It's finally happening. The construction site at the corner of N.E. 12th Avenue and 108th Avenue N.E. in downtown Bellevue has been transformed into the new KidsQuest Children’s Museum. Final touches are being put on the exhibits (cans and fruit for the mercantile, water for the water play area) and the 28-foot climbing sculpture that anchors the opening lobby has been installed. Grand opening events have been planned — a member preview for Jan. 30 and a public grand opening for Jan. 31, 2017.
For a museum that has been bursting at the seams at its home in Factoria Square Mall — serving 180,000 visitors a year in a space originally designed to serve 60,000 — the move to a 13,500 square foot facility couldn't be more timely.
"I’m so excited that we will have a home all our own and the opportunity to expand our programs, and build on the groundwork at Factoria," says KidsQuest CEO and president Putter Bert. Highlights of the new museum building are numerous: art studio, maker space, water play area, outdoor gallery, a mercantile play area that re-creates historic Bellevue, "tot orchard" for preschoolers and toddlers, three classrooms.
And then there's the 28-foot climbing structure/sculpture that will be the centerpiece of the opening gallery, inviting children to crawl and climb through tubes and ladders to the second floor and beyond. "It's part climbing structure and part art," Bert says. "Most kids will probably not climb to the top the first time around."
"It’s a great exploration into 'safe risk' for parents and children," she says.
>Here are a few more reasons why Eastside and Seattle families should mark the opening of KidsQuest Children's Museum on their calendars.
Location, location, location
With an address that’s a book’s throw from the Bellevue Regional Library, and a short walk from Bellevue Square, parks and other family attractions, the location is convenient for Eastside and Seattle families, who can combine a visit to KidsQuest with more downtown fun.
On a practical level, KidsQuest will serve a growing population of young families in downtown Bellevue. (The median age in downtown Bellevue has declined from 57 to 34 since 2002, according to this article that summarizes census data.)
Bert says the new location will also facilitate partnerships with nearby mission-aligned organizations such as Bellevue Arts Museum and the Bellevue Regional Library.
The older kids are all right
With exhibit space that will increase significantly from the Factoria facility, KidsQuest is able to expand all its programming, including for kids ages 6 through 9. On the first floor, the Recycle Rebuild maker area is designed for kids ages 5 and up. Kids will be able to create using real tools, as well as items such as sewing machines. There will also be more after-school programming for school-age kids, such as STEAM workshops, art classes and clubs.
And younger kids will still be well-served, too. The first floor features a large water play area, visible from the lobby, and an outdoor Sticks and Stones gallery that encourages creative nature play and science exploration. Kids in the "vroom vroom" phase will have a hard time leaving the On the Go gallery on the first floor, with a new Paccar truck to play on, a conveyor belt to load and unload and paper planes to build and fly.
Upstairs, find a dramatic play area, a stage, a Story Tree for climbing and reading in nooks, the Bellevue Mercantile exhibit and a sensory-rich Tot Orchard for the youngest visitors. The three classrooms in the new building will include a dedicated art studio, a learning lab and the maker space. The number of education staff is also increasing.
Not to hurry: A design to foster engagement
The exhibits aim to serve a wider range of kids of different ages and interests — but there is an underlying theme. "The spaces are very intentional in design to allow for deep engagement," says Jamie Bonnett, associate director of education for KidsQuest.
Exhibit areas are more defined than in the Factoria space to let kids focus, while high ceilings and windows streaming in natural light create an inviting environment. Seating for adults will be more available, for a simple reason: If adults can sit, kids play longer and more independently.
"You’re getting to take a load off while your child gets to engage on their own," says Bonnett, who notes that design choices were informed by a year-long study of how parents and children interacted in a children's museum setting.
"That time for long periods of uninterrupted, child-driven play is really, really important," Bonnett says. "In our camps and in the museum, we want those children to be able to come in and engage for long periods of time and not have it be too structured."
So parents, take note: Your kids might only do one or two things in a visit to the new KidsQuest, and that's just fine.
"Play is a natural way to release," Bonnett says. "It really allows kids to reset."
The new KidsQuest at a glance
Grand opening dates:
- Monday, Jan. 30, 2017: Member preview from noon–8 p.m.
- Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017: Opening day: Free outdoor ribbon cutting at 8:30 a.m. Grand opening day hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and paid admission or membership are required.
Tips for grand opening events: Staff expect large crowds and encourage parents to leave strollers at home.
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday noon–5 p.m.
Member-only hours: Thursday, 5–8 p.m.
Admission prices: $12; kids under age 1 free
Educational programming: KidsQuest is expanding its educational staff and its classrooms (from one to three). Expect to see more early learning classes, mini maker classes, after-school programming and art classes. Programming for kids with sensory issues will also continue.
This article was originally published on Oct. 3, 2016, and updated on Jan. 25, 2017.