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WonderTrek Children's Museum brings play and discovery to area kids

In the lead-up to a brick and mortar location, the WonderTrek Children's Museum has scheduled nearly 100 stops at local events in 2021.

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Marcus Steffen builds roads at the Wednesday, August 4 WonderTrek Children's Museum event at the Pine River Public Library. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

In the lead-up to a brick and mortar location in Brainerd, Region 5's WonderTrek Children's Museum has scheduled nearly 100 stops at area events in 2021, including at the Pine River Public Library.

Chris McEachron, museum program manager, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, brought totes loaded with police cars, fire trucks, garbage trucks and toy vehicles of all sorts along with interlockable foam mats printed with streets. The children who gathered to play were let loose to arrange and play however they liked, which is an important part of the museum's philosophy.

"Sometimes as an adult it's easy to look at play and say, 'Oh, we need to be linear," McEachron said. "We have really strong content ideas. For kids, it's more about the process and the discovery."


"Every single one of these kids knows more about playing than we ever will. Our job is not to teach kids how to play, but to recognize play and support it."

— Chris McEachron, museum program manager


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Every museum has its own goals, including WonderTrek, which has a simple goal.

"Every single one of these kids knows more about playing than we ever will," McEachron said. "Our job is not to teach kids how to play, but to recognize play and support it."

That goal extends to the adults in those children's lives as well, and WonderTrek is also focused on helping kids to teach adults about play.

"The other part is to help adults recognize when play is happening and how to support that," McEachron said. "That's the primary focus, to bring play throughout the region."

Some of the events have included enormous building blocks, pipe cleaners and other fun and creative objects. One favorite activity so far has been fort building.


"We love WonderTrek so far and plan to go to more of the events that they hold. I love that they bring hands-on activities each week that are engaging and encourage kids to be creative."

— Leah Freeman, parent


"In parks with lots of trees, we tie up a bunch of ropes and give the kids a bunch of tarps and clothespins," McEachron said. "Then they kind of add their own ropes and things like that. It's a great example of setting out some materials and a scenario and allowing kids to build on it."

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Mother Leah Freeman has enjoyed bringing her daughters, Brylee and Breah, to the events.

"We love WonderTrek so far and plan to go to more of the events that they hold," Freeman said. "I love that they bring hands-on activities each week that are engaging and encourage kids to be creative. Brylee and Breah get excited to go each week."

WonderTrek is open to most ages, but the focus, McEachron said, will be from ages 3-9. At the outreach events, these age groups are basically mixed together. He said the younger children, ages 3 and younger, will likely have their own separate space to make it more appealing to them.

Starting the museum is not a "build it and they will come" type of thing, so the children's museum has spent this summer out in communities, making themselves known.

"I could build Disney World in Baxter and there are people in our region that would never be able to come there," McEachron said. "Traveling around our region is going to be really important, so the other half of us doing these events is to build public awareness about the children's museum."

They've been all over the place this summer. They have weekly events at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby, the Here for Good Market in Brainerd and the Pine River Public Library, where the museum will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Aug. 18 and 25.

That's in addition to various festivals and community events, or closed events at schools and with other specialized groups.

"We go to the Staples(-Motley) School District. We go to the Brainerd School District, the Pequot Lakes School District," McEachron said. "We're doing a program in combination with Mount Ski Gull with some wilderness exploration. We're going to be at Happy Dancing Turtle in Pine River."

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They were at the Northwoods Arts Council Art and Book Festival in Hackensack last Saturday, Aug. 14, and many other locations - 95 in total throughout the summer.

That outreach is likely to continue, though on a smaller scope, even when the building is complete and open.

"I don't think we'll be able to do 95 in one season," McEachron said. "Day to day that's probably not sustainable. But the traveling aspect has to be part of our DNA. The whole idea is about access and we believe children deserve to play. By having a children's museum come to them, we can be more accessible."

Freeman only learned about the children's museum planned to be built in Brainerd through attending the WonderTrek events in Pine River.

"A children’s museum in Brainerd is very exciting," Freeman said. "We will definitely be visiting that, and I can also see local schools taking field trips there."

More information can be found at facebook.com/wondertrekregion5childrensmuseum.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

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Maverick Steffen builds a tall tower with mother Liz Steffen at the Wednesday, August 4 WonderTrek Children's Museum event at the Pine River Public Library. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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