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Denton’s first children’s museum creates space for imagination and play

Denton’s first children’s museum creates space for imagination and play

Denton’s first children’s museum creates space for imagination and play
October 03
12:00 2018

In one corner, two sisters test how well a pingpong ball can float. Brothers take turns racing down a noise-making slide. A mother and daughter peer through a microscope together.

This is Explorium Denton.

It is the first children’s museum in Denton focused on helping kids engage, explore and learn. The immersive educational space is geared towards pre-kindergarteners all the way up to 11-year-olds.

“We want everybody to leave here feeling a sense of accomplishment and having learned something,” said Anyah Martinez, founder and executive director of Explorium Denton. “Our purpose is to provide opportunities for children and their families to learn and play together.”

The children’s museum is split up into five major areas. From the maker space to the collaboration area, every inch of the building is intentionally designed to help kids play and learn.

“We want children to be able to explore their curiosities,” Martinez said. “We want them to be safe here, we want them to fail, learn, try again, succeed and celebrate all of those learning moments.”

The doors to Explorium Denton officially opened on Sept. 19, but Martinez’s journey to get to this fun, intentional space has been a long one over the years.

A child plays “operation exploration” at Explorium Denton. Mallory Cammarata

From idea to reality

Martinez remembers the moment she started dreaming about a children’s museum in Denton: She was running one evening and the idea came to her.

As a mother of three boys, she had always wanted a fun, engaging place to take her kids that would also educate them in the process. So she decided to create it herself.

“I thought, ‘Why isn’t there anything like that in Denton?’” Martinez said. “We have such a wonderful quality of life here, this is like gravy. So, why don’t we have [the museum] here? If anybody’s going to do it, it’s going to be me.”

She made her idea a reality in 2013 by bringing Explorium Denton to the Denton Community Market. For two years, the Explorium team would provide a free activity for the market once a month during the season. Then, they started teaching science lessons at schools with the help of Melissa Haas, the current Education Coordinator at Explorium Denton.

“I believe we can be a really good supplement to what is going on in the public schools,” Haas said. “The more we can encourage them that they can do science and they can build things, we will empower them and give them a love for learning.”

From the beginning, Explorium has focused on partnering with schools to boost educational engagement. As a former public school science teacher, that encouragement is important to Haas.

“You don’t have to be sitting down to be learning and finding out about things,” Haas said. “[There are] lots of different ways to engage and learn so hopefully if they’re getting to be active while they’re doing these things, they’re going to remember it better as well.”

The main goal, however, was always to open a physical location. Founders started to work when they were given a large chunk of seed money from an anonymous donor. As the team began working toward that goal, they hit many financial roadblocks. But Martinez’s motivation and support from community members and donors, like the Rayzor Foundation, helped them push through.

“I don’t quit stuff — it is just not an option,” Martinez said. “Yes, there are people who have bought into this but this was my fourth child, basically, and you can’t just in the eleventh-hour ask somebody else to give birth. I had to see it through, and I’m so glad I did.”

It was a grassroots effort that ended up taking six years and, with the help of the Denton community, became a physical reality.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Haas said. “I kept saying, ‘We’re actually a place!’ It’s just exciting to see it materialize — all these thoughts and ideas — into a space and be used.”

A child tests to see which objects will sink and which will float at Explorium Denton. Mallory Cammarata

Long-lasting legacy and impact

Picking up the bright blue piece of fabric, Hazel Smith’s son places it into the clear wind tunnel. Staring up in wonder, he watches the colorful square get sucked up into the air. He laughs as it falls slowly down onto his face.

Smith and her sons are some of the members at Explorium Denton who are experiencing the reality of Martinez’s dream.

“I love how intentional and thoughtful everything is put together,” Smith said. “You can tell all the moms [who have] hands-on experiences with their kids put their heads together to create this place.”

Smith and her husband discovered Explorium Denton two months before it opened. When they heard about the mission and plan to provide a fun, engaging environment for the two boys, they were all on board.

“I just thought it was so good for the community, and I knew they needed funding, so I was totally in support of it,” Smith said. “Before they even opened we bought the membership, and I was more than pleased to see it [come into] fruition.”

Smith and her boys are just a small part of the members and families who have already experienced Martinez’s impact.

For Martinez, all the roadblocks were worth it for the opportunity to encourage kids to become lifelong learners and parents to embrace these special moments.

“I love this community,” Martinez said. “This is where we’ve decided to put down roots and I’m so thrilled to have been able to leave a legacy. My kids will outgrow this space but I’ll have grandkids someday. I’ll still live here and I’ll be able to bring them.”

Featured Image: A child watches fabric float down from the wind tunnel at Explorium Denton. Mallory Cammarata

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Rachel Linch

Rachel Linch

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