Zoo planner: Little faces, big dreams

By Melissa Hirschl

Every towering idea starts with a seedling. Whether the vision ultimately becomes the Panama Canal or the Eiffel Tower, it had to originate with a thoughtful twinkle and a spark of grey matter. Kyrene Corridor resident Dawn Hawkins had that special spark a few years ago, and as a result the Children’s Museum of Chandler was born.

The outreach program, also known as Museum on the Go!, is currently housed in Hawkins’ back yard.

In spite of the place’s humble beginnings, Hawkins is dreaming big, and so are the other 12 board members and volunteers that comprise this ambitions cadre.

While it is presently a traveling museum for pre-schoolers up to fourth grade, the organizers are optimistic they will have a permanent Chandler location in the next few years. That building, they say, is slated to house exhibits for visitors birth to 12 years.

Hawkins and her team visit the Phoenix Zoo, schools, the YMCA, libraries, community organizations, shopping malls and events such as the Friends of the Library Multi-Cultural Festival.

They also travel to local events such as the upcoming Tumble at Tumbleweed. More on that later.

The mission of the museum is to provide interactive learning experiences that encourage children to investigate their past, explore and inspire the future.

Hawkins, who spent many years in the Midwest, had a rich childhood steeped in museums. “That’s just what you do there; it’s a natural thing,” she says. Later on she worked a summer internship at the Kohl’s Children’s Museum in Chicago, which she says, left a huge impression on her.

“For years,” she says, “I’d drag my husband to children’s museums wherever we went, even before we had children--I think we’ve seen about 30. They are a great way for children to learn about themselves and the world they live in.

“They’re free and open, and everything is very hands-on. The kids control the environment the way they want to.”

When the couple moved to Arizona in 1998, Hawkins wondered why there wasn’t a museum for really young children. That thought ignited her desire to create such a place.

She decided on Chandler, she says, because it was growing so rapidly and had so many families.

Hawkins and her husband crafted all the exhibits themselves, such as Magnetic Attraction, an exhibit that allows children to experiment with the power of magnets.

They also dreamed up such exhibits as Who Was Here Before Me?, a flip book that focuses on Arizona’s history and rich cultural background; The Science of Art, where children can explore toys from around the world; The Science of Art exhibit, where they can bend beams of light, play with shadows, create a photogram and mix colors; and My Five Senses, in which the kids can explore their senses in a creative way.

The most predominant and sophisticated exhibit, Chandler Mammoth, is based on bones discovered in Chandler in 1977. It is made up of casts of bones (the original ones are at ASU’s Museum of Geology.)

Because the casts are so fragile, they are used only in such environments as schools, where they can be better protected, she says. A smaller, traveling exhibit is also available, in which kids dig up embedded replica bones in a wagon.

Board member Kimberly Pope is one of the volunteers overseeing outreach events, such as the popular mammoth exhibit.

“I took a cast to my son’s kindergarten class to talk about the role of paleontologists in finding the original bones,” she says, “and they were fascinated.”

In addition to showing the exhibits, Pope also does arts and crafts with the children, such as creating marbled paper using shaving cream and food coloring.

Another really popular class, according to Pope, is Science in Art, where color combinations are demonstrated using a rainbow wheel.

“We talk about how our eyes perceive color and we have the kids make prisms and kaleidoscopes using mirrored paper,” she says.

“I think families are seeking fun, educational things to do. I love representing the museum because people are so excited learning about art and science--they get really caught up in it.”

From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, the museum will be hosting a day of family fun at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler.

There will be live entertainment, arts and crafts activities, storytelling, contests and a raffle. Performances are scheduled every hour beginning at 10:30 and will include the Desert Star Dance troupe and Double Play musical group, along with All Yoyo with Julius.

The Phoenix Zoo plans to exhibit some of its residents, and Chandler fire trucks will be on hand. Bouncing stations, balloon artists and a magician, along with food and drink, will be available. Kids can compete in a pizza-box decorating contest hosted by California Pizza Kitchen.

In addition, visitors will have to paint tiles that will be on display at the permanent building when it opens. Tumbleweed Park is located on McQueen Road south of Germann. Festivities will be at the red barn area, south of the tennis courts.

Currently the museum is offering a series of classes at the downtown Chandler Community Center, through the National Hands-On Science Outreach program.

Each week involves activities based on a variety of themes, and the children get to make a craft project to take home.

Taught by trained volunteers, the classes last for eight weeks and are structured for children pre-K to third grade. The next session starts March 23. The museum will also be set up at the downtown Chandler library on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the summer. The library is located at 22 S. Delaware St.

You can find out more about the museum and proposed permanent exhibits by visiting www.cmchandler.org. Phone: (480) 963-0262.

Call for information on becoming a volunteer or to find out how the museum can come to your school or organization. The museum travels throughout the east Valley.