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Humanities During the Pandemic

Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac

The Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac has a special place in the hearts of many area families. Children come to play, learn, and forge lasting connections with their caregivers and their community.

 

“We’re a very unique arts and culture organization in that almost everything we do is hands-on in bringing people together,” says Executive Director Andrea Welsch. Time at the museum is “a time to share stories, to pass on passions, to hand down traditions.”

“We’re a very unique arts and culture organization in that almost everything we do is hands-on in bringing people together.”
–Executive Director Andrea Welsch

Wisconsin Humanities is proud to have supported the museum in the past, awarding grants to fund children’s programs that highlight the region’s unique geography and history. “Living on the Ledge” was all about Fond du Lac’s location on the Niagara Escarpment, while “Sturgeon Stories” shared the rich history of sturgeon spearing in Lake Winnebago, which sits at the town’s northern border.

This spring, the museum wasn’t looking for funds to launch new programs. Steep revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the museum needed additional funds just to keep their doors open. When Welsch heard that Wisconsin Humanities would be distributing emergency CARES grants, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

“One of our initial goals was to stay connected with our families,” said Welsch. “At the time, we had 800 families. That’s a pretty big number!” Since the indoor parts of the museum had to stay closed for safety reasons, staff jumped right into reopening their large outdoor space, which includes raised garden beds, a butterfly garden, a bike and tractor track, and many more fun features. The space is called WinnePLAYgo (a play on the name Lake Winnebago).

CARES grant funds helped in a variety of ways, from the purchase of safety signage and hand sanitizer to fun new features like a Frisbee toss. Staff members came up with creative ways to help kids navigate new health and safety protocols, too. “Kids hear about six feet of space,” says Welsch, “but do they really know what that looks like?” To solve the problem, staff posted six-foot-long rulers in several spots throughout the play area.

Having a safe outdoor space to learn and play has made a huge difference for families in the area this summer. It’s also provided some unique learning opportunities. “Even though we’re outside, staff still have to wear masks,” Welsch says. “We have this opportunity to get kids used to talking to someone in a mask, because they’re not used to doing that at home. Soon they’ll go to school, and guess what? Teachers are going to be wearing masks. So I say to kids, ‘Can you see? I’m smiling with my eyes!’ They initially look at you like you’re crazy, but then they start to go, ‘Ohhh, all right.’”

The CARES grant has also allowed museum staff to plan ahead. “It’s the grant that’s enabled us to talk about that next chapter,” says Welsch. “We are looking into the fall and asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to mark this point in history? How are we going to give kids an opportunity to create something that resonates with them?’”

We’re excited to see what they come up with, and proud to have played a part in the museum’s past, present, and future.

Want to learn more about the Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac? Visit their website at https://www.cmfdl.org/.

Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.