The Children’s Museum: Breaking down barriers to learning

Part 1: This community institution offers accessible, fun learning experiences for kids in the province.

Play, learn, grow — that’s the mission of the Children’s Museum. For almost 30 years, they’ve lived up to that motto by giving all kids the chance to learn creatively in a fun environment, regardless of physical or financial barriers.

Located at The Forks in western Canada’s oldest surviving train-repair building, the Children’s Museum operates as a non-profit charitable organization, now offering 12 permanent, hands-on galleries to engage young visitors in a fun, exciting way.

We provide a space where all children can be successful,” says Children’s Museum Executive Director, Sara Hancheruk. “Socio-economic background, language, previous experiences and other accessibility factors do not dictate whether children can play and learn in our environment.”

A spark for creative learning

“Giving children access to high quality, educational and — most importantly — fun experiences with their caregivers influences positive social change and the creativity of the next generation,” Sara says.

Originally hired as the Director of Education and Exhibits at the Children’s Museum a decade ago, Sara has now been Executive Director for almost four years. “Children’s museums have the unique opportunity to cross disciplines through exhibits and programs that focus on cognitive development, experiential learning and immersive play,” Sara explains.

The Children’s Museum
Dimitri Kyriakopoulos (left) and his mom Erin McIntyre enjoy the Splash Lab with Damian Nernberg at the Children’s Museum.

The museum’s galleries engage kids’ problem-solving abilities, senses and social skills, whether they’re experiencing the Illusion Tunnel, Engine House, Milk Machine, Junction 9161 or the Mellow Marsh.

Breaking down barriers

The Children’s Museum actively works to break down monetary and geographical barriers to Manitoba kids, so that everyone gets the chance to experience what they offer.

The Free2Play Access Program removes the financial barrier for a visit to the Children’s Museum,” Sara says. “Children and their caregivers who might not otherwise be able to visit have an opportunity to come and explore with free admission.”

This level of accessibility extends to those who live outside the city of Winnipeg. “We also have a Rural Access Program that helps remove the financial barrier for children from rural Manitoba to visit the museum for school programs.”

Keeping up with changing times

The Children’s Museum has continually responded to feedback, making modifications to facilitate improved access for all.

We’re always working on our galleries and on new programming,” Sara says. “Most recently, we’ve been developing programming for the Explore-Abilities Access Program and for National Indigenous Peoples Day.”

The Explore-Abilities Access Program was launched in 2015. “We designed our space to be as accessible as possible,” Sara further explains. “The program aims to provide adapted museum experiences and a range of visitor services designed for children of all abilities to have fun and enjoy interactive, hands-on learning in a safe and accessible facility.”

The Children’s Museum
David Girardin and his daughter Madeleine, 4, get creative in the Pop M’art.

The museum’s Great Hall also hosts travelling shows — this summer, the Castle Builder exhibit from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was featured. As well, it features the annual festive display of the Eaton’s Fairytale Vignettes in November and December.

Assiniboine Credit Union has worked closely with the Children’s Museum for a number of years, supporting the museum’s Free2Play Access Program and by providing financing options during fundraising campaigns.

up next

In part two of the story, learn more about some of the specialized learning opportunities the museum offers as well as the success of their funding strategies.

About Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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