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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Shelton Area Children’s Museum to Be Powered by Play

Aug 01, 2015 03:30AM ● By Sheri Hatfield

Have you ever watched kids play and wish you could bottle that energy and put it to use? An interactive children’s museum planned for the Shelton area is looking to do just that. The Kidnetic Clubhouse is being planned by Shelton residents, Mark and Sheri Hatfield. “We promote the power of play and turn play into power,” says Mark Hatfield, executive director of the museum.

They will do this through highly creative, interactive exhibits designed to foster imaginative and/or physical play. “All of the attractions are meant to be a creative backdrop for kids’ imaginations to run wild, some of them will actually harness the energy created by play to power the museum,” he explains.

Children’s museums aren’t like history or art museums. They are fun and exciting places where children learn through play and exploration in environments designed just for them. The playful, interactive learning experiences help build imaginations, foster social skills and create life-long memories. They also provide economic opportunities for their home communities by attracting visitors who will spend money with other local businesses.

After the birth of their son, the Hatfields started visiting children’s museums and realized what a great experience they were for their family and the community. “Kids get a chance to get some energy out, use their imaginations and interact with other kids. At the end of the day, everyone goes home happy,” says Mark Hatfield. “We were traveling over an hour at times to find a children’s museum, and wished we had one closer to home.”

The couple decided to create a museum in the lower Naugatuck Valley with a mission to improve the lives of children by enriching cognitive, developmental and educational growth through creative free-play and imagination building, all within a fun, safe and sustainable environment.

They chose play – specifically unstructured play – as a mission because studies show play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children. Play offers parents and caregivers a chance to fully engage with their children, and allows children to engage with one another. Studies show that the amount of free play children experience has been markedly reduced in recent years. Additionally, a 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics study reported that American children between the ages of two and 12 average seven hours of screen time a day.

Kidnetic Clubhouse has a three-phased plan to open a permanent museum location. The first phase is creating a series of mobile exhibits, including giant Lego-style building blocks, an exhibit design studio, a magnet wall and an exhibit called The Kids’ Corsair.

The Kids’ Corsair is a kid-sized F4U Corsair airplane that uses a bicycle generator to power lights and sounds. The Chance Vought F4U Corsair is the state aircraft of Connecticut and helped win the War in the Pacific during WWII and again in the Korean War. Some 12,500 Corsairs were built between 1938 and 1945.  The aircraft was designed and built in Connecticut by workers at Hamilton Standard, Pratt and Whitney, United Aircraft and Vought-Sikorsky.

The Kids’ Corsair will enable kids to sit in the cockpit to pretend they are flying; their pedaling will turn on lights and sounds, illustrating the concept of powered by play. The plane will be mounted to a trailer and taken to local events as a fundraising and awareness-building tool. Fabrication of the metal frame for the airplane was recently completed at Asnuntuck Community College, with plans to complete the exhibit by early 2016.

The second phase of the plan is to secure a temporary location to house the museum until the permanent location is open. The temporary location will showcase the types of kid-powered, imaginative play planned for the permanent location.

The final phase is to open a roughly 15,000 square foot museum with both indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits in the lower Naugatuck Valley area and includes plans for energy-generating flooring, a pirate-themed water play area and an enchanted garden with living walls.

The Hatfields will draw on their experience as creative marketers to create the museum. Mark Hatfield is a professional illustrator and graphic designer with 20 years experience as a graphic designer for major corporations. Sheri Hatfield is a writer, concept developer and promotional marketer with a specialty in marketing to children. She completed an internship at Disney and went on to market major packaged brands.

The Kidnetic Clubhouse will be raising funds to complete the Kids’ Corsair mobile exhibit through fundraisers this summer and fall. They are applying for grants from state, local, federal and private sources to build and buy more exhibits and secure and build out the temporary location.

The organization is looking for volunteers to help them build the museum and support its growth. Interested volunteers, sponsors or donors can contact the museum at [email protected].