Though “Explorations” and “V” will no longer officially be part of the name of Lakeland’s children’s museum, both exploring and using the five senses will continue to be very much a part of each child’s experience – maybe even more so.
The 29-year-old museum recently announced its name change to Florida Children’s Museum, sharing the latest details of its under-construction 47,800-square-feet museum site at the much-anticipated Bonnet Springs Park. The name transformation will become official when the new museum opens in mid-2022.
The name change, said Kerry Falwell, chief executive officer of Florida Children’s Museum, “came out of a desire to visually show the community how we’re evolving.”
That evolution includes growing from 55,000 visitors each year to a possible 118,000 visitors each year, based on a projection by Visit Central Florida and the Association of Children’s Museums. That calculation factors in regional population, growth projections and the size of the building.
“I feel very strongly that we want to do right by the community. I want them to be proud of the new space, so I am laser focused on the needs of children and families,” Falwell said.
The new museum welcomes this more regional branding as its physical plant expands, its ability to directly work with local schools improves thanks to bus parking capabilities, and its proximity to I-4.
Being inclusive is a major objective of Florida Children’s Museum, including those with special physical or behavioral needs as well as children from a variety of backgrounds. The museum also will be able to cater to newborns through 12-year-olds, rather than its current age range of 2 years to 10 years. “We want to have something for everyone.”
Falwell acknowledged the former name could sometimes be confusing for new residents and this new name will be straightforward for tourists and new families.
“Part of the purpose of the new branding is to allow people to know where to find us,” Falwell said. “What we’re primarily guided by is our mission to serve the whole family and to make sure that all children are welcome.”
“We want to make a greater investment in families,” Falwell said, noting that Polk County ranked 53 out of 67 counties in 2020 for child well-being. The Florida KIDS Count Child Well-Being Index takes into account child poverty rates, unemployment rates, graduation rates, low-birthweight babies, uninsured children, teen drug use and youth contact with the juvenile justice system.
“The museum wants to influence families and model healthy engagement as well as provide educational opportunities and social and emotional support for children,” Falwell said.
As the only children’s museum in Polk County, Explorations V serves an integral role, said Meri Mass, executive director of Polk Arts Alliance.
“This is an institution that’s been around for many years that parents rely on for creative experiences,” Mass said. “This will easily help to put Lakeland on the map in an even greater way for children and families. That’s what we need. They’re going to be known globally. I think it’s time.”
The museum is currently conducting a capital campaign. Bonnet Springs Park provided the $10 million for the building, and the museum is responsible for $7 million to support the exhibit collection. Approximately $5.9 million of the $7 million has been raised, Falwell said. The campaign will open to the public soon, with buy-a-brick and other family-level giving.
In addition to workshop rooms for daily programs, the new museum will feature four galleries on the first level and two galleries on the second level:
- Watermelon Seeds: Aimed at preschoolers, this interactive space encourages growth and play.
- Design Park: Aimed at upper elementary-age children, this area allows them to imagine and create without judgment or fear of failure. Its hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics projects provides an interactive space to learn and dream.
- Black Box Theater: This gallery features a wood floor that welcomes dance and musical theater productions, both by museum guests as well as visiting professionals.
- Harrell Family Charities Front Yard: This outdoor area features a 100-foot-long and 17-foot tall Blinky the Alligator that is wheelchair accessible and climbable as well as the Mosaic Dig Pit. This outdoor space is aimed at addressing child obesity and inspiring healthy living, Falwell said.
- City Play: This area allows children to dress up like doctors or shop at Publix and explore daily living. “This space teaches that your community role is not just your job,” Falwell said. “We were very intentional between the interconnectivity so children can start to get a bigger picture of community connectivity.”
- Greenscreen Landscape and Found Sound Booth: Aimed at preteens, this area provides opportunities for emotional and social engagement and creativity, such as music, skits or TikTok dances. “This space encourages them to tell stories and create with other kids in a healthy environment. So we’re getting away from the singleness of using a cell phone but using that same technology to make it interactive.”
In addition, the expanded areas will call for an increase in staffing, growing from nine full-time staff members to approximately 15 to 19 full-time staff.
In the meantime, Explorations V remains open for visitors as usual at 109 N. Kentucky Ave. in downtown Lakeland.