Explorations V Children’s Museum (EVCM) is undergoing its second major expansion in the Museum’s almost 30-year history when it moves to Bonnet Springs Park in 2021. Since 1991, EVCM has served over 1.6 million children and families as the only children’s museum in Central Florida and is planning for a growing community and quickly changing learning landscape.
The new facility will modernize the visitor experience, double the number of people who can visit each year, and provide a needed resource to Central Florida’s cultural community in a new 180-acre public park. Based on comparative data gathered by the Association of Children’s Museums and economic projection data from the County, the estimated annual economic impact of the new facility will surpass $4.5million.
Bonnet Springs Park and EVCM conducted extensive surveying and evaluation prior to entering the partnership. The Museum met with Polk County School’s Chief Academic Officer and United Way of Central Florida’s Chief Impact Officer to understand the opportunities in child services and education to address the low kindergarten readiness rates in the area. Together, all three organizations identified bridges that the Museum can build through cultural programming and exhibits.
Over 300 Museum members and citizens were surveyed to understand what the public sees as valuable for a new children’s museum. Additionally, the Museum Board of Directors (past and present) collectively wrote their vision for the new facility. All of this information helped inform the Museum’s space plan consultant, Lord Cultural Resources, to create the initial vision and narrative for the Museum space. Sasaki, an architectural firm out of Boston, is the Park’s primary architect and used the space plan, informed by the community and drafted by Lord Cultural Resources, to design a state-of-the-art new building that will house hands-on exhibits to tell the story of Central Florida’s history, beauty, and future while helping develop the area’s next generation of learners and leaders.
“We are not building a place. We are building a bigger purpose. Together, with our community partners we will accomplish a new vision,” said Kerry Falwell, Museum Executive Director.
The new vision includes four points:
- Open the doors of a children’s museum that re-defines informal learning beyond 21st century teaching.
- Provide a community resource that strengthens families.
- Conduct research that advances our understanding of how children learn, how families achieve together, and what Central Florida needs as we raise the next generation.
- Engage a community of curious explorers.
The building will sit nestled between two 40-foot tall hills making a dramatic welcome to anyone coming around Kathleen Boulevard and feature room for a mural near the top of the building. Blinky, a Lakeland legend, will invite children to play as a permanent fixture and a new Central Florida landmark as a large, climbable sculpture.
To deliver this new purpose will be five primary galleries that will each house hundreds of hands-on exhibits.
1. Watermelon Seeds
Step into Central Florida’s agricultural fields as infants and toddlers start as seedlings and develop into ripe, bright, sweet fruit. This gallery is for the Museum’s youngest visitors. Children and their families will understand the importance of farming to our area and understand where our food comes from. Inside Watermelon Seeds will be the new home of Family Fundamentals, a United Way of Central Florida initiative to provide free early learning opportunities to low-income families. 50% of the Museum attendance is under the age of 5 and yet the current Museum only dedicates 200 square feet to their specific learning needs. Watermelon Seeds will be 15 times the amount of space and designed using current research in developmentally appropriate practices.
2. Design Park
High tech and low tech come together to practice design thinking with open-ended, child-designed building projects. From cardboard to kinnex, a variety of materials are available for kids to tinker, fail, redesign, and try again.
3. The Front Yard
This 7,000 square foot outdoor, enclosed gallery will celebrate the Florida under our feet as kids travel through time to dig up marine fossils and follow how Central Florida’s iconic alligator got here. The centerpiece of The Front Yard is a 100 foot long, 23-foot-wide climbable alligator. Relax in calming sensory swings hung throughout the body, slide down the tail, or make music with the xylophone plank tongue.
4. City Play
Step into the whimsical world of dramatic play. Everyday, local storefronts will have a comic-book intrigue to their look and children will explore the world around them. Shop at Publix and report live weather through social dramatic play. Almost 80% of the brain develops before age 6 and the dress and the dress-up, pretend play that happens here directly influences each of those neural synapsis or brain connections. Scientists have shown a direct link to mastering this type of play and learning how to read and write.
5. Black Box Theatre
A mixed-used space intended for performance art, traveling exhibits, special events, and rentals. It features a sprung wood floor for dance performances, AV room for professional controls, and a room divider to break up into two medium rooms. This fully flexible space will be used for everything from children’s theatre to professional development trainings.
A sixth gallery space is also in the plan, which will be co-designed with the exhibit firm and help bring something creative and customized to our community.
To learn more about Explorations V Children’s Museum’s move to Bonnet Springs Park, visit www.ExplorationsV.com/BonnetSpringsPark.
About Explorations V Children’s Museum
Almost 80% of the human brain is developed by the age of six. Most children who visit the Museum are under the age of six. In addition to the educational exhibits, over 18,000 people participated in an on-site educational program and 87,000 people were impacted through outreach in the 2017-2018 fiscal year alone. In total, 850 families have attended a financial education class and 135 four and five-year-olds have graduated from Storybook Camp, which raises children living in poverty’s chance at succeeding in kindergarten.
Children’s Museums are family magnets and Explorations V Children’s Museum is no exception. Founded in July 1991 by parent volunteers, Explorations V is located in the heart of historic downtown Lakeland, Florida. It is the only hands-on museum in Polk County dedicated to the education and cultural development of children and families.
Our mission is providing a hands-on, fun-filled adventure in learning for children and families through cultural exhibits, educational programs, and events in the arts & sciences.
This is accomplished via three floors of kid-powered interactive exhibits and programs that celebrate the five senses, hence the “V” in the name. Exhibits & programs are designed with hidden learning concepts complementing Florida Sunshine State Standards for PreK through 5th grade. Art and science are the pathways for many learning concepts, freeing the child’s creativity and unleashing the power of play.
Explorations V opened in downtown Lakeland in 1991 and purchased the four story historic Kress Building in 1998. A capital campaign ensued and the new Museum debuted in 2000. The Museum partners with schools, colleges, arts & cultural organizations, foundations, government, civic groups, individuals, and corporations like Disney, Publix,