Joela Myers is a Lakeland mother and grandmother who took a photo years ago while daughter Christi assumed role play as a Publix clerk at the former Explorations V Museum when it was in downtown Lakeland. Now re-named The Florida Children’s Museum, it is officially opening this weekend at its much larger new home at Bonnet Springs Park.

Myers enjoyed helping her grandchildren play in similar hands-on spaces in City Play and in the percussion room Tuesday at the museum’s new home at Bonnet Springs Park during member days.

The museum’s exterior faces the Bonnet Springs Park amphitheater.

The 47,800-square-foot museum welcomes the general public at grand reopening festivities this weekend. Friday’s opening ceremony begins at 9 a.m. with special guests, followed by a grand entrance into the museum’s play areas.

Weekend events feature a variety of entertainers, including a reptile act and musical artists, who will perform in the Black Box Theatre on the first floor.

While most of the museum is complete, there is at least one main area under construction: the Front Yard showcasing a giant sculpture representing Lakeland’s iconic gator, Blinky. An unveiling date for Blinky is to be announced.

The museum includes a focus on autism and other sensitivity-related conditions. When you enter the museum with its high warehouse-style ceiling, soundproof material in the walls helps mute the noisiness of voices or the toy building drifting in from the Design room.

While keeping the themes of some of its former educational and creative play areas, Executive Director Kerry Falwell said the redesigned spaces at Bonnet Springs will serve all audiences.

“It’s recognizing that what’s good for inclusive elements [of design] are good for everyone,” Falwell said.

There were nine employees in the original museum; there are now 25 after new staff were added. Some of the staff have received training from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at University of South Florida, Falwell said.

As a part of its inclusiveness, the museum offers a unique sensory kit for children that includes a headphone, dark glasses for light sensitivity, gloves for touch sensitivity and soft fidget items. These are available at the check-in desk.

At the south end of the Florida Children’s Museum: a butterfly sculpture and the entrance to the Carol Jenkins Barnett United Way Children’s Resource Center.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $15 per person (free for children under 2). Discounts of 50% are available for teachers with an ID from an accredited PreK-12 school, seniors 65 and older, and military with ID. Smaller discounts are available for EBT Snap cardholders and AAA members. Free parking is available just outside the museum.

Update – A report on opening day:

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