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The Village: Learning and building community through play in Willmar

Erica Dischino / Tribune There are several play areas at The Village Children’s Museum, located on Lakeland Drive in Willmar. The Village officially opens Monday.1 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Executive Director Paula Smith reflects on how The Village, a new children’s museum on Lakeland Drive, was founded in Willmar. Smith said it was several families who decided a museum for children was needed in the Willmar community and then wanted to make it happen. 2 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Children play with educational toys at The Village Children’s Museum.3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Children play Jan. 22 in the foam pit at The Village Children’s Museum in Willmar. The museum, located on Lakeland Drive, is set to open Monday, and has several play structures including a slide and tunnels. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Addie Diederich, 5, goes down the slide at The Village Children’s Museum in Willmar. 5 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Elsie Scheele, 6, pretends to make and sell pizza Jan. 22 at The Village Children’s Museum in Willmar. The museum, located on Lakeland Drive, officially opens Monday. 6 / 6

WILLMAR — They say it takes a village to raise a child. With The Village Children's Museum in Willmar — opening Monday — the hope is to not only grow the area's youngest residents, but the community as well.

"We wanted to do this for kids, but adults as well," said Paula Smith, executive director and one of the founders of the The Village.

The new facility, located at 1312 Lakeland Drive Southeast, will offer the region's children a place to play and learn, with a multitude of hands-on exhibits and creative projects. It won't be like a traditional museum, where it is usually "look, but don't touch."

"What we are doing is the exact opposite. You touch, you play," Smith said.

The Village will include play-and-learn exhibits covering construction and building, gardening and farming, a grocery store, a restaurant and a school room. There is also space to do arts and crafts projects, a soft play area for non-walkers and a global learning area where the kids can learn about different cultures and regions of the world.

"We've got a lot of creative things to do," Smith said.

The play aspect of the museum is a very important part of the organization's mission of bringing a cultural, academic and physical form of activity to the community.

"Natural learning happens through play," Smith said.

Getting it going

The idea to open a children's museum in Willmar began with a few local families wanting to fill a need in the community. While Willmar has many outdoor activities during the summer for families to do, there isn't too much when the weather turns cold.

"We saw a need in this area and felt that we could tangibly meet this need and love our community by creating a space for children and families to learn, play, explore and build relationships," Smith said.

The group reached out to other children's museums in the state, including the Minnesota Children's Museum in Minneapolis and the facility in Rochester. Smith said they had a lot of questions, and the other museums have been a great help.

"How do we do this on a Willmar scale, a beginner scale?" Smith said.

The Village was even able to purchase some of its pieces from the museum in Minneapolis.

Funding for Willmar's new children's museum started out with the founding families.

"It was three families financially committed to it," Smith said.

Since then more donations have come in from individuals, businesses and the Willmar Area Community Foundation, which has awarded the project grants.

"It has definitely been a community effort. That has been huge to get something like this started," Smith said.

Gathering spot

In addition to offering a place to learn and play, Smith also wants The Village to be a place for the entire community to gather, no matter their background, religion or culture.

"Our hope is people will get to know each other on a multi-cultural level. Get to know each other and see we are similar," Smith said.

The Village officially opens on Monday. Through the colder months the museum will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Fridays; 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; and 2 to 8 p.m. Saturdays. The Village will be closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.

In the summer, Smith said the museum will focus more on special events than regular hours, to make sure people get outside and enjoy all the activities Willmar has to offer.

A daily pass to the museum costs $5 per person, with a $15 family maximum. Families can also purchase a yearly membership to The Village for $100. There is also a grandparents membership for $50 per year. Those families who use public assistance programs are eligible for a 50 percent membership discount, Smith said.

The Village is available for birthday parties. The museum also has an adult education classroom available for rent.

Smith said she and those who helped make The Village possible are looking forward to opening day, when the whole community can have a chance to see, learn and play.

As the weeks and months go on, Smith said the exhibits and activities will change, to keep the museum a fresh and exciting place. The museum board is also looking for volunteers and community ideas for the museum. More information can be found at

"We are well on our way. Let's open it, let's see what people like. We want to do this with the community," Smith said.


If you go:

Hours: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday & Friday, 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday & Thursday, and 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Closed Wednesday & Sunday.

Admission: Daily pass $5 per person, $15 family maximum; annual membership available.

Location: 1312 Lakeland Drive Southeast, Willmar