Kidspace Children’s Museum first opened at Cal Tech in 1979 and, after stints at two other locations, moved into its present home in Pasadena’s Brookside Park in 2004. Lauren Kaye joined the staff in 2007, in time to be an integral part of the museum’s current expansion campaign – which so far has included the addition of the Galvin Physics Forrest in 2012, the Imagination Workshop “maker” space last November, and the S. Mark Taper Foundation Early Childhood Learning Center in May. She now serves as senior manager of exhibits and facilities.
Kaye’s family is expanding, too. She has a 3-year-old daughter, and is expecting her second child this summer. We met at Kidspace to talk about kids, parents and having fun together.
What was the driving force behind the expansion and this current campaign?
You always need to be thinking about what you have for your guests in terms of new experiences. We kind of just reached a point in our existence here where we wanted to start looking at what else we could do. What needs refreshing? How can we expand? Or, if we can’t expand any more space-wise, what experiences here can we improve upon, just to continue to be offering great experiences for families in the L.A. area?
What’s coming next?
The next project that we have coming up is a large enhancement to our gardens. We’re in the process now of fleshing out 10 new exhibit experiences that will be going up to enhance the existing Arroyo experience that we have. That, we’re hoping to open next year, and that’s a much larger-scale project than the early childhood room. Beyond that, we’re looking at some other places we can potentially improve, like our Kirby’s Corner, which is our outdoor area for young ones, as well as maybe some more improvements inside the gallery. It is a very exciting time to be here. Lots going on.
So, who dreams all this up?
Last year, we worked with a museum consultant, Benjamin Dickow, and he led a group of staff here throughout the course of the year in a master-planning process. So it was really a collaborative effort between a lot of employees from all departments, working together over the course of the year to determine our priorities. What’s our mission? How are we going to develop programming and exhibits that relate back to that? And through that process, we defined areas that we felt either needed improvement, or that we felt were particularly important or relevant that we wanted to take advantage of, and worked together to develop all those ideas.
Tell me how working at Kidspace impacts what you do as a parent.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot here in terms of the type of learning experiences you have. We try to be very open-ended and let the children who come here really drive their experience, and so I think as a parent it has been interesting to try and implement those kinds of things in what we do in our life at home. If we go somewhere [with our daughter], letting her decide what it is she wants to do at that particular location. If we go to the Huntington children’s garden, for example, it’s what she wants to do when we’re there, versus us saying “Let’s go see this” and “Let’s go see that.”
What’s your favorite feature at Kidspace?
Because I was so involved with the process from the very beginning with the early childhood center, I think that’s turned out to be, now, my favorite space. Before, it was probably my least favorite space.
What did the new early childhood center replace?
The room that the new early childhood center is in was always a space dedicated for early childhood. What we had before was much more typical of what you might see at a lot of other children’s museums or early childhood centers. We had climbing/sliding structures and a little book nook, and shelving with some toys on it. All great, very developmentally appropriate, but not very unique.
When we entered into this project to re-do the early childhood room, basically the only information that we had was that we wanted it to be a little more focused on nature, and we wanted it to be something that was very unique. Because there are a lot of things here at Kidspace that you don’t find anywhere else, and we didn’t want the early childhood room to be something that you could go to at any other place.
For families who want to get the most out of their Kidspace visit, do you have any tips?
I would say number-one tip, which I did not follow the first time I brought my daughter, is to bring a spare change of clothes and possibly shoes, or wear water-friendly shoes, because we have a lot of water. And especially if you’re coming during the summer or early fall, when it’s really warm out, just make sure that you have things to change into. That will definitely make it a more enjoyable visit from a practical point of view.
Lots of water and sunscreen, of course, because we are mostly outdoors. That does surprise a lot of people, how much outdoor space we have.
Other than that, I would say just let your child decide where they want to go, and follow them there. We’ve got jumping fountains in our courtyard. That’s always a big attraction, but at some point, if they are stuck there, you might want to mention that we have other water in the back. Go up to our gardens and enjoy The Arroyo. It’s beautiful and has lots of fun water play.
Just be open to letting them lead you around. Of course, we ask parents to stay with their children at all times, but this is an opportunity for families to really interact together. There’s nothing more fun than going out to the tennis-ball launcher with your child and pulling on that rope together to see what happens if you pull it really far, and how high you can make the tennis ball go. It’s really about that. About interacting with your kids and having a great experience together.
What can families find at Kidspace that they can’t find anywhere else?
The whole place is pretty unique. And a space like the physics forest, where you’re outdoors in our local natural environment working with these gigantic exhibits like the ball range and the bottle rocket – that’s nothing you’d find anywhere else.
And our early childhood center is nothing like you’d find anywhere else. It’s all custom made by a design build team out of the Bay Area that we worked with. We’ve had a million requests for the snuggle nests, the hanging pods. People want to know where they can buy them. You can’t buy them, because they were made just for us. With everything we’re trying to do, we really are trying to make it unique. The activities that happen in the early childhood room might happen anywhere. Kids are exploring and climbing and interacting with each other, or reading a story. But we’re trying to make the environment different and see what happens.
If you’ve been with your 2- or 3-year-old, and now they’re maybe 5 or 6, come back. Because we have new experiences and we have a lot of events happening all the time, and there’s just a lot for people to experience.
A particularly good time to experience Kidspace is during Free Family Nights, from 4-8 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month (including Aug. 5). Also, coming up Aug. 30-Sept. 1 is Farmer Days, with butter churning, harvest-themed crafts and a petting zoo. Learn more at www.kidspacemuseum.org.