April 22nd, 2020   |   By Alex De Vore

The Santa Fe Children’s Museum has certainly faced its fair share of difficulties over the years—it even shut down briefly in 2016. But as one of few such organizations in the state, the museum has managed to weather crises before, and now offers a rather robust suite of programming options, many of which are still underway.

According to Hannah Hausman, the museum’s senior director of development and communication, conditions have been good, both in terms of funding and attendance. And though the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for patrons to visit in real life, there’s still a lot going on, both online and at the museum’s sprawling garden on Old Pecos Trail.

“I think that our board and staff have been really strong in terms of fundraising and all of those pieces, and that hasn’t stopped,” Hausman says. “We’re open, we’re operational virtually, we’re providing all these things to the community and our finances are great; we’re in the black. It’s all great [but] this hit and we had all these exciting things on the horizon, and now we’re on pause a bit.”

Just because you can’t take your kids for a visit, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of ways to engage. 

“One of the things we realized is, there’s one program in particular that can’t stop, and that’s Seeds and Sprouts. Mother nature doesn’t wait,” says Leona Hillary, the museum’s director of education. “Our garden is in full swing and we’ve got production with over 26 raised beds.”

Hillary says staff are caring for seedlings started by regular students and visitors, tending to existing garden maintenance and continuing the museum’s social media presence on Facebook and Instagram so even kids who can’t pop by to see how their plants are faring can still get progress reports.

“In the past, kids would harvest and take home,” she says. “We now have double the produce than we had before, and we’re doing a grab-and-go initiative so kids can grow their own food in their own gardens [at home].”

This means a small, no-contact booth at the Santa Fe Farmers Market (which has been deemed essential during the stay-at-home order) on Saturdays. Each seed kit comes with four packages of seeds plus information and suggestions for gardening activities. The Children’s Museum has also partnered with the Northern Youth Project to get more complicated gardening items to teens in rural areas who might want more to do than plopping a few seeds in the ground.

“And we’re working on how people can request a victory garden kit through the public schools,” Hillary adds.

Victory Gardens are a WWII holdover wherein governments urged citizens to plant gardens to fill out their own food supplies while rationing—and to just plain have something to do.

Outside of the gardening milieu, the museum is offering virtual field trips to places unexpected.

“We invested in a high-powered computer and a couple really cool programs, and what they can do in an online classroom is deliver a field trip to space,” Hillary says. “A lot of the classrooms are doing reading and math, and everything else, they’re on their own—this is an opportunity to address real science curriculum. It gives you a real scientist right there in your home.”

Hillary says the museum is beginning to contact teachers this week about how they can get involved. With two educators on hand to facilitate the field trips, she estimates they could accommodate up to 10 trips a day. In the beginning, they’ll focus on K-8 students, but if the program proves popular, it could expand.

“And they can customize it,” she says. “They’re learning about volcanoes? Climate? We can customize our content to the classroom. It’s tailored so teachers can know they’re signing up for something that’s helping them—and it can be delivered in English and Spanish.”

Additionally, the museum is gathering videos of community members reading stories. The free service already boasts mayor Alan Webber and, according to Hausman, is open to any Santa Feans who wish to submit—Santa Femous or not. Stories, she expects, will start rolling out on the website on Wednesdays.

Even cooler? Hausman says administrators are in the early talks for developing a satellite location of the Children’s Museum on the traditionally underserved Southside of town.

“How great would that be when everything is lifted?” she says excitedly.

Further details are unavailable, but what can you do to support in the meantime? Well, buying a membership ($85-$175) wouldn’t hurt for starters. Hasuman and Hillary understand that its benefits aren’t as jam-packed as in times of health, but if the concern is an expiration date, they’re taking that into consideration and extending them gratis—you won’t lose any months to the stay-at-home order. The museum is still accepting volunteer applications as well. You can also simply donate if you’re so inclined. As long as they have even a little funding, they’ll keep serving the youths. Just know they’re not alone.

“There’s a movement of over 350 [children’s museums] across the nation who’ve banded together to keep delivering our missions,” Hausman explains.