Kids Discovery Station, the first ever children’s museum in Merced, is expected to open to the general public at the end of September and provide children from birth to age 12 with fun and valuable learning experiences. Its location is 350 W. Yosemite Avenue in Merced, across the street from Merced College.
The museum is asking for more community partners to step up and join the effort to develop it further to reach more children whose lives can be enhanced.
The idea of having an indoor/outdoor interactive museum for kids is the brainchild of Mayya Tokman, who is the Executive Director as well as President of the Board of Directors of Kids Discovery Station.
She is also a UC Merced Professor of Applied Mathematics and the Faculty Director of the on-campus CalTeach program, which prepares undergraduates majoring in STEM to become Kindergarten through Grade 12 teachers.
Tokman told the Times, “I am a UC Merced professor but also a mother, and I wanted to bring something to our community’s kids. If it’s 105 degrees outdoors, there are parks where children can play but the equipment is made of metal which is too hot, and I thought that it would be great if there was a place indoors you could come to enjoy and learn as a family.”
Tokman teamed up with Angelo Kyrilov and Lee Lor, former District 2 Merced County supervisor, to co-found the museum. Kyrilov is another UC Merced professor who is Tokman’s husband, and he is building exhibits, volunteering as a handyman, and providing technical support.
Tokman explained, “In the last 15 or 20 years, children’s museums have sprung up all over to give kids a place to do active learning, play with stuff and explore. It’s part engagement, part educational activities and part entertainment. Children’s museums are indoor/outdoor playgrounds which spark children’s imaginations and where they can learn about the world and opportunities in different subjects.
“At Kids Discovery Station, there will be something for everybody. We have a number of different areas and exhibits.
“It’s not entirely science-oriented. We have Creativity City where kids can do arts stuff.
“We have the Home Valley section where the opportunities that have to do with professions are featured, and where the diversity of our region is highlighted.
“Farmers say they can’t get enough people who know technology, and firemen say there is a shortage of qualified people. So, there is an ag section where kids learn about ag and agricultural technology. We will have a Fire Station where kids can pretend to be firemen and put out fires. There is a Health Center where kids can pretend to be doctors. Innovation Island has a coding exhibit where kids learn how to code, which is computer programming. It’s for kids to learn what exists here and what cool professions they can explore.
“There is a green screen exhibit where the kids can simulate traveling through space and time.
“We have a big exhibit sponsored by First 5 Merced County called Little Explorers Planet. We are focusing on birth to age 12 in general, but this exhibit focuses on birth to age 5. The little ones can climb a spaceship that is like a maze, and there is a space for crawlers where they can touch different textures.
“We also have the Augmented Reality Sandbox, a sandbox that comes with a certain topographical dimension so if you dig up a hole, it fills it with water, and it’s a really cool toy. This is one of the favorite toys of kids and parents.
“We anticipate having movie nights and the space being a place for families and a community institution bringing a lot to our city and county, something that is sustainable and will be here long-term.”
How did it all come about?
Tokman told the Times, “We held a very big fundraising effort to pay for it, and organizations donated. It slowed down due to COVID so we weren’t able to open earlier.
“Merced County Office of Education donated a section of its building for the space for the children’s museum for three years.
“We were able to pull this project together through our community partners – – UC Merced, First 5 Merced County, Community Foundation Merced County, Merced County Office of Education, Merced Breakfast Lion’s Club, Golden Valley Health Centers, Webcor, STEAMPlug LLC, High Speed Rail Authority, Frances and Vinton Thengvall, Fluetsch & Busby Insurance, Hilmar Cheese Company, HRCore Team, and Legacy Construction.
“We have a Board of Directors. We are still looking for founding partners for the museum, and are still accepting donations or in the alternative, sponsorship of a particular exhibit. This is a unique opportunity because the founding partners are forever, and there will be a permanent list displayed at the museum.
“We opened for field trips in July during summer school. In July, about 300 pre-school through second grade students from the local schools went on field trips to the children’s museum through Merced City School District. We will re-start the field trips this month.”