Children’s museum planned for BR

Plans are moving forward for a 30,000-square-foot children’s museum that will sit atop a hill overlooking Baton Rouge’s City Park.

The Knock Knock Children’s Museum, which has been on the drawing board at least nine years, struggled to find money in the state construction budget for facility in what is officially called City-Brooks Community Park.

Organizers focused on private donations, raising more than $1.5 million from area foundations, businesses and families. BREC kicked in $3 million in dividend revenue from a stock portfolio donated by Alice and Warren Farr.

The project also has $875,000 in earmarks in the state construction budget that the governor did not remove. Earlier this month, Gov. Bobby Jindal nixed an additional $150,000 cash line of credit for the museum.

The museum’s backers hope to break ground next year on land next to Dalrymple Drive near the Interstate 10 entrance ramp, replacing rusted equipment with a hilltop museum aimed at children ranging in age from infant to 8 years old.

The design and development drawings are complete. Money almost is in hand for the bricks and mortar. The next focus will be raising dollars to pay for exhibits.

“We’re closing out the building campaign and moving into exhibit sponsorship,” said Kelli Harton, board chairwoman of the Knock Knock Children’s Museum.

BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said the project’s success hinges on continued fundraising. “I’m totally supportive of what they’re trying to do, and I’m hopeful the community will see the value and really step up,” McKnight said.

Other communities in Louisiana already have children’s museums.

In Monroe, children can pet a reindeer, decorate cookies and visit the world’s largest snowglobe at the Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum this holiday season. The Children’s Museum of Acadiana in Lafayette features a bubble factory, veterinary clinic and grocery store. Children had the opportunity to learn about fall crafts and gingerbread this year at the Alexandria T.R.E.E. House Children’s Museum. The Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center in Hammond offered to entertain youngsters with snacks, karaoke and a movie while their parents hit the malls for Black Friday.

Baton Rouge boasts plenty of museums, ranging from art galleries to a planetarium. But a hands-on children’s museum similar to Shreveport’s Sci-Port has been a long time coming.

Emily Smith, the museum’s early childhood consultant, said many people are not aware of how interactive a museum can be for children. “Many people who are my age, and I’m 60, when our children were smaller, there were not many children’s museums around,” she said.

Matthew Saurage said he is proud to be part of the Knock Knock Museum’s founding member campaign.

“The prospect of a children’s museum in Baton Rouge that engages youth in learning, creativity, the arts, play and cultural exposure is very exciting. This requires a lot of work and the support of visionary leaders, private and public entities and the genuine passion of a handful of individuals to keep this project moving forward,” he said.

As an expert in early childhood development, Smith said play is critical to human development, especially considering more than 28 percent of children under age 5 lived in poverty at one time in the nine parish capital area.

She said play helps children gain a sense of equilibrium that makes them ready to learn. She said they discover, develop complex concepts and create narratives.

Smith said she wants the museum to benefit low income families and create equity in early learning opportunities.

“It’s just an extraordinary play environment. It’s not so much a display as hands-on, interactive play,” she said.

Planned exhibits include:

A story tree with puppets, a periscope and scavenger hunt challenges.

A building company where children can learn how to operate a crane, add bracing to a miniature Mississippi River bridge and direct wheelbarrow traffic.

A multilevel climber which will be a stack of giant books that children can scale.

A music studio for creating music.

A cafe where children can take orders and make meals, honing their literacy and math skills.

“It’s not like a museum where you just go in and look at stuff,” BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said.