Thousands of youngsters have visited the Knock Knock Children’s Museum’s since it opened in 2017, but not all of them can handle the noise and excitement that so many children can produce.
So the museum holds Play 4 All, a once-a-month session designed for youngsters with sensory processing differences, disabilities and developmental delays. The sessions — held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the third Friday of the month — allow the children and their families to explore the museum's 18 interactive Learning Zones in peace and a little more quiet.
Play 4 All nights are less crowded, lights and sounds are reduced and there's designated quiet rooms. Special activities are adapted to a variety of different needs.
There are headphones to keep out extraneous noises which can be disruptive for those on the autism spectrum; books in Braille for those with vision problems; special sensory sand that provides a tactile experience; and magnetic cars that don’t fall off the tracks. For those with physical impairments, a grant from the McMains Family Foundation funded spinner arts, where all the child needs to do is push a button to create his or her own masterpiece.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Kristin Spencer, the museum's early childhood education coordinator. “We met with many organizations — the Emerge Center (which teaches youngsters with autism and those with communication challenges), McMains (Children’s Development Center), the School for the Blind and teachers to help develop the program. We also got a lot of parent input."
Spencer said staff from Emerge helped train the museum staff.
"One of our staff members is on the autism spectrum," she added, "and he and his mom have been a big help.”
Play 4 All is designed as a night for the entire family. There's music from the likes of the Michael Foster Project and Betsy Braud & the Jazz Nurse Prescription.
“Music is everywhere,” said Spencer, who has 30 years of experience in early childhood education. “Our staff walks around with fidget spinners to hand out when needed. If they need quiet time, we have tents with pillows and bean bags … We have ‘ability bags’ that parents can check out.”
On Play 4 All nights, the museum is open to just those families with special needs children. Reservations are not required. The first 50 families are admitted free. The night also includes dinner from local food trucks.
“We really try and make this a true family night,” said Spencer. “Aside from the fun, it provides connections between the families, allowing them to know they’re not alone. It’s really rewarding, heartwarming to provide this special time for these children and their families. And we’re always looking for input.”