The Knock Knock Children’s Museum has been eerily quiet for the past 54 weeks (and counting).
There are no tiny hands ringing up groceries at the Pelican Pantry learning zone. No little feet pattering up and down the towering Storybook Climber exhibit.
But it’s the voices ringing through the halls that the museum’s team has missed the most. The sounds of children shouting with delight at new discoveries, or dragging Dad to a must-see exhibit.
“We love working with kids every day. Seeing smiles on their faces, getting to have those ‘aha’ moments—that’s our fuel,” says executive director Peter Claffey. “You start to miss that during COVID.”
The museum hasn’t been entirely silent, though. The staff has found fuel in plenty of other projects. Smaller in-person camps staged in the museum’s lobby have provided safe learning experiences for kids. The museum has partnered with organizations like Front Yard Bikes, Fathers on a Mission, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, Big Buddy and the Gardere Initiative to provide STEAM kits and remote learning experiences.
And last spring, it launched its “Knock Knock At Your Door” series, a free digital library of more than 150 original videos. Staff members share art lessons, science experiments, fitness activities, story time sessions and more. Each of the videos correlates to one of the museum’s 18 learning zones—recreating a slice of Knock Knock in a family’s home.
“People liked seeing staff in the videos. If you’re a member that used to come visit us all the time, it’s almost like you’ve been missing your friends,” Claffey says, adding, “I’ve been in this business for over 20 years now, and this is the busiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
The most unsung task, according to Claffey, is the one the team has been working on nonstop since closing last March: getting the museum ready for reopening day, whenever that may be.
When Knock Knock unlocks its doors again, it will still be the same magical space children first fell in love with—but with a lot more done behind the scenes to keep it that way.
The staff has installed hand sanitizing stations at every exhibit, touchless fixtures in the bathrooms, and UV filters in air conditioning vents. Pathways are marked with social distancing reminders.
The work has required imagining what it might take to make families feel comfortable in the future—and going above and beyond to make it happen.
The museum purchased extra sets of the exhibits’ interactive pieces, so while one child is playing with a set of Legos, a museum staff member can disinfect and swap the next set for the next group of playmates.
In case families would rather wash their hands with soap and water rather than hand sanitizers, the staff built outdoor sinks.
The museum will carry today’s lessons long into the future.
It is already working on plans for a Knock Knock At Your Door mobile unit, bringing interactive experiences and STEAM activities to children across the Capital Region and beyond.
The pandemic has proven that a great learning experience doesn’t have to be inside the walls of the museum—or even in-person.
“Just seeing kids’ smiles and bringing them engaging, playful learning experiences—whether that’s digitally or physically—has become our fuel now,” Claffey says.
The feeling is mutual. Because even when visitors stop by the lobby, they always say the same thing: “We’re just so happy to be back.” knockknockmuseum.org
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of 225 magazine.