Where the wild things are

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — There was no shortage of buzz at this premiere.

The test audience showed up in a fleet of mini-vans, 19 boisterous preschoolers and a few diapered siblings, their parents in tow, raring to go.

Their assignment: To explore the “fun quotient” of the new Kids Discovery Museum on Bainbridge Island in advance of the April 19 grand opening.

The tots entered the Zany Rainy Rainforest slowly, ears cocked to the mesmerizing hum of jungle critters and drums. And in the time it takes to disappear into a giant snake’s mouth, or crawl into a giant nest of dinosaur eggs, the kids were creating a din of their own, howling like monkeys — when invited to do so, during a lesson on the rain forest — banging drums, parading in bug costumes and shrieking with delight.

This premiere was a definite hit.

“You want to see the scariest thing I ever saw?” 4-year-old Abby Harden asked urgently, wearing a butterfly costume and pulling an adult along by the sleeve.

“Look! There’s a cheetah in there!” she said, standing warily outside the “Night Creatures” hut, where paintings of nocturnal animals with glowing eyes beckoned brave children to enter.

It was a big day for the children of Happy Days Nursery School, who were selected to be the first group of children to experience Kitsap County’s first-ever children’s museum.

Later in the week, second-graders from Brownsville Elementary School in Central Kitsap came through.

“KiDiMu,” as the museum is nicknamed, is designed to serve kids ages 10 and younger, with older children serving as docents.

“It’s all about the kids, and they had a wonderful time,” said museum Executive Director Cheryl Dale. “It’s so great to see, and a validation of the vision and the thousands of volunteer hours that went into this place.”

Bainbridge mom Molly Hogger was driven to create a museum on the island after she and her daughter went to the children’s museum in Tacoma for a birthday party several years ago.

It was so much fun, and so educational at the same time, that Hogger started researching what it would take to bring one to Bainbridge. Everywhere she went, parents and grandparents gave the idea a thumbs up and volunteered to assist.

“What I learned is that most children’s museums take six years or more (to create),” Hogger said. No wonder, considering it takes time to build support, raise funds, curate exhibits, develop an educational component, find a building and ensure ongoing financial support.

Then, coincidentally, something happened to push the project forward. Hogger’s husband, general contractor and developer Rolf Hogger, bought two commercial buildings at 305 Madison, as an investment.

The building at the front of the property was already in use as Big Star Diner. The one in back was vacant.

Hogger got to thinking it would be perfect for the museum, and her husband agreed. He’s been fixing up the place for the new occupants ever since.

“It was one of those things that was just supposed to happen,” Dale said. “All of the initial people are still involved.”

The museum features the rain forest exhibit, seek-and-find games, puzzles, “sniff boxes” that contain fragrant items found in the rain forest, an area for lessons under the rain forest canopy, a giant snake and a hollow log to crawl through, huts to explore and things to climb on.

There’s an art space, where children can “make and take” art projects with the help of local artists, and places to curl up with stuffed animals and read a book.

With dual TVs in one room, kids can watch — and interact, in real time — with children on field trips on land or at sea. “Wacky science” exhibitions will be a feature at the museum for older children.

Julie Davis, the museum’s education/program director, has come up with age-appropriate lessons for visitors.

The basement of the museum will be full of activity as well. That’s where the children’s theater is located, and where productions will be staged with the help of Bainbridge Performing Arts and other groups on the island.

And there is a birthday party room, where kids can have birthday cake and open presents, after exploring the museum upstairs.

Marilyn Putnam, director of Happy Days Nursery School, said she was impressed and plans to bring her students back again and again.

“Because we live in a rainy area, it will be really nice to bring them here on a rainy day, to learn more about the rain forest,” she said. “We have a strong preschool community on the island, and this will bring us together.”

The museum will provide a needed new service to families with small children on the island, several mothers said.

“A lot of children’s programs are full, and there is a definite need,” said Danielle Harden, a museum board member whose daughter Abby will celebrate her birthday at the museum in a few weeks. “The park district’s open gym program is always full and often turns people away. And the new Waterfront Park (playground) is just swarming with kids.”

When the museum celebrates its grand opening on April 19, it too will be swarming with kids, the mothers predicted.

“It will be fun to come here on a weekly basis,” said Suzanne Kussie, as she watched her son Jonathan, 3, romp from exhibit to exhibit. “He loves it. He’s having a great time.”

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