Meet Kate Wells, co-founder of the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Wells served as one of the original members of the grassroots campaign that led to the museum’s opening in 2008, and led the capital campaign in raising $12.3 million. Today, the museum welcomes over 350,000 visitors annually and is recognized as one of the top three children’s museums in the nation. She is a strong advocate for children and community volunteering. When she's not busy here in town, she’s likely out exploring others—shortly after opening the museum, she and her family backpacked around the world for 14 ½ months. Here, Wells answers our questions about the museum, her favorite spots around town, her advice to visitors and more.
What makes the Children’s Museum of Phoenix a unique Valley location?
The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is a place where children can touch everything! It’s a fully immersive environment where children lead the way and their grown-ups follow. There are no signs in the museum instructing children on where to start or how to go through an exhibit. This is truly an open-ended experiential environment where the child approaches the activity in a way that is suited to their own individual developmental stage at the time. There aren’t many—if any—places like that in the Valley. Here children really do rule the day and they discover things about themselves and the world around them through the very simple act of play.
What ages is it best suited for?
The museum is designed for ages birth to 10. However, we find that those who are most engaged with the entire museum are really in the 2- to 8-year-old range. We have a beautiful exhibit space specifically for children aged 3 and younger. And all of our exhibits have baby zones, so when the older sibling is playing, the youngest one can be engaged as well.
What are some of your personal favorite exhibits/experiences at the museum?
That’s a hard one to answer since I love them all. It’s fascinating to watch the “busy-ness” and energy in The Market. The kids just go right to work in this space, taking up the roles of cashier or shopper or shelf-stocker... without any direction at all from anyone. Block play is such a staple of childhood and a powerhouse in terms of promoting development so BlockMania! is definitely a favorite of mine. Kids are using their gross motor skills in this exhibit as well as hand-eye coordination, creativity, problem-solving and all sorts of other foundational skills. And of course I love gardening so our garden and our brand new KIDchen where we offer cooking classes are particularly near and dear to me.
Why is a place like this so needed?
Children’s time is so structured and planned these days. When I was a child I had hours and hours of time where I could just play and be a kid! Children don’t have that luxury anymore. Learning environments these days place more importance on structured learning vs. hands-on, interactive engagement. That, coupled with less recess time and the rise in the use of technology by kids, is leading to less engaging in open-ended play experiences which are critical to a child’s development. Open-ended play builds cognitive skills by allowing children the opportunity to use their imaginations and be creative. And when you do that, children become better at critical thinking and problem-solving.
Any tips you can share for visitors to the museum?
Let your child lead for the day. Don’t rush them off to another exhibit if they are engaged in what they are doing. They are learning so much by the experience. There will always be another day to come back and experience another part of the museum. And have fun with your child! Engage in the exhibit with them. It will build a bond and memories that will last a lifetime.
When you’re not working, where would we find you?
I LOVE gardening, and lucky me I have gardens at work and at home. I also really enjoy hiking, but my favorite thing to do is extreme travel—we are a family of wanderers!
Any favorite spots around town?
I love hitting UrbAna for fun home décor and always the perfect little hostess gift, and Desert Botanical Garden early in the morning for an inspiring power walk. If I have a few hours on a Saturday you’ll find me trolling the mid-century furniture shops on 7th Avenue. I also love Galeana 39, a hidden home/lifestyle gem in the re-emerging Miracle Mile along McDowell Road, right across from Tacos Chiwas—which is also a favorite!
Any favorite restaurants?
I live and work in the downtown/central city area and there is so much good food happening here! Ollie Vaughn’s for breakfast and baked goods (do not miss the cinnamon rolls, but leave one for me!); Taco Chelo on Roosevelt; La Santisma; and Street Coffee and its sister restaurant Tasty Box, both on 7th Street. I like the more well-known places down here too, but thought I’d share some of the little treasures!
Any advice for those visiting the Metro Phoenix area?
We have some really amazing, top-notch museums and an abundance of cultural institutions in Phoenix. Look them up and visit them. There really is something for everyone! And of course, don’t forget that one of the top children’s museums in the world is right in your backyard—see you at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix!