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By Kara Pound
Photos courtesy of Tag! Children’s Museum
Tag! Model by Mark Cubbedge

In a Psychology Today article entitled “Why We Need Children’s Museums,” Richard Rende Ph.D. writes, “Kids don’t get nearly enough opportunities for hands-on, unsupervised, exploratory play. Children’s museums not only provide that, but they also serve as a lesson for what we need to bring back to childhood, and what we need to limit.”

Tag! Children's Museum St. Augustine

While traditional museums typically employ a “do not touch” approach, children’s museums want their patrons to engage all the senses for learning through play. Whether it’s a hands-on exhibit providing an inside look into the workings of engineering devices, or self-exploration amongst a room chock-full of arts and craft supplies, children’s museums offer opportunities for whole-family learning through a variety of activities.

Apparently, the trend is catching on. According to the Association of Children’s Museums, there are more than 300 of these types of facilities in over 20 countries around the world including Charlotte, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago. Here in Florida, you can find children’s museums in Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee…even Key West. For residents of Northeast Florida though, there isn’t one which is within close driving distance. That didn’t go unnoticed.

Tag! Childrens Museum

Phase 1 of the Tag! Children’s Museum breaks ground this year.

Back in 2007, founding board members Jennifer Koppman, Kathy Marquis, Wendy Philcox, Kathy Weed and Susan Connor were chatting while their children were in a playgroup together. A conversation started about the lack of a children’s museum in the area. Kim MacEwan, Executive Director of “tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine” explains: “The museum was founded by five women who love living in St. Augustine because it’s a great place to raise a family…but the one thing that they felt was missing was a children’s museum.”

The five quickly established a 501(c)(3) non-profit and started doing roundtable meetings in the community. The support from local residents and businesses was immediate. “This has really been a groundswell of the community coming together to design and develop the museum,” says MacEwan. “We’ve held at least 75 unique meetings with different audiences to find out what the community needs and wants. That’s guided us this entire time. We’ve never lost site of that.”

With more than $3 million raised (their goal is $5 million) from over 450 unique donors, in 2015, the ladies of tag! started to look for a location. 22 sites were considered, then narrowed down to three. The winner ended up being a four-acre parcel purchased in January of 2016 which was located at the St. Augustine Shipyard, a relatively new marine merchant community off of US 1.

The results of all these efforts: in 2018, “tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine” will finally break ground with plans to open next winter. According to MacEwan, this will be the first new cultural institution like a museum or art facility built in Northeast Florida in over 20 years. “It’s really exciting,” adds MacEwan.

Another big component in planning the beginning stages of “tag!” has been a partnership with the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM): a professional member service organization for the children’s museum field that’s based in Arlington, Virginia.

“They do all of the longitudinal research on the outcomes of museums: they collect the data on visitors, sizes, square footage, what types of gift shops work and what types don’t, cafes — all of the operational side,” MacEwan explains. “If you have a question, concern, need help with something or guidance — they’re there for you.”

 

There will be multiple construction phases for the museum. The first phase of the museum is called Discovery (the name of the first gallery section they’re building) and will include hands-on, interactive exhibits as well as programming and workshops and a ton of outdoor play space.

The Artist’s Gallery, inspired by the location’s woodland setting, will be an imaginative space dedicated to creative arts, featuring work tables, easels and equipment for drawing, painting, sculpting and crafting, as well as a designated Early Learners arts area for toddlers.

 

“The aesthetic design for the museum is a pop-up storybook, so instead of walking into a classroom setting, you’re in an immersive setting with a 3-D tree cutout,” MacEwan says. “The Artist’s Gallery is a good example of a mixed-programming space where kids will be doing their own free play and free art design, but then there will be times when there will be a program or workshop.”

Other features of the Discovery Phase of the museum include The Birdhouse: a multi-level outdoor climbing structure with interactive exhibits focused on science and nature; and the Weather Sciences Gallery: a 1,265-square-foot stand-alone building dedicated to teaching kids about the power of weather with wave tables, wind tubes and Aeolian landscapes.

“We’ll have an exhibit called a Rigamajig where kids get to put it together and work through the gears and figure out the engineering behind how to build it and how to use it,” says MacEwan. “There will also be a Maker’s Gallery, which is kind of like a garage where you go in and tinker, take things apart and put them back together.”

Once all is said and done, tag! will feature a four-acre campus, 30,000-square-feet of indoor space and 45,000-square-feet of outdoor gardens and exhibit space. There are plans on hosting various activities including after-school programs, field trips, summer camps, spring break camps, home school groups, private school groups, birthday parties and even yoga classes for kids.

MacEwan’s belief in the children’s museum is obvious. “They’ve evolved over the years,” she says. “You used to go to them and everything would be static. Children learn differently now and their needs have changed. We (at tag!) still believe in learning through play, so what we do is try and push it a little bit forward by having it be even more hands-on and with a little bit less technology…I like to think of (the) subject matter as being the community. They are the ones who are there to learn. Rather than being about a subject, a children’s museum is for someone.”

“(They) are a hub,” she adds. “They create that space where we can all come together. We may live in different areas of the community, but we all come together as families. We’re all there for the same purpose — to learn and spend quality time.”

But it’s something even deeper to MacEwan. “It’s a really beautiful feeling when you’re at a children’s museum. It’s collaborative, fun and a positive place to be and that’s what is being created. We want to create a life source in the community – a cultural institution…I think St. Augustine is ready for this. It’s time.”

WAYS YOU CAN HELP

tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine needs your help. There are dozens of ways you can get involved to help make the dream of a children’s museum in the Old City a reality. Contact the museum staff today to find out about Gift Recognition Opportunities, Capital Campaign Pledges, volunteering opportunities and various workshops and programming that they hold regularly at their administration building. You can also make an online donation at tagmuseum.org.

tag! Children’s Museum
76 Dockside Drive, Suite 105
St. Augustine, FL 32084
904-647-1757