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La Habra children’s museum reopens, re-imagines hands-on learning

The Children’s Museum at La Habra usually is a place where kids go to learn with their hands, flexing their imaginations while immersing themselves in arts, science and culture.

But reopening after being closed for almost six months amid the coronavirus pandemic took some re-imagining from museum staff, who had to think of how best to structure such a hands-on learning experience to keep kids and their families safe.

When Orange County landed in the red tier of the state’s new system to monitor the pandemic – red for “substantial” risk – and govern which business and public sectors can reopen, museums were allowed to welcome visitors back indoors at a quarter of their capacity.

At the Children’s Museum, that meant up to 50 kids and parents could come back for their much-awaited reopening on Wednesday, Sept. 23 – and 47 showed up.



“Everyone was really happy to be back. They’ve been waiting for us to open,” said Maria Tinajero Dowdle, acting museum manager.

But running such a high-contact place comes with hygiene and spacing challenges, she said.

“In a children’s museum, everything is being touched, so we’re being super mindful of that,” Tinajero Dowdle said. “That’s the thing we were worried about. … When we were going to reopen we thought, ‘What is this going to look like when we encourage everyone to touch everything?’”

Now, masks are required for anyone 5 years and older, the popular train caboose is roped off and staff are diligently wiping down learning stations after each family passes through.

There are also social distance “rings” for groups to stand in, ensuring they’re at least six feet from others. The carousel is running at half-capacity. Dress-up costumes are being rotated to ensure proper cleaning.

And most staff are still furloughed, so the operation will fall on four workers for the time being, Tinajero Dowdle said.

It’s these logistical issues that have led to shortened hours. Through at least the end of October, the museum will be open Wednesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. through noon, by reservation only.

But the museum’s smallest visitors on Wednesday were all laughs and smiles, Tinajero Dowdle said. “I think people were just happy to try and do something – getting back to normal.”

Wednesday also was launch day for a new exhibit showing how the Native Americans of the West Coast lived, with storyboards for parents to read aloud and props for kids: salmon to cook over a make-believe fire, drums and hoops to dance with.

Despite the obstacles, Tinajero Dowdle said she and her colleagues were ecstatic to open the museum’s doors after a long hiatus.

“It’s so nice to hear kids and laughter and families playing together,” she said. “It’s been dark for six months, it’s surreal to hear the buzz of families and everyone enjoying themselves.”

Source: Orange County Register

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