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Potsdam’s children’s museum begins to take shape

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POTSDAM — After starting with little more than an idea in 2011, plans for the North Country Children’s Museum are well under way.

The museum is planned to open in 2015 in the village, but a group of educators behind the project has begun raising money and testing ideas for exhibits and programs at the facility.

“We’re not just a museum that is going to be built in 2015; we’re already here impacting the community with learning opportunities,” said Melissa Wagner Telford, who oversees fund development for the museum. “It is really going to alter the educational landscape as we know it in the north country for the better. It really fills a need; it creates culture and inspiration.”

“Studies have shown that students formulate ideas about their career interests and what they like in grades two through eight,” said James J. Carroll, museum organizer and professor at Clarkson University. “It is very important that we expose students in the north country to areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”

The first major fundraising push for the museum began last year, Ms. Wagner Telford said.

“In November, we launched our major gifts campaign to raise capital dollars. We announced $100,000 from an anonymous donor at that time,” she said.

The group has raised more than $150,000 so far, she said, but will need about $675,000 to develop and build the museum’s 10 permanent exhibits.

“Each one of these exhibits will provide hands-on interactive learning activities so the children will move through the spaces themselves,” Ms. Wagner Telford said. “It extends the classroom lessons that they receive in school, empowering them to have a higher success rate.”

Planned exhibits include the Robot Zone, which focuses on robotics; a Science Playground, with a particular focus on the Adirondacks; Kid Power, centered on health and fitness, and a maple tree climbing sculpture.

Other exhibits are a performance space, an arts studio, an early childhood play space, an Akwesasne Mohawk longhouse, a construction zone and a mock natural foods market. Mr. Carroll said the museum is choosing to focus on activities rather than the traditional passive museum displays and dioramas.

“These are programmatic activities,” he said. “They’re not designed to be an interactive-type museum display, but they would be offered at the museum on a more permanent basis.”

Other exhibits would change and evolve throughout the year.

“Our plan is to have exhibits that are adaptable so you can go one semester, come back six months later and have a different experience,” Mr. Carroll said.

In the meantime, the museum is testing ideas for its exhibits in the Clarkson University Bookstore. Each weekend throughout the spring, the Museum Without Walls will test exhibits on robotics, music and performance, fitness and science.

Dr. Carroll on Saturday led robotics activities for pupils in grades one through four.

“They will be participating in a hands-on activity using Lego robotics components,” he said. “They will be creating products from top spinners to Etch A Sketches to spin-art. They will work in groups of two to three, depending on enrollment level, and they will be working with a Clarkson student mentor.”

Mr. Carroll said that for some children in the north country, the Museum Without Walls offers their first exposure to advanced technology.

“I had a 7-year-old last time I was there working on a computer and she looked at me and said, ‘This was really neat. Now I can tell my mom I know how to use a computer,’” he said. “It was obviously the first time she had ever used one.”

Children at the sessions not only take home an education, they participate in honing the museum’s content.

“It gives us a chance to see what makes the child tick, what is really going to engage them in the most superlative way to receive the lesson,” Ms. Wagner Telford said.

The organizers have a potential site in the heart of Potsdam in mind for the museum, but didn’t want to discuss the location until the plans are official.

Museum Without Walls sessions cost $10 per participant and begin at 12:30 and 2 p.m. each Saturday at the Clarkson University Bookstore, 39 Market St., Potsdam.

Participants may attend one or both sessions and are encouraged to preregister at the website for SUNY Potsdam’s Center for Lifelong Education and Recreation, where a list of scheduled programs can be viewed.

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