Parents work to create a children’s museum in Fort Smith

FORT SMITH — A group of mothers are working to create a children’s museum in Fort Smith in order to provide new experiences for kids and bridge a gap in local family activities.

A children’s museum is an educational and hands-on institution stimulating learning and curiosity in children, helping them learn life skills through playing such as problem solving, motor development, language, spatial and coordination, communication and negotiation, creativity and reading comprehension.

The Fort Kids Children’s Museum website says the focus of exhibits will include art and art exploration, science and technology, wellness and mindfulness practice, physical play and motor skills, and nature and environmental learning.

Executive board members Ashleigh Buckley, Marie Holland and Sarah Strom said they thought about the idea in 2020 during the covid-19 pandemic, but it fell to the wayside due to a lack of childcare at the time. They reconvened this spring, and have already formed a board, received a nonprofit status, have a group of community members ready to fundraise and volunteer.

Strom said the idea came from seeing a need in the community to provide a place for caregivers to connect while their children play in a safe, inclusive environment.

All three parents noted local activities such as the Vertical Horizons Climbing Gym, Spartan Adventure Park Fort Smith, Parrot Island Waterpark, Elevate Adventure Park and Trampolines, or story time at the library are great amenities, they can’t be used by everyone due to Their children’s’ ages, physical abilities, weather, or just don’t take up much time.

Holland said a children’s museum would also help add to those spaces by providing more activities for families in Fort Smith, as well as those traveling to the area.

“They’re going to come in, go to the museum, go eat lunch, go to the trampoline park and have the kids pass out on the way home,” she said. “Why not have a children’s museum? We have the ability, we have the space, we have the need and the want.”

Museum planning company Haizlip Studio is scheduled to come to the community at the end of this month to help do a feasibility study, get community input, design the space and look at potential locations.

Haizlip designed the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville, the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith, and more recently the new Regnier Family Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City, Mo.

Buckley said one thing nonnegotiable is building classroom space for camp programs over summer and spring breaks, which she said could help children get exposed to other programs not accessible in Fort Smith yet, while also helping parents by providing part-time childcare.

The slogan for the museum has already been created: ‘Our town, our Fort, our safe place to explore.’

Holland emphasized they want to make the museum usable for everybody, no matter what their abilities are or what price families can afford. She said several community meetings are being planned so they can hear what the community wants to see built. She said people have already reached out wanting to see how they can get involved.

“We’re going to get grants, we’re going to get sponsorships, we’re going to get all of this. It is obtainable, it’s just how we’re going to go about doing it,” she said.

The museum has a website, Facebook page and Instagram where people can sign up for updates or help get involved.

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