Early Learning Experience Gallery and Community Access Initiative
The Gallery will be a nexus for early learning where parents can build relationships, share expertise and cultivate resilience and joy.
Name or Organization
Children's Museum of Denver, Inc.
The Museum is located in central Denver, adjacent to the Jefferson Park and Sun Valley neighborhoods. Last year the Museum served over 560,000 guests; 82% of children and families served last year came from within the seven-county metro Denver area.
What is your stage of development?
Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD
What is the stage of your proposal?
Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.
Describe your submission in one clear sentence
The Museum’s new state-of-the-art exhibit for infants and toddlers (and the adults who love and care for them), will become a nexus for early learning and family support where new parents from diverse communities can access resources to build relationships, share expertise, manage stress and cultivate resilience and joy in their families.
Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)
We believe every parent wants the absolute best for their child. Parents’ efforts to support their children are too often undermined by adversity, environmental stressors, and lack of support. We will develop an original and wholly innovative Early Learning Experience Gallery to support high-quality adult-child interactions that empower parents as first teachers. We recognize merely creating this space is not enough, the proposed Community Access Initiative will ensure all families, regardless of economic barriers, are able to utilize and benefit from all the new gallery has to offer.
Select an Innovation Target
Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.
Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)
Imagine a space – free from judgment and expertly designed for optimal parent-child interactions – where parents, caregivers and early childhood change-makers come to connect, to catch their breath, to share and to discover. The new infant, toddler and caregiver gallery at the Children’s Museum will provide a much-needed space of connection and play for parents with young children.
The design process for the gallery will involve extensive listening, appreciative inquiry and collaborative development, resulting in a space where diverse families feel a strong sense of welcome and belonging. The new early learning gallery will support the cognitive, physical and social-emotional development of infants and toddlers through sensory and intellectual exploration – and will include features that give parents and caregivers resources and inspiration for engaging with their children, as well as afford opportunities for meaningful connections with other adults.
To ensure all new families, regardless of income, are able to take advantage of this inspiring space, we will launch a Community Access Initiative, expanding our existing SNAP Access Initiative. Through the expanded Access Initiative, families participating in SNAP, WIC and Medicaid benefit programs can access the Museum through the greatly reduced admission of $1 per person. This broadened access avenue will launch in January 2019, prior to the grand opening of the Early Learning Experience Gallery in October 2019.
What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)
Lack of information is not the most significant barrier to effective, responsive parenting. More significant are the stress and fatigue of daily life and lack of social support. This initiative will help struggling parents build resilience and strength by connecting them with tools, knowledge and culturally responsive guidance to encourage and enhance meaningful parent-child connection within a beautiful and welcoming space.
Explain your idea (5000 characters)
We know that the infant and toddler years are times of high stress and anxiety for many parents. We know, too, that stress and lack of social support can undermine the capacity for parents to engage with their children in the warm, responsive ways that have been shown to be optimal for social, emotional and intellectual development. This is especially true for families experiencing significant adversity such as poverty, displacement, abuse, and loss.
The new Early Learning Experience Gallery at the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus will provide a developmentally-appropriate play and learning environment in which parents of young children in low-income communities feel empowered, supported and engaged in their child’s development. We will partner with community leaders, influencers, and family support providers to offer culturally competent, strengths-based parenting resources and learning opportunities. Additionally, by expanding the Museum’s existing SNAP Access Initiative into a broadened Community Access Initiative in January 2019, the Museum will ensure all families, regardless of financial background, are able to take advantage of the robust early learning experiences the new gallery will afford.
The Early Learning Experience Gallery is currently scheduled to open in October 2019. Design details, including specific components of the space, will largely be determined through a process of appreciative inquiry with emphasis on community input and authentic engagement scheduled for spring and summer 2018. However, the essential principles of the gallery design are already in place, grounded in the science of developmental psychology on the crucial importance of adult-child interactions. The Early Learning Experience Gallery will be an engaging and interactive physical space with elements that are based on the growing body of evidence that strong relationships and responsive adult-child interactions are the single-greatest mediator of child development and success.
Providing access to a state-of-the-art learning space designed specifically for infants and toddlers and equipping parents for high-quality interactions meets a significant community need. The first few years of a child’s life are critical, marking the most rapid period of neurological development and plasticity. Furthermore, we know that children who start school less prepared in terms of their early skills and capacity for emotional regulation are likely to struggle to catch up with their peers academically and socially, leading to achievement gaps that persist throughout their time in school (Low Income and The Development of America’s Kindergartners, National Center for Children in Poverty, 2003).
The 2017 Colorado Kids Count report highlights the need for nurturing and educational experiences in early childhood. Between 2011 and 2015 only half of all young children in Colorado were enrolled in preschool or kindergarten, a gap that widens for children of color living in high poverty neighborhoods. Within the Denver metro area, American Indian, Black and Latino children are five times more likely than White children to live in high-poverty neighborhoods with no nationally accredited early childhood center. As the only Denver metro area cultural organization devoted exclusively to informal early childhood education, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is uniquely positioned to address the need for affordable, inclusive and accessible early learning experiences for young children.
The Museum is exceptionally qualified to create the Early Learning Experience Gallery and implement the Community Access Initiative. Since 2015, the Museum has partnered with early childhood change-makers and created a comprehensive Museum initiative to integrate parent empowerment platforms and infuse our exhibits and experiences with brain building tools and messages for parents. This work has been highly successful, and the proposed project will extend and deepen its impact. Additionally, in January 2015, the Museum launched the SNAP Access Initiative, which enables families participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to visit the Museum for $1 per person for up to ten people, any time throughout the year. The SNAP Access program has proven tremendously successful, providing more than 24,000 admissions to qualifying children and families last year alone. It is because of the success of the SNAP Access Initiative, that the Museum has decided to further extend the program to families participating in Medicaid and WIC.
Who benefits? (1500 characters)
The beneficiaries of the proposed Initiative are young children and their parents/caregivers; specifically families in low-income communities. The Community Access Initiative is tailored to a specific population that has been verified by county and state-level benefit administration agencies as low-income.
The Museum currently extends $1 admission to families receiving SNAP benefits (annual income >130% Federal Poverty Level - FPL). Due to positive feedback and participation in this program, the Museum is eager to expand the Initiative to families participating in Medicaid and WIC. These two programs, while based upon a higher income eligibility threshold than SNAP, are still restricted to families experiencing economic insecurity, who may not otherwise be able to afford a Museum visit. In order to qualify for Medicaid, a family must report a gross income less than 138% FPL; to qualify for WIC a parent must report a gross income less than 185% FPL.
Participating families with young children will benefit from an innovative and culturally responsive Early Learning Experience Gallery that provides inspiring opportunities, tools and resources for parent-child engagement and young child brain building moments.
The Museum has experience partnering with low-income communities throughout metro Denver and Denver Human Services, the agency which administers SNAP and Medicaid benefits. We will leverage the strength of these existing partnerships to maximize program success.
What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)
We believe the combination of a community engagement and collaboratively designed Early Learning Experience Gallery and the greatly expanded Community Access Initiative will have the following impacts:
• Increase the number of families with young children who use the Museum as a platform for learning and connection;
• Increase parent understanding of how they can use the Museum to support positive parent-child interactions
• Build the Museum’s cultural competence and capacity to more effectively welcome diverse families and encourage optimal parent-child interactions.
We know that many Denver-area families with the greatest need are not utilizing the offerings available at the Museum. The Community Access Initiative will develop systems and programs that enable parents of young children to fuel creativity, curiosity, experimentation and joyful play and enhance parent understanding of how they can use the Museum as a resource for their family to be successful, such as fostering positive parent-child interactions.
The knowledge and experience gained through implementation of the Community Access Initiative and the Early Learning Experience Gallery may lead to positive systemic change on topics including: creating a sustainable access avenue to cultural institutions for low-income families, co-constitutive exhibit development, parent and caregiver empowerment and parent-child engagement for low-income families.
How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)
The goal of the Community Access Initiative and the Early Learning Experience Gallery is to provide resources and opportunities for parents and caregivers, especially those with limited resources, to cultivate their own strengths and assets, gain the tools to offer their child the best early start possible and to see the Museum as a trusted partner offering support to their family. Building upon existing partnerships with surrounding communities and community organizations, including Denver Human Services, the Museum will create pathways to ensure the program reaches a diverse population of low-income children and families.
The Museum is committed to serving all families, regardless of financial background. We recognize that the metro Denver region is increasingly diverse, and reflects increasing economic stratification. We will take steps to ensure the Initiative engages communities with the highest need and provides valuable resources and opportunities for involvement. In January 2018, the Museum began work with a leading market research firm, Corona Insights, to create a new 10-20 year master plan. The plan will help the Museum better understand Denver’s changing landscape and the Museum’s potential as the flagship informal early learning resource within the community. The master planning process will enable the Museum to strengthen its understanding of the community, thus enhancing our ability to best serve the area’s low-income communities.
Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is an institutional leader in creating sustainable access avenues for the community it serves and an industry leader in providing one-of-a-kind world class exhibits.
The original and wholly innovative Early Learning Experience Gallery will be designed to encourage and support high-quality adult-child interactions and meet the changing needs of our diverse community. The Gallery will support the cognitive, physical and social-emotional development of infants and toddlers through sensory and intellectual exploration – and will include features that give parents and caregivers resources and inspiration for engaging with their children, as well as afford opportunities for meaningful connections with other adults. This project represents the Museum’s, and Denver’s, first large-scale effort to translate recent advances in the fields of neuroscience and early learning and development into culturally responsive informal play spaces and exhibit elements.
The Community Access Initiative will further enhance the Gallery’s impact by creating bridges between the Museum and the communities it serves. We recognize barriers that many families in surrounding communities face, including economic insecurity, which may preclude them from a Museum visit. The Community Access Initiative will minimize these barriers, providing an accessible and welcoming avenue through which parents and their young children are able to visit the Museum.
Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)
The Community Access Initiative and the Early Learning Experience Gallery have the potential to reach a significant population. The Museum is located in Colorado’s biggest population center. The seven counties of metro Denver are home to about 3.08 million of the state’s 5.5 million residents. We are proud that our audience continues to grow, we served a record number of guests in the year ending June 30, 2017. Numbers served totaled 568,287, a 13% increase from the prior year and an increase of 60% from averages prior to expanding our campus in 2015.
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is strategically positioned to disseminate findings and lessons learned and share results from the Initiative, with a commitment to maximizing the number of end users. In addition to serving families throughout the growing metro Denver community, the Community Access Initiative will provide tools and methods that can be adopted by other museums and informal learning institutions nation-wide to authentically engage and welcome parents and children from low-income communities. The Museum has successfully implemented similar access programs, including the SNAP Access Initiative, and has shared program model, successes and implementation strategies with colleague cultural organizations, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and History Colorado Center.
Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)
The Museum’s current strategic plan already identifies access for low-income communities and parent engagement as two areas of focus, precisely the issues that the Community Access Initiative and the Early Learning Experience Gallery will address. To that end, and as part of the major campus expansion completed in 2015, the Museum has built its infrastructure and the financial and human resources necessary to effectively and expertly provide rich educational and family-friendly experiences for over half a million visitors per year.
The Community Access Initiative and the Early Learning Experience Gallery are supported by the Museum leadership team and the board of directors, both of which have experience meeting fundraising goals and completing large-scale design and build projects. The project will utilize the expertise of the Museum staff, as well as that of its partners. Existing Museum resources, which will be used to ensure effective implementation, include staff expertise in child development, early learning and family engagement; bilingual and bi-cultural staff; commitment to community engagement; and high attendance among young children ages 0-3 and their caregivers. In addition, the Museum will build upon its partnerships, including Vroom in Colorado, Parent Possible, the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs, and Denver Human Services, to benefit from the perspectives and expertise of educators, community representatives and diverse families.
The design and installation of the Early Learning Experience Gallery will be led by the Museum’s in-house exhibits design team. The team benefits from extensive experience designing world-class, one-of-a-kind exhibits that engage children and the adults who care for them and brings expertise in architecture, industrial design, modeling and electrical programming to the project.
Specific to the Community Access Initiative, the Museum has demonstrated success implementing similar access initiatives. Through the SNAP Access Initiative, implemented in January 2015, families participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program pay $1 admission per person, for up to 10 people per visit. We see immense opportunity to further extend our reach into the community by creating an additional access avenue for families who may not be eligible for SNAP benefits, yet still experiencing financial insecurity. It is because of this opportunity and the historic success of the SNAP Access Initiative, that the Museum is proposing the Community Access Initiative, which will welcome families participating in Medicaid or WIC, along with SNAP, into the Museum.
Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)
The Museum enhances viability of the project through the proposed community-driven exhibit design process for the Early Learning Experience Gallery. Through the process, the Museum will benefit from audience feedback, stakeholder input and subject expert insight. As a result, the Gallery will be designed with a keen eye toward community priorities and evidence-based practices, and will ensure relevancy for the audiences we will serve.
Specific to the Community Access Initiative, the Museum has made an organizational commitment to ensuring all children and families, regardless of financial resources, are able to take advantage of the robust educational and developmental opportunities the Museum affords. To this end, the Museum has fully incorporated access programs into the operating budget. To lessen associated risks, the Museum benefits from diverse funding sources, including funds from foundational partners, corporate partners and individuals. In addition, the Museum is prepared to use earned revenue (from sources including our general admission ticket sales, membership sales, concessions, etc.) should raised funds fall short of the total project cost. The Museum has been financially strong for more than 15 years and is well-prepared to manage the demands that a project like this will entail.
HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)
The Museum uses evaluation as a critical tool in its efforts to effectively serve our community’s children, families and schools, to measure progress toward intended learning outcomes, and to gain insight into guests’ experiences. The core of the development process for the Early Learning Experience Gallery is human centered design. Design specifics, including exhibit components, will largely be determined through a process of appreciative inquiry with emphasis on community input and authentic engagement. Planned evaluation for the Gallery will be conducted in four stages. The first stage of evaluation will consist of front-end research and evaluation, and contribute to the intentional design process, allowing the Museum to identify the community’s most pressing needs in early childhood education. Subsequent phases of evaluation will include prototyping, remedial evaluation and summative evaluation.
The proposed Community Access Initiative will expand the Museum’s existing SNAP Access Initiative, which currently enables families participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to pay $1 admission per person, for up to 10 people. Through the expanded Initiative, the Museum will extend the alternate pricing structure to families participating in Medicaid and WIC. The Museum recently completed extensive evaluation of the SNAP Access Initiative, highlights from the follow-up survey demonstrated program value and are included in the attachment above.
Tell us more about you (3000 characters)
The mission of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is to create extraordinary experiences that champion the wonder and joy of childhood. The Museum was founded in 1973 by parents, educators and community leaders who wanted to create a hands-on educational institution for families with young children. The Museum stands out as Colorado’s home for activating childhood creativity and passion for learning through a kid-powered environment that is expertly designed for our community’s children and their caregivers.
Every experience at the Museum is grounded in the growing body of neuroscience research that confirms what the social sciences have long contended: The first years of life are essential to future learning. Rather than being a “blank slate” on which adults imprint knowledge, beginning in infancy, children constantly analyze the world around them and draw conclusions from their observations. Our rich, developmentally appropriate experiences capitalize on this natural curiosity, encouraging children to question, investigate, assess and take risks. These experiences help set children up for success and foster a lifelong love of learning .
As the Museum grows, we identified the need to ensure all families feel welcome and supported. The idea for the Early Learning Experience Gallery and Community Access Initiative stems from this need – we see great potential to serve as a community resource for parents of young children in low-income communities, a population that often may experience barriers to participation, or feel excluded from cultural organizations and institutions. The Museum’s current spaces for young children, the Center for the Young Child and Big Backyard, provide the 2000+ square foot space that will house the new Early Learning Experience Gallery. Since the existing exhibits were designed, in 2000, there have been significant research and knowledge gains in the field of developmental psychology and neuroscience. Current research highlights the importance of high-quality parent-child interactions, and the conditions that support them. We see immense opportunity to develop a vibrant, innovative new space that will incorporate current best practices and further engage our growing audience base.
Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)
The Museum has the people and partners necessary to implement the project, but recognizes the value of partnerships and collaborations. Existing Museum partnerships include: Denver Human Services, Sun Valley Homes Resident Association, Denver Public Schools Early Education Department, Vroom, Parent Possible and Bright by Three. We welcome and encourage additional partnership opportunities, as described in the following section, to increase program impact.
As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is committed to ensuring all parents and children feel welcome and empowered through our offerings, and recognizes the importance of collective impact in our endeavors. To this end, we benefit from partnerships that enhance guest experience, share best practices and new innovations in early childhood education, authentically engage low-income communities, and provide access to a broad network of like-minded organizations.
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Yes, share my contact information
[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus provides rich play experiences and a dynamic learning environment with 20 innovative exhibits, ever-changing daily programs and exciting year-round special events. We also take experiences into classrooms through outreach programming and regularly participate in community events. More information on the Museum can be found by visiting www.mychildsmuseum.org.