Messy Play Celebrated in Children’s Museum of NH’s New Outdoor Play Patio
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is gearing up for a summer of messy outdoor fun with the opening of its new outdoor Play Patio exhibit. Opening to the public on Thursday, May 20, and in the works since 2018, it represents the Museum’s largest expansion since opening in Dover in 2008. The Play Patio will provide new opportunities for children to engage with materials that are challenging to offer inside the Museum, such as water, sand, paint and clay.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the opening of the Play Patio,” said Jane Bard, Museum President. “Families visiting the Museum are looking for ways to bring joyful and enriching experiences to their children’s lives while feeling connected to the community again after a long year of isolation. The Play Patio is a place for that to happen.”
Exhibit elements will include two sensory tables, a water circuit wall, oversized paint wall, chalk spinner, water painting, a color caster sculpture, a tube tones musical element and tables that will be used for picnicking in the future, but for now will be additional activity stations.
“The Play Patio couldn't have happened without generous support from our community, with funding coming from 19 different companies and foundations, as well as our members and donors. “We are very thankful to our lead donors whose contributions made this dream a reality,” shared Jane Bard, CMNH President. Those lead donors include Kennebunk Savings, Newburyport Bank, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Abbie F. Moseley Charitable Trust, McIninch Foundation, Samuel P. Hunt Foundation, and the Roger R. & Theresa S. Thompson Endowment Fund. Additional funding was provided by companies who supported the project through the Community Development Finance Authority: Highland Hardwoods, Alexander Technology Group, Northway Bank, Newburyport Bank, First Seacoast Bank, D.F. Richard Energy, Stinson Associates, Leone, McDonnell & Roberts, P.A., and the Seacoast Endodontic Associates. The museum also thanks ARQ Architects, S.W. Cole Engineering, Inc., Norm Fracassa of Fracassa Designworks and the City of Dover for their in-kind support.
The Play Patio space, adjacent to the museum’s entrance, has gone through a big transition. “This area was originally a floor below grade and only accessible by a set of stairs,” shared Eric Erwin, CMNH Exhibits Manager. “We realized early on that in order to make the space physically accessible to all visitors, we would have to bring the area up to street level. With permission from the city of Dover, who owns the museum building, the area was filled with giant lightweight foam blocks and covered with recycled rubber tiles. A door was added from the Museum to the Play Patio for easy access to the space.”
“Originally, we were thinking this would be an outdoor picnic zone,” said Erwin. “But as our plans evolved, we realized this space had the potential to add new elements that our visitors have been asking for, like water play and messy art. A Water Circuit Wall is one way we’re adding an element for messy experimentation and fun. Kids can use a hand pump to push water through sluices to create waterfalls, and fill cups to create a cascading circuit,” said Erwin.
Another component using water is the “Evaporation Zone,” a 3-sided wall for brush painting with water. Young artists can also express themselves with washable paint on a giant double-sided paint wall and with chalk on a rotating chalk spinner.
A giant Color Caster sculpture is installed with colorful circular lenses shading the ground in different locations throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. “Beyond adding a whimsical sculpture to the Patio, the Color Caster is designed for shadow, color and light play and encourages visitors to look through the colored lenses to see the world around them ‘in a new light,” said Erwin, the sculpture’s creator.
Two sensory tables will provide endless opportunities for hands-on discovery. “The materials we put in the tables will change over time, but we’ll start by filling them with kinetic sand and tools for molding and creating designs in one, and water beads with hidden sea creatures in the other,” said Erwin.
Tube Tones is a series of connected PVC tubes that provide a musical element to the Play Patio. Visitors can pound out a musical beat in the manner of the Blue Man Group.
And even with all those other elements, there will still be room for picnic tables when families need to take a break and have a snack. “For the time being, these tables will be used as activity stations, but we look forward to the day when we can offer them as a picnicking area,” said Bard.
“Then of course there is a sink and hand dryer for easy cleanup before you return to the exhibits inside the museum,” said Erwin.
Access to the Play Patio will be included with museum admission, and will increase the museum’s capacity. “We’ve been looking forward to opening this space for many reasons, not least of which because it will allow more people to safely visit while we’re slowly reopening from the pandemic,” shared Jane Bard. The museum, which re-opened September 2020, is open with limited hours, requires online reservations prior to visiting, and requires everyone over the age of 24 months to wear a mask. “We’ve limited our play sessions to 20% of our capacity, so with this new space, we can increase the number of families we serve,” said Bard. Current Museum hours are Wednesdays and Sundays 9-11:30am and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 9-11:30am or 1-3:30pm.