Support for WonderLab’s Free First Time Parent Membership
In early 2020 WonderLab was delighted to receive donations totaling $13,300 from Monroe County 100+ Women Who Care. At their February 2020 meeting, the 100+ Women Who Care members selected WonderLab as the recipient for their quarterly award. The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation has made a matching $5,000 gift.
At the time of the gift, 100+ Women Who Care had contributed more than $875,000 to not-for-profits in Monroe County since the group was founded in November 2011.
Science Sprouts Place and First Time Parents
WonderLab is Bloomington’s only hands-on science center with exhibits, programs and activities for babies, toddlers, young children, teens and adults. Prior to the COVID 19 Pandemic WonderLab welcomed more than 80,000 annual visitors from South Central Indiana and beyond as well as operated WonderCamp, Bloomington’s original STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) summer camp.
In October 2019 WonderLab opened a new exhibit area, Science Sprouts Place, for children ages birth through age three and their caregivers. Beginning January 2020 WonderLab quietly launched the new First Time Parent Membership (FTPM), a completely free membership for first-time parents and their child aged birth through 18 months.
Response to the FTPM was enthusiastic, with more than 240 new families from many counties in southern and south central Indiana applying and becoming members of the museum within the first two months. Funds from 100+ Women Who Care will be used to support the First Time Parent Membership and museum experiences for new parents and families.
The first eighteen months of life is a critical time of development for babies and their caregivers. During this period, a baby’s brain is developing rapidly – building 700 neural connections every second. Key developmental milestones occur before a child’s first birthday and interactions with adults and a rich environment shapes brain architecture for life. In a highly interconnected way, babies grow physically and intellectually as well as develop language and social skills. Caregivers and babies develop mutually, as they respond to one another’s communication and have shared experiences – new and repeated. These early childhood experiences can have a significant impact on children’s later learning.
Bloomington resident Lily Bonwich, a member of 100+ Women Who Care and a new parent, was one of the first to take advantage of the new membership. Bonwich heard about the membership via notice from a friend on social media. She applied immediately for herself, her husband and their six-month-old, Josey. “Everyone is talking about (this new membership),” said Bonwich. “Just knowing it was available made me feel welcome.”
According to Bonwich, WonderLab’s specially designed infant experiences are great for meeting her son’s specific developmental needs. Plus, navigating an infant schedule can be hectic. “I don’t know how long he will last when we leave the house,” she said. “Having the membership makes even a short visit worthwhile.”
As a 100+ Women Who Care member, Bonwich said the decision to choose WonderLab was an easy one. Funding organizations that cater to the needs of new parents is directly relevant to her. Voting for WonderLab helped her feel personally connected to the museum.
Serving Families and Children During a Pandemic
Prioritizing visitor, staff and volunteer safety WonderLab temporarily closed its doors March 12, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic. In a March 14, 2020 email WonderLab Executive Director, Karen Jepson-Innes, announced that WonderLab would immediately begin offering virtual programs free to the general public. Programs included a virtual version of the popular Science Sprouts weekly program for children ages birth through age 3 as well as a new program, Science Story Time – a weekly story read aloud with accompanying science experiments and explorations.
“The power and importance of science is evident now more than ever,” Jepson-Innes wrote. Museum staff had worked steadily over the two days between closure and the programs announcement to create meaningful programs with WonderLab flair. That flair, according to WonderLab Marketing and Communications Director, Aleisha Kropf, is an emphasis on ‘hands-on, interactive programming even in a virtual world.“
Programs were enthusiastically received and more virtual programming evolved with a series of summer workshops as well as more free virtual options. In the midst of these changes, WonderLab Early Childhood Educator, Nell Krahnke, debated how to effectively serve First Time Parent Members while the museum was closed.
“We had piloted a new, in-person program, Baby Brilliance, a few times before the museum closed,” said Krahnke. “This monthly program was designed to meet the needs of new parents. But just as we were finalizing details COVID-19 became the new reality.”
Pandemic or not, new parents need ways to provide enriching experiences for their new child as well as to connect with other parents. WonderLab rose to meet the need. “Our first virtual Baby Brilliance program took place in April 2020,” said Krahnke. “The program was designed specifically for our First Time Parent Members.” A handful of invited participants attended the first session. Emboldened, Krahnke planned a second session, then a third.
Virtual Baby Brilliance now occurs once a month and is a free program for First Time Parent Members as well as for WonderLab Members.
“Baby Brilliance has been a wonderful way to connect with parents,” said Krahnke. “We have several regular attendees who have expressed how much Baby Brilliance has meant to them. For many of them, COVID-19 hit right as they were becoming comfortable with going out and about with their new children, so they have really treasured the connections and conversation we offer.”
WonderLab Museum reopened its galleries and exhibits with limited capacity on August 19, 2020. Krahnke has been working hard alongside Museum Experience staff to set new protocols for safety and sanitization in Science Sprouts Place. According to WonderLab Museum Experience Director, Ella Heckman, work to open Science Sprouts Place has been a high priority since reopening. “Parents are asking for a safe place to be with their youngest children,” said Heckman. “We’re making that happen.”
Science Sprouts Place is currently open with limited capacity during all museum open times. Visitors can schedule a private time during the 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. sessions on Wednesday and Friday Double Bubble visit days or during the 3 p.m. session of Sunday Double Bubble visit days. On General Visit Days, Thursday visitors are invited to sign up for a Science Sprouts Place session during their visit. Sign up is first come first served and includes time after the visit for deep cleaning and sanitizing. Wiggle Woods, the multi level exploration pathway remains temporarily closed.
“We are so excited to welcome back families and our littlest scientists,” said Heckman. “We are doing everything we can to ensure safe, fun visits for all ages.”
About 100+ Women Who Care
100+ Women Who Care is open to all women who want to make a difference in Monroe County, and who agree to contribute $100 at each quarterly meeting. Each member also makes an annual commitment donation of $100 to the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County (CFM BC), for a total annual commitment of $500. Women aged 35 and younger are invited to join at a reduced donation level – $50 annually to the CFBMC and $50 each quarter to the agency chosen at the group meeting, for a total annual commitment of $250. For more information about how to join 100+ Women Who Care, visit the website: 100pluswwc.wordpress.com.
WonderLab is an award-winning science museum located at 308 W. Fourth St. on the B-Line Trail in downtown Bloomington, Indiana. The museum is open to the public with limited capacity and hours for Double Bubble Days (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) and General Visits (Thursday and Saturday) General admission is $10, and children younger than one are free. For more information and to purchase tickets go to wonderlab.org.
Photo Caption Opening Image: A group gathers in Science Sprouts Place, WonderLab’s dedicated exhibit area for children ages birth through age 3 and their caregivers during the check presentation from 100+ Women Who Care to WonderLab on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Pictured in the photo: Bottom row left to right: Ann Bright and Lily Bonwich, 100+Women. Middle row left to right: Jocelyn Bowie, 100+ Women; Janice Malinovsky, 100+ Women; Karen Jepson-Innes, WonderLab Executive Director and 100+ Women; Mimi Zolan, 100+ Women; Esther Smail, WonderLab Membership Manager Back row left to right: Ann Edmonds, 100+ Women; Amy Osajima, WonderLab Donor Relations Director; Sara Laughlin 100+ Women; Deirdre Sheets, WonderLab Education Director
Questions about WonderLab? Contact Aleisha Kropf, Marketing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions about 100+ Women Who Care? Contact Sara Laughlin at email@example.com