The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire Celebrates A Big Year
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is marking its 35th birthday in 2018-19 with a year of events celebrating the past and looking ahead to a future dedicated to creating experiences that engage and inspire the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers. With exhibit overhauls and expansions, a Free Family Fun Day, Art Raffle and more, the museum is celebrating in style all year long.
When the museum first opened on Saturday, July 30th, 1983 as the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth in the old South Meeting House on Marcy Street, you could see the inspiration of its co-founders everywhere. Ona Barnet and Denise Doleac were both educators as well as fans of children’s powerful curiosity. “It’s no surprise that we would talk for hours about Maria Montessori, and self-directed learning. Over coffee we talked about what an outside-of-school environment designed to encourage a child’s natural love of investigation might look like,” shared Denise Doleac. After much conversation and thought, they decided it just might be possible to create such an engaging and fun exploration center for families right there in Portsmouth. “There were very few Children’s Museums back in 1981 and those few were in large cities. So creating the Children’s Museum in a city of 24,000 people would be an interesting adventure indeed.”
After two years of planning, permits, fundraising and educating people about what a Children’s Museum was all about, the museum welcomed 400 children and their grown-ups to its grand opening. Anna Goldsmith, who was 9 at the time and quoted in a Foster’s Daily Democrat article written by Peyton Fleming, said “I think this is really neat because there is already enough stuff for adults. Grown-ups already have bars and discos. But finally they’re creating something for the kids and I think that’s good.”
Rachel Janowitz, another 9 year old, was also quoted in the same article as saying “We will be able to experience a lot of things we couldn’t experience before, because the museum wasn’t here."
That first year, the museum welcomed 27,000 visitors. The original exhibits included the Yellow Submarine, built by Architect Christopher Clews, three Commodore 64 computers, a hospital room with equipment provided by the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, a factory assembly line where children could create leather bookmarks, a video room, and a small radio station dubbed WFUN.
A New City
Over the next 25 years, exhibits changed, membership grew, and a constant stream of innovative programming attracted larger and larger crowds to the tiny South Meeting House. “Around 1995, Museum Trustees and our founding Director Denny Doleac began considering the idea of expansion,” shared Jane Bard, current CMNH President. “Although we loved the charm, history and location of our home in Portsmouth’s South Meeting House, we simply didn’t have enough space for exhibits, classrooms, visitor amenities or parking. Our staff worked off-site in a separate rented space and there were often long waiting lines to enter the Museum when we reached the building’s capacity.”
After a decade-long search in Portsmouth and subsequent meetings with city officials in Dover who recognized the benefit of locating the Museum in a soon-to-be-empty Butterfield Gym in downtown Dover, it was decided that the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth would move to Dover and become the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. After raising funds to completely renovate the new location, and design and create new exhibits for a space four times the size of its former location through a $3.2 million Capitol Campaign, a grand reopening ribbon cutting ceremony, mirroring one that happened 25 years prior, happened on July 26, 2008. The former Butterfield Gym was converted into two floors of accessible, interactive, hands-on exhibits that not only reflected the exhibits that had become childhood favorites, but also expanded to embrace the new museum’s natural and historical environment as well.
The Yellow Submarine, a favorite exhibit that became the unofficial symbol of the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth, still greets visitors as they enter the museum. However, the Yellow Sub has been redesigned to mimic a research submarine with a sonar gun, a listening station, working periscope, and control room where kids can navigate the sub through the waters beneath the Gulf of Maine. A new favorite, the Cochecosystem exhibit overlooking the Cocheco River explores the interchange between the natural and industrial environment of the Cocheco River and specifically examines how “engineers,” both human and animal, use the river.
A Community of Collaboration
One thing that hasn’t changed since moving to Dover is the importance of collaboration between the community and the museum. “When we founded the museum, we really relied on local businesses who donated countless products, exhibit materials, and labor to help us get the museum going,” said Denise Doleac. “It was a true grassroots effort.” After a decade in Dover, current CMNH President Jane Bard agrees. “The success that we have had here in Dover has been in large part due to the community. We have been so welcomed and have had so many wonderful partnerships and it has made all the difference in what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
In 2017 alone, the Museum served nearly 93,000 visitors from 194 different New Hampshire cities and towns, all New England states and welcomed travelers from 42 states, two U.S. territories and eight countries.
The city of Dover has felt the positive impact of the museum’s presence as well. Gail Moore of Dover spoke of her hopes for Dover back in 2007 during a Dover City Council meeting. “Dover is turning into a better place to live. When I tell friends in other places that the Children’s Museum is coming to town, they are surprised and a little envious. The museum is part of Dover becoming a vibrant, active community for these times.” Fast forward to Brian Gottlob, a consulting economist, who analyzed the annual impact of the museum on the City of Dover in 2018. His brief, and unsolicited analysis suggests “the museum results in between $1.8 and $2.3 million in additional expenditures in the local economy (not including ticket sales or other expenditures at the Museum itself).”
Celebrating & Looking Ahead
After 35 years of innovative programming, artistically designed exhibits, and engaging with literally millions of visitors, the Museum is looking ahead to what will come next. Some things will remain the same, like the museum’s commitment to early learning to build healthy brain architecture, S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), access for all children and families, and its founding principle that kids thrive when given the space to explore and discover.
New adventures are being crafted right now hidden away in the museum’s basement workshop. The One World exhibit, a group of three spaces that explore different cultures from around the world, will be updated this Fall to include a World Market complete with spices, clothing, masks and musical instruments from Indonesia, India, and Mexico - cultures represented in local New Hampshire communities. Children can “purchase” items in the market and bring them next door to prepare and serve food in the World Café or participate in a festival celebration.
Over the next five years, the Museum will be investing in creating and updating its visitors’ experiences through the Play Expansion Project. In the next year alone, the Museum will be developing an outdoor Play Patio that will provide a space for messy play with bubbles, water, paint as well as sensory exploration and a picnic area. The Museum will also be updating an existing classroom into a new Interactive Classroom that can easily convert to an exhibit space with a flick of the switch featuring interactive light, color and shadow activities when the room is not needed for school programs. Both projects were made possible thanks in part to the $100,000 tax credits the museum recently received from the NH Community Development Finance Authority and grants from the Abbie F. Moseley Charitable Trust and the McIninch Foundation.
35 Years of Art and Creativity
Since its inception, the Children’s Museum has always featured art and art making, and even has its own in-house Art Gallery filled with exhibitions by local professional artists. Many of the walls of the museum itself are painted with beautiful murals donated by local artists, and several pieces of the museum’s “permanent collection” are exhibited proudly. With so many years of art gracing its walls, the Museum was thrilled by the outpouring of support from the 35 artists featured in the current Gallery 6 art exhibition “35 Friends: 35 Years of Art and Creativity.”
The art on view this summer ranges from a collage by Sarah Haskell who presented art workshops in both Portsmouth and Dover, to an abstract watercolor by Rebecca LeCain who is not only a CMNH Experience Guide, but also helps with creating the exhibits, including the mural currently hanging on the façade of the museum. Subject matters include dinosaurs, colorful butterflies, robots, landscapes, and of course, kids.
Most of the art in this exhibition is part of a summer-long raffle. A sheet of 20 raffle tickets can be purchased at the front desk of the museum for only $5. Participants can then choose their favorites and take a chance to win them. The winning tickets will be pulled on Sunday, September 30th at 2pm.
A Quacky Good Time
Also happening in September 22nd is the first ever Free Family Fun Day at the Children’s Museum, featuring a Dover Ducky Derby. The museum will throw open its doors and invite everyone to play for free all day from 10am-5pm. Visitors can participate in a variety of favorite activities from the last 35 years and enjoy performances and special guests. The Dover Ducky Derby will start at 1pm when a huge flock of adopted yellow rubber ducks will be launched from the Washington Street Bridge and race down the Cochecho River, which flows behind the museum. The first five ducks to cross the finish line will score prizes. Ducks can be adopted all summer long at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire or online: $5 for one duck, $50 for a gaggle of 12 ducks, or $100 for a flock of 50 ducks. The Dover Ducky Derby is a joint fundraiser in collaboration with SEED (Seacoast Educational Endowment of Dover).
A lot has changed in 35 years. Commodore 64 computers are obsolete. Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. They changed math. And Children’s Museums are universally understood with over 400 children’s museums in the country compared to about 80 thirty-five years ago. “I don’t have to explain what a Children’s Museum is when people ask me where I work,” said Neva Cole, CMNH Communications Director.
“Back in 1983 it was a challenge to convey the concept of this very different type of museum, and convince people that it would be a viable, meaningful resource for area families, schools and the community,” said Denise Doleac, CMNH co-founder.
“Thanks to Denise and Ona, and all the board members, volunteers, staff, artists, performers, businesses, foundations, individual supporters, and community organizations, we will be able to continue our mission of actively engaging families in hands-on discovery for many more years to come,” shared Jane Bard.
“We invite everyone to join us as we celebrate 35 years and counting!”
by Jane Bard, CMNH President
What’s new at the Museum? is the most commonly asked question when myself and my Museum colleagues are out and about in the community.
Before looking ahead, 2017 saw growth and change to best serve the 93,000 plus individuals we served last year. New experiences for our visitors included a new Thinkering Lab exhibit in January, to a major refresh of the iconic Build It-Fly It exhibit in the Fall, three new Gallery 6 exhibitions throughout the year, and the opening of the new Dover Adventure Playground outside our doors in June.
To deepen our impact, we created new curriculum-based programs for schools, our first-ever Grown-Up Play Dates and the We All Belong program for immigrant families. One of our most ambitious projects took place behind the scenes, an investment in a point-of-sales and database system that is helping us become more effective and efficient.
So what is in store for 2018? We will be celebrating our 35th anniversary and 10th year since becoming the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and expanding in Dover by continuing to offer the same great programming and exhibits you’ve come to expect from us, while continuing to refresh these experiences and listening to the needs of our audience. Our One World exhibits will be getting a new life, introducing visitors to new cultures representing local immigrant populations through arts, culture and food. New signs within our exhibits will highlight the ways children are learning as they explore. Favorite programs and events will continue, while plans are underway for a special anniversary events in the summer and fall, so stay tuned!
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in downtown Dover offers a variety of weekday science classes for preschoolers, as well as homeschoolers but is now offering parents an added bonus during a Monday science class.
The museum’s popular Junior Science Explorers class for kids ages 3.5-5 is now being offered on Mondays, a day the museum is closed to the public. Families who have a museum membership can not only sign up their kids for the class, but any younger siblings can now join parents on the 2nd floor of the museum to play in the exhibits while their older siblings are in class. This is a benefit that’s exclusive to museum members and is only offered while the Monday class is in session.
This November’s Junior Science class theme is “Incredible Animals” and will invite junior scientists to explore habitats, animal tracks, survival techniques and more. The class runs Mondays, November 6 through December 11 from 1:30-2:15pm.
These 45-minute structured science classes are $60 for Members and $70 for Non-members. Pre-registration is required. Call 603-742-2002 to register.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover has started a series of adult evening events called “Throwback Thursday: Grown-up Play Dates,” where adults 21+ can have a chance to play in the exhibits, do funky science experiments and crafts, and enjoy special drinks in the 7th Settlement Brewery cash bar. To kick off the series they’ve planned a “Night at the BooZeum” on Thursday, October 19, 7-9pm.
“It’s something people request all the time,” shared Xanthi Gray, CMNH Education Director. “They want to get into the museum and play, whether they have kids or not!” Now is their chance to explore the museum’s two floors of hands-on exhibits including a giant pinscreen, a wall-to-wall Music Matrix, even an interactive augmented reality sand table.
7th Settlement Brewery, who will provide a cash bar for the entire series, has created a specialty spiced rum cider drink for the October event. Two classic horror movies “Dracula” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” will be playing in the STEAM Innovation Lab. Guests will be invited to make spooky slime, dissect an owl pellet, craft creepy pinecone spiders and paper cats. “We’ll have do-it-yourself face painting and a scavenger hunt and people can even try to win a Gold, Silver or Bronze candy medal by challenging their friends in a mummy wrapping contest and fashion show, or by eating a donut off a string!” said Xanthi.
In coming months the museum has planned more themed Throwback Thursday grown-up play dates. November 16th will be a “Bend & Brew” night with 3 Bridges Yoga instructor Gretchen Lamothe. January 18th has an “Engineer Some Fun” theme with giant Jenga and an egg-drop challenge. February 15th is “Messy Mayhem: Paint Night” for the aspiring artists. March 15th is all about “Star Wars: A Brew Hope.” April 19th will be a chance to celebrate with “The ‘Way Back’ Birthday Bash” featuring classic party games. Pull out the tux for the May 17th “80s Prom” night. June 14th will be a “Kick-off To Summer Party” complete with tie-dye, and sandcastle contests.
Guests must have a valid ID to attend. Tickets are on sale now online for $10 and are $12 at the door. The museum thanks its October Throwback Thursday sponsor, Atlas Heritage, LLC.
A unique, irreverent and fun event happened in Queens, NYC on Saturday, September 23 and it has a unique tie to New Hampshire. The Punk Rope Games IX has been held annually in New York City since 2009. A cross between the Olympics and Mardi Gras, the Games feature teams of 4 in costume, competing in 10 events with titles like the “Rubber Chicken Relay” and “Rope Skipping Barrel Race.”
This year, the majority of the registration fees from the Punk Rope Games, over $1,100, have been donated to the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in honor of a recently departed museum volunteer, Vicky Haft. The Punk Rope Games are organized by her son, Tim Haft.
“My mom witnessed her first and only Punk Rope Games last year, less than two months before her untimely death,” shared Tim. “Watching the competition made her so happy as did volunteering at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. It seemed only fitting that this year’s Games be a tribute to both my mom and the great and important work being done at CMNH.”
Tim Haft created Punk Rope in 2004 to provide an edgy alternative to mainstream fitness classes. Their raucous classes for jumpers of all ages have taken place at gyms, community centers, bowling alleys, bars, breweries, city parks, art galleries, churches, playgrounds and even the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“On the surface, the Punk Rope Games are an athletic competition, but what they are really about is expressing creativity in a youthful, playful manner,” said Tim. He adds “The costumes are clearly more important than the athletic feats!”
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is located along the Cocheco River in downtown Dover and offers two floors of interactive exhibits for kids ages birth to 12 years. The museum’s mission is to actively engage families in hands-on discovery and to inspire all to become the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers. “Something that Vicky believed in and certainly reflects our goals here at Punk Rope,” said Tim. “We hope the funds raised will, in some small part, help CMNH to more easily achieve its mission. Even if just one child is positively impacted, the ripple effect can be felt throughout the world.”
“We’re thrilled that Tim has chosen to throw the Games this year in honor of Vicky,” said Doug Tilton, CMNH Director of Visitor Services and Volunteer Coordinator. “She was one of my closest friends, and in the 9 years that we worked side-by-side at the museum, she transformed both the museum and me. I use Vicky as a guide star to help us keep the Museum as the kind, welcoming and nurturing place as it was when she was with us.”
Learn more about the Punk Rope Games at http://www.punkrope.com/about/punk-rope-games/.
Starting Tuesday, July 11, 2017, new meters installed and enforced by the city of Dover in the Henry Law Parking lot next to the new Dover Adventure Playground will go into effect. Here are the basics:
- Cost within the lot will be $1 per hour.
- There is a 4 hour limit (but you can reload it after that 4 hours, or park along Henry Law Avenue where there is no time limit on the meters for 75 cents/hour).
- It's a "Pay and Display" system.
- You can pay with change, tokens or credit cards.
- Meter parking is in effect 9am-5pm Monday through Friday. Weekends and holidays are FREE.
If you are a regular visitor to the museum and are looking for a way to save money on parking:
As an amenity to our guests we'll be selling the city of Dover's pre-packaged bags of 26 parking tokens for $5 at no mark-up. They will be for sale here at the front desk during normal business hours as available. That will give you about a 30% savings off the current rate. You can also purchase these tokens at Harvey's Bakery and the Dover Chamber of Commerce.
By Neva Cole, CMNH Communications Director
When I hear people talk about summers with their kids it always sounds so idyllic to me: long days spent lounging on the beach; trips to local attractions; camping with family and friends. If I were to take people’s Facebook feeds at face value, pun intended, I’d think there was something seriously wrong with my summer parenting skills.
I’m a working parent, and so is my husband. My daughter has been in a year-round daycare, so she hasn’t experienced “summer break” yet. We’ve gotten used to squeezing summer fun into the afternoons and weekends. But that’s all going to change soon with the start of kindergarten in her local school this Fall. I’m about to become one of the parents that will have to plan way in advance on how to schedule work around camps, squander vacation days to spend a few precious long weekends on a lake somewhere, and probably start to butter up the grandparents for when plans inevitably fall through.
I’m not really complaining. I know how lucky we are. I’m a little jealous of my daughter getting to experience summer break, where the days seemed like endless adventures. I wish I could spend every minute with her out in the sun, gardening, swimming and blowing bubbles. But we all do the best we can. And my best is being there with her in the moments we have together, and making sure she’s surrounded by love and engaging her brain and her creative muscles when I’m not there.
New Hampshire is teeming with opportunities for kids to grow and learn in the summer. All the great cultural institutions like the Currier Museum of Art, the Seacoast Science Center, the SEE Science Center, Audubon centers and yes, the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire have fantastic camps, programs, events and workshops for kids of all ages. And many bend over backwards to help parents make their children’s summers memorable and affordable. These non-profits are here to be a resource to you, and I hope you use them this summer and many summers to come. I know I will.
Parents interested in the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire’s summer camps can choose from 3-day Mini Camps for ages 4-6 (which are all full as of today) or 5-day Discovery Camps for ages 7-11.
A new family attraction several years in the making is opening in downtown just in time for summer fun. The Dover Adventure Playground at Henry Law Park will open to the public on Saturday, June 24 at 9:30 a.m.
The playground will feature a life-size flat-bottomed vintage gundalow; a net climber; swings and slides; a three-story Garrison Hill tower; a 1,200-pound, 3-foot by 8-foot climbable Alewife granite fish sculpture; a splash pad and water pumps; sand play area; musical instruments and more.
“The Children’s Museum of NH has been thrilled to partner with the city of Dover, its citizens and businesses to create the new Dover Adventure Playground,” said Jane Bard, Museum President. “It is sure to become a destination for seacoast families and visitors looking for outdoor play and exploration in a setting that is uniquely Dover.”
Dover Recreation Director Gary Bannon agrees. “The new playground is the result of years of planning and enthusiastic collaboration,” said Bannon. “This playground promises to be a significant attraction to downtown.”
After the playground opens, visitors to Dover will have one more reason to spend the whole day in the city, visiting the Children’s Museum, playing in the playground, having a picnic, shopping with downtown merchants or eating at a local restaurant.
“This playground is really unique to Dover and I don’t think there will be anything quite like it in New Hampshire,” shared Neva Cole, CMNH Communications Director. “The history of the area is highlighted throughout the design.” The gundalow, a 32-year-old replica of the Capt. Edward H. Adams, is one of only two gundalows in the region.
Thoughtful touches abound in the new playground. The three-story tower was picked specifically to mimic the Garrison Hill fire tower in Dover. The climbable fish sculpture by Thomas Berger from Kittery is a nod to the alewife who spawn in the Cocheco River, bordering the playground. One of the swings is made for an older child and an infant to swing together, a highlight for parents with multiple children. The net climbing structure has a slack line and percussion instruments are installed nearby. Tree stumps provide balancing practice for children or additional seating. The splash pad will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. this spring and summer. Nearby is another play area featuring hand pumps and wooden sluices.
Two features in the works will debut after the June 24th opening. The Museum’s community teaching garden currently located on the riverfront adjacent to the Museum will relocate to the park for the next growing season. Also planned for the roof of the Dover pool bordering the playground, is an 18-foot metal “Whale’s Tail” sculpture created by artist Dale Rogers. The whale will appear to be diving into the pool building.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is holding a naming contest for the alewife fish sculpture, who is a female, throughout the month of July. The public can vote on the fish’s new moniker either by casting a ballot inside the museum, or on the museum’s facebook page. The public will then vote to narrow down the names to the 10 most popular. A judging panel will then choose the winner.
“Even though it’s a playground, it’s really designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages,” said Jane Bard. “I think I’m most excited that we’re bringing this right to the center of Dover and I really think it’s going to be a shining example of what Dover has been, and will be. It will be a safe, engaging, and joyful gathering spot for people of all ages.”
To learn more about the Dover Adventure Park, visit the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire’s website: www.childrens-museum.org/visit/dover-adventure-playground or contact Dover Recreation at 603-516-6401.