Nominating and voting for the Children's Museum of NH may seem like a small thing, but it helps us reach new audiences and grow our already stellar reputation as a safe and fun place for families to play! If you have a few minutes to help us with this, we would greatly appreciate your support!
Vote for us in New Hampshire Magazine's "Best of NH" contest!
Vote for us now through March 17. There is a "Museum" category, or you could write us in as your "Favorite Family Fun Spot"
Nominate us for a 2023 Boston Parents Paper Family Favorite Award!
You can nominate the "Children's Museum of NH" now through the end of April. If you don't see the museum listed in the category you want, you can easily write us in.
Nomination categories that would be a good fit for us include:
FUN AND ATTRACTIONS
Indoor Play Spaces
Museums and Attractions
Parent-Friendly Playdate Spots
Arts & Crafts Summer Camps
Preschool Age Summer Camps
STEM Summer Camps
About this Family Favorite award: The voting for Boston’s Family Favorites is conducted in a two-round process. The first round occurs in the month of March and early April with open write-in nominations taking place. Write-in nominations continue to be open until the end of April.
As the nomination period in the first round comes to a close in mid April, shortly afterwards, the second round opens with the top nominees in each category being selectable in this final round of voting during the latter part of April and May. Write-in nominations are no longer available, and voters are open to select their favorite from among those that are listed.
The final winners are posted in August.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire Celebrates A Big Year
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (CMNH) turns 40 in 2023, while its chosen city of Dover, NH celebrates its 400th anniversary year. The museum, one of the most visited family attractions in the state of New Hampshire, will celebrate its 40-year legacy with fun events, a nostalgic look back on how much things have evolved over the years, and by starting work on a new expansion project. CMNH is grateful for the support from Kennebunk Savings Bank, who is the exclusive sponsor of all 40th Anniversary Year celebrations.
Today, families in NH have a plethora of fantastic Museums to choose from when looking for activities for their children. But 40 years ago, in the early 80’s, these kinds of spaces and experiences were few and far between. The kids tagged along to grown-up activities and made their way in spaces not designed for them, but around them. Two mothers from Portsmouth had a brilliant idea to change that, and out of their industriousness, creativity, vision and ingenuity sprang what is now known as the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.
The museum first opened in Portsmouth on Saturday, July 30, 1983 as the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth located in the old South Meeting House on Marcy Street. Co-founded by two mothers and educators, Ona Barnet and Denise Doleac. “There were very few Children’s Museums back in 1981 and those few were in large cities,” shared Denise. “So creating the Children’s Museum in a city of 24,000 people was an interesting adventure indeed.”
After two years of planning, permits, fundraising and educating people about what a Children’s Museum was all about, the museum welcomed 400 children and their grown-ups to its grand opening. Anna Goldsmith, who was 9 at the time and quoted in a Foster’s Daily Democrat article written by Peyton Fleming, said “I think this is really neat because there is already enough stuff for adults. Grown-ups already have bars and discos. But finally they’re creating something for the kids and I think that’s good.” When asked about what she remembers from that day, Anna now says “I was just so excited that there was finally something nearby that was just for kids. I wasn’t great with long car rides – I would get car sick whenever we’d try to go to the Boston museum. So having something right in New Hampshire was perfect. I don’t remember this, but according to my Mom and the reporter, I grabbed the microphone to give my little speech, I was that excited!”
That first year, the museum welcomed 27,000 visitors. The original exhibits included the Yellow Submarine, built by Architect Christopher Clews, three Commodore 64 computers, a hospital room with equipment provided by the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, a factory assembly line where children could create leather bookmarks, a video room, and a small radio station dubbed WFUN.
A Museum for New Hampshire
Over the next 25 years, exhibits changed, membership grew, and a constant stream of innovative programming attracted larger and larger crowds to the tiny South Meeting House. “Around 1995, Museum Trustees and our founding Director Denny Doleac began considering the idea of expansion,” shared Jane Bard, current CMNH President. “Although we loved the charm, history and location of our home in Portsmouth’s South Meeting House, we simply didn’t have enough space for exhibits, classrooms, visitor amenities or parking. Our staff worked off-site in a separate rented space and there were often long waiting lines to enter the Museum when we reached the building’s capacity.”
After a decade-long search in Portsmouth and subsequent meetings with city officials in Dover who recognized the benefit of locating the Museum in a soon-to-be-empty Butterfield Gym in downtown Dover, it was decided that the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth would move to Dover and become the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.
A newly rebranded CMNH opened on July 26, 2008. The former Butterfield Gym was converted into two floors of accessible, interactive, hands-on exhibits that not only reflected the exhibits that had become childhood favorites, but also expanded to embrace the new museum’s natural and historical environment as well.
“It was a hectic but exciting time for all of us,” shared Jane Bard. “I was looking through museum photos recently and came across one of us touring the Butterfield Gym during construction, and it was 7 weeks before we would open as CMNH, and it looked like there was still so much to do!”
The new Children’s Museum of New Hampshire embraced its origins in the new building, with some twists. In Portsmouth, the “Yellow Submarine” took over 3 levels of the building, and encompassed a variety of exhibits. In Dover, it was redesigned to mimic a research submarine with a working sonar, a listening station, working periscope, and control panel where kids can “navigate” the sub through the waters of the Gulf of Maine. A new favorite, the Cochecosystem exhibit overlooking the Cocheco River explores the interchange between the natural and industrial environment of the Cocheco River and specifically examines how “engineers,” both human and animal, use the river. And thanks to an expanded exhibit workshop area in the new Dover museum, exhibits that couldn’t make it out onto the floor for the opening, were kept safely stored for future use. “When we opened the outdoor Play Patio exhibit, we pulled out our wonderful Tube Tones that we had crafted and displayed in the Portsmouth Museum, and were able to make that a permanent part of a new space,” said Jane. “So if you visited us when you were a child, and return now as an adult with your own children, chances are you will see many nostalgic elements!”
“We love to embrace the fact that many of our visitors have a long history with us,” said Jane. Sometimes that’s adults returning to the museum with their own children or grandchildren to show them their favorite exhibits from years ago. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or intern recognizing a CMNH educator that taught them in a class when they were preschoolers. “That’s my favorite!” laughed CMNH Education Director Xanthi Gray who has led countless classes for the 32 years she has worked at the museum. “And sometimes its people commenting on a photo we share on our social media that shows their now grown children playing in the museum,” said Communications Director, Neva Cole.
“That long history in a community means many, many stories are out there floating around in people’s memories, just waiting to be told,” said Neva. CMNH plans to try to capture those memories with a photo submission contest through its website, coming soon. “We’ll also be digging deep into our archives to share some fun photos, stories, and videos of our own! So you may just spot yourself as a kid fishing from the Portsmouth museum Lobster Boat, or communicating with Earth in the Space Shuttle exhibit, or visiting Dracula in the museum’s old clock tower on Halloween,” said Neva.
“We know we have a lot to celebrate,” said Jane. “It’s been a tough few years for everyone, and we’re happy to look back on our history, while at the same time, keep planning for our future.”
Celebrating & Looking Ahead
After 40 years of innovative programming, artistically designed exhibits, and engaging with literally millions of visitors, the Museum is looking ahead to what will come next. Some things will remain the same, like the museum’s commitment to early learning to build healthy brain architecture, S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), access for all children and families, and its founding principle that kids thrive when given the space to explore and discover.
CMNH has also grown beyond its physical presence in many ways. While inviting families inside the magical space of the museum is an important part of CMNH’s mission, it isn’t the only way the community benefits. “Play-based learning is the idea that kids learn best through play,” shared Xanthi Gray, CMNH Director of Education. “And it also happens to be what we are all about. When kids play in our exhibits, they are learning all kinds of things that are important to their development. But play-based learning can happen anywhere, and that’s why we’re so excited to have been awarded a prestigious and competitive IMLS INSPIRE! Grant for small museums to help us spread our knowledge about play-based learning around to NH libraries, childcare centers, and family resource centers!”
CMNH wanted to use their institutional knowledge and skills to help the overburdened childcare system in New Hampshire in the best way they could. Thanks to the IMLS grant and an additional grant from the Evelyn S. and K.E. Barrett Foundation, CMNH has embarked on a series of play-based learning initiatives. “So far, we’ve sent over 80 kits of high quality play-based learning manipulative kits, along with monthly activity guides to participating centers and libraries across NH that will eventually reach 9,000 children,” shared Meredith Brustlin, CMNH Content Specialist who curated the play-based learning kits. “We’ve hosted an open house at CMNH for over 100 childcare providers, launched three new weekly drop-in programs at the museum for families with preschool-aged children, and are offering free admission to licensed NH childcare providers.” These efforts have been well received by project partners. Cheryl Ingerson from the Elkins Public Library in Canterbury, NH said “Wow! We just received the PBL (play-based learning) kit…WOW! I can’t wait to add these to our programming and am looking forward to the monthly activity guides!”
New adventures are being planned right now, as well. “In an effort to use every single bit of space we can, we’re planning an expansion into an area above our current Dino Detective exhibit,” shared Jane. “We’re in the planning phase with architects and structural engineers, and are brainstorming with staff, visitors, and community members to decide what kind of experience will be added to that space. Will it be an area for rotating exhibits? Will it be a space for active play and physical movement? Will it be an exhibit that will help support children’s emotional wellbeing?” The museum will announce more details about their plans for this space soon.
A sneak peek at CMNH’s plans for special events throughout 2023, exclusively sponsored by Kennebunk Savings. More to come!
Dover Resident’s Day
Saturday, June 24, 9am-Noon or 1-4pm
CMNH will be offering $1 per person admission (which was what the museum charged when it first opened in 1983) for all Dover residents on this special Saturday!
Family Fun Day at CMNH
Saturday, July 22, 9am-Noon or 1-4pm
CMNH will offer $1 per person admission to all!
CMNH’s 40th Birthday Party
Saturday, September 23, 9am-Noon or 1-4pm
Come celebrate our birthday with play time, art projects, science experiments, and of course, cake!
40 Years of Play
Special exhibition inside CMNH’s Gallery 6
October 3, 2022 – January 28, 2024
The Children's Museum of New Hampshire has been chosen as one of the area's "Target Circle" non-profits. This provides Target choppers with the opportunity to vote for CMNH after shopping at Target, and those votes will help direct Target's giving to benefit the museum. Voting continues through the end of March 2023. Voting can be done through the Target app or through the website and is available to all Target Circle Members (free to sign up). target.com/circle
The Children's Museum of NH (CMNH) has received a generous grant from The Evelyn S. and K.E. Barrett Foundation to support a year-long initiative providing play-based learning training and resources to those caring for preschool aged children. This grant is in addition to the recent award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will help CMNH to meet the huge response from partners wanting to be involved in the project.
As has been reported over the past year, there is an overburdened childcare system in New Hampshire. Childcare centers have faced staffing shortages and others have closed, leaving long waiting lists and a lack of available spaces. Families are turning to home-based childcare, family members and community resources like family resource centers, libraries, and the Children’s Museum to fill in the gaps and nurture their children’s growth.
Building off their expertise as a leader in play-based learning, CMNH created a year-long initiative to support childcare professionals and others providing childcare in non-traditional settings. A series of programs will reach these audiences including supplying 80+ childcare centers, family resource centers, and public libraries with high quality play-based learning manipulative kits to use with the children in their care. Also included in this initiative are open houses, online workshops, programming at CMNH, monthly guides and activity suggestions, all with the goal of improving developmental and learning opportunities for young children.
“This effort is exactly the type of program my mother, who championed children and early education, would have been proud to support,” said Peter Barrett, trustee of the Foundation. “The Barrett Foundation is glad to be able to contribute to the important work being done to deepen developmental and learning experiences for young children in New Hampshire by the Children’s Museum."
To date the Children’s Museum has held an Open House attended by over 100 childcare providers, and added three weekly drop-in programs at the Museum for families of preschool-aged children. The Museum has also distributed 83 kits of materials to those serving young children. “We’re receiving amazing feedback from organizations that have received their boxes,” said Meredith Brustlin, CMNH Content Specialist who curated the materials in the kits. “We have a lot of experience with open ended, play-based manipulatives and were thrilled to put that expertise to good use creating these kits. The Barrett Foundation grant means we are able to distribute materials kits to more providers, who in total reach over 9,000 children across the state.”
The boxes contain some familiar play materials like Duplo blocks, sturdy toy trucks, and farm animal figurines but also have some items not traditionally thought of for play–like colorful mixing bowls with matching lids that can be used for sorting, drumming, stacking, and more!
“We got our kit yesterday and we’re blown away,” said program partner Ellen Grudzien from The Amherst Preschool, in an email. “We are a 100% child led play school and we value materials with intention. The box was full of them! I can’t wait to see the kids use it!!! Thank you for this initiative!”
The Museum is meeting regularly with an advisory group about various aspects of this program. Organizations in this group include the University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire State Library, and United Way.
Participants are feeling good about the amount of support being provided by CMNH through this program. Cheryl Ingerson from Elkins Public Library in Canterbury, NH said “WOW!! We just received the PBL kit… WOW!! I can’t wait to add these to our programming and am looking forward to the monthly activity guides. Thank you so much!”
These play-based learning experiences are funded thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) INSPIRE! grant for small museums. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire was one of 59 museums nationwide to receive this highly competitive grant. These programs are also funded in part by the NH Preschool Development Grant, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (Award# 90TP0060) and The Evelyn S. and K.E. Barrett Foundation.
Children’s Museum of NH Helps with State’s Childcare Crisis
As has been reported over the past year, there is an overburdened childcare system in New Hampshire. Childcare centers have faced staffing shortages and others have closed, leaving long waiting lists and a lack of available spaces. Families are turning to home-based childcare, family members and community resources like family resource centers, libraries and the Children’s Museum of NH (CMNH) to fill in the gaps and nurture their children’s growth.
“The Museum has prided itself on being a trusted resource for play-based learning for nearly 40 years,” said Jane Bard, CMNH President. “When we saw the childcare crisis growing, we began reaching out to childcare providers, surveying families and speaking to other partners like UNH about ways we could use our expertise to help.”
What emerged was the need to reach young children wherever they were and to provide the adults caring for them with the tools they need to support healthy cognitive growth. This includes licensed childcare centers, small in-home care settings, libraries, family resource centers, families and grandparents caring for their own children.
“Once we realized the need was so great and so widespread around the state, the challenge was how to best serve all of these audiences,” said Bard. The solution was to give all of these audiences different tools and ways to participate in a variety of activities over the course of the year.
The first and most exciting, according to the childcare providers, is the Museum curated Play-Based Learning Kit, a 40-lb jumbo box filled with quality materials for children ages birth – five being distributed to 83 childcare providers, libraries, and family resource centers throughout the state of New Hampshire reaching over 9,000 children. “I would love to show parents more ways to encourage play-based learning,” shared Nicole Daniels from the River Center, a family resource center in Peterborough, NH. “I think with Covid, a lot of children lost the art of play, especially with peers and in groups, and we want to help bring that back.” Christi Mooney from High Street Child Care Center in Littleton, NH agrees. “Our facility is primarily play-based, and after Covid, we are seeing a lot of the 2-4 year olds who do not know ‘how’ to play. It has been a struggle to just get them to show us their creativity, use their imaginations, etc.” Each kit will come with monthly activity guides giving educators ideas on ways to use the materials in new ways to engage children and sites get to keep the kits beyond the end of the grant. “I love the idea of having more resources for the children, but especially love the idea for the teachers,” shared Alicia Tonelli from the Seacoast Community School in Portsmouth, NH. “It is always helpful to have different ideas, and perspectives. It sparks creativity!”
Beyond the kit, the Museum is collaborating with the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies to host two free Play-Based Learning Open House events at their Dover location and four online workshops, open to all early childhood educators. “Partnering with CMNH has been extremely rewarding. We have united our expertise on active playful learning to empower our early care and education providers to share enriching and joyful learning experiences,” shared University of New Hampshire Associate Professor Kimberly Nesbitt.
“The online workshops are being created for childcare providers who find it challenging to take time from their day to participate in professional development,” said Xanthi Gray, the Museum’s Education Director. “We want to support both existing and new childcare providers entering the field, and share ways they can create play-based learning experiences that support children’s developmental milestones.”
Back at the Children’s Museum of NH in Dover, the education team has launched three new weekly drop-in programs for visitors to spark ideas on ways to use common household items to create play-based learning experiences at home. Tinker Time Tuesdays are held every Tuesday at 10:30am, Baby Storytimes are held every Thursday at 9:30am, and Little Learners Play Groups are held every Friday at 9am. All three of these programs are included with normal museum admission, and free for museum members. In addition to giving kids a chance to practice play-based learning, these programs serve as a way for parents to connect and socialize with each other in a supportive environment.
These play-based learning experiences are funded thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) INSPIRE! grant for small museums. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire was one of 59 museums nationwide to receive this highly competitive grant. These programs are also funded in part by the NH Preschool Development Grant, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (Award# 90TP0060).
We had the pleasure of welcoming Lilly Hamlin of Hamlin Consulting for a recent visit to CMNH when she suggested a few new Accessibility Tools that the museum could have on hand to assist visitors.
These simple self-adhesive bump dots have been added to the EverBright Interactive LED light wall to simplify how visitors can rotate the knobs to change the colors.
Industrial Twist Ties
These 17-inch long twist ties are durable, waterproof and covered in soft foam and have a variety of uses. For visitors who have a hard time gripping, this can be used in several different exhibits to help rotate or spin gears.
This simple long piece of stretchy fabric can be used as a table cloth, or wrapped around any two stable objects to create a tent like space for someone looking for a calm quiet dark spot to shut out overwhelming sensory input. It's also great for wrapping around bodies for gentle, calming pressure, similar to a weighted blanket.
These three tools are now available as resources when visiting the museum, and some, like the bump dots you might spot out in the exhibits when next you visit. To use them, simply ask our friendly staff!
Dover, NH has so much going on that the city has created its own Podcast to help spread information! Jane Bard, CMNH's President, was a guest on the podcast on October 25, 2022 to share a bit about the history of the museum, and gives a glimpse into the museum's future! Give it a listen!
The Dover Download can be found anywhere you listen to podcasts including Spotify, Apple or Amazon.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (CMNH) is proud to announce that they are a recipient of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) INSPIRE! grant for small museums. CMNH will launch “Bolstering A Childcare System in Crisis” this fall, a series of educational initiatives designed to help providers and families implement enriching, engaging, and developmentally appropriate play-based learning (PBL) activities for children from birth to age 5.
“The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is perfectly positioned to take on this task” shared Education Director, Xanthi Gray “We are known as a leader in the Early Childhood field across the state and have years of experience with play based learning in our space. We’re excited to share this knowledge and these resources with new organizations in our area.”
In partnership with the University of New Hampshire’s Early Childhood Education Center, the museum will offer professional development training for early childcare providers; provide hands-on educational opportunities for families and caregivers; and distribute PBL activity kits to 20 early childcare providers, four family resource centers, and six library partners across the state. “As a result of this project, providers and caregivers will strengthen their play based learning practices and help New Hampshire’s youngest children grow and thrive during a critical time in their development,” shared CMNH President, Jane Bard.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire was one of 59 museums nationwide to receive the INSPIRE! IMLS grant for small museums, and only 5 of those recipients were children’s museums. “It’s a highly competitive grant and we are so honored to have our staff’s innovative programming supported by the nation’s lead organization in supporting museums and libraries,” shared Bard.