utilizing an unfinished storage area. “Schools often want to send 120 children at a time, and there’s no space,” she said.
She spoke after working with a children’s group enthralled by the museum’s activities.
“It’s very satisfying for me to know that an essential part of childhood, having a connection to nature and being creative, we can provide that.”
Perhaps Rachelle Tannenbaum, an associate professor of psychology at Anne Arundel Community College, summed up the appeal of the museum best.
She visited this month with her 20-month-old son, Isaac.
“It’s just a place that has a lot things you can’t do at home,” she said. “I can read a book about bunnies (at home), but here he can pet the bunny.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)