MAKING A DIFFERENCE: It’s all child’s play at Cayton Children’s Museum

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

SANTA MONICA — Parents looking for a place for their children to learn and explore while having fun will find it at the Cayton Children’s Museum.

Parents and their children will find family attractions within the 21,000-square-foot venue packed with 20 hands-on exhibits, plus educational and fun-filled ways to discover the world of learning through play.

The mission of the nonprofit museum is to activate the power of play, enrich the lives of children and their families, build stronger, more connected communities and create a better world.

Founded by Esther Netter, the Cayton Children’s Museum, which hosts an estimated 150,000 guests annually, opened in 2019, eight months before COVID-19. It then closed for 17 months. When it reopened, it was on a pay-as-you-wish basis with no set fee.

Today, it costs $15 per person for children and adults. Children under 1 get in free. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is open for “members only” Wednesday through Sunday from 9 to 10 a.m.

One-of-a-kind classes offered at the museum allow children to participate in unique play experiences. All of the museum’s hands-on exhibits are permanent.

“We’re not like an art museum,” said Annie Sinzinger, the museum’s senior marketing director. “We are all about play. We want children and parents to play with each other.”

Sinzinger said the museum, which has classes for different ages, has different wings dedicated to specific topics.

The discovery-based exhibits include a real-life helicopter, a miniature marketplace, reactive virtual reality, art studios, a state-of-the-art theatre and adaptable community spaces.

The museum’s classes and workshops are designed to expand a child’s social, creative and cognitive abilities. The enrichment classes provide critical developmental skills through immersive play experiences.

Sinzinger said the intimate and interactive classes are taught by experienced teaching artists and child development specialists.

Admission to the museum is not included in the cost of classes, which must be paid for at the time of registration.

“There is a ‘Let’s Help’ section that has a real helicopter, a fire truck, a Coast Guard boat, a veterinarian’s clinic and a community market,” Sinzinger said. “It’s very popular.”

Sinzinger said other exhibit wings are “Reflective of Self,” “In Tune With Nature,” “Launch Your,” “Reach For,” “Reflect On” and “Together We.”

“Launch Your” is a special space for the youngest visitors up to 2 years old who are just beginning to explore and discover newfound skills and strengths.

“Let’s Help” teaches children the many ways they can serve and support their community as active citizens who help one another, respond, rescue, and play.

In “Reach For,” children discover their individual ability to achieve.

Within the “Reach For” wing is a “Courage Climber” that is suspended from the ceiling in a canopy of colorful ropes, which gives children opportunities to experience many different vantage points and perspectives.

In “Reflect On,” through introspection, reflection and connection, children learn to listen and observe the world around them.

“Together We” is all about teamwork. Exhibits are designed to encourage collaborative play, communication and discovery to explore what is possible when children work together.

The Kevin & Chelsea Washington Art Studio offers classes for a nominal fee. In the art studio, children can use their imagination and create their own pieces of art. There are brand new arts and crafts activities every week, using recycled material, Play-Doh, feathers and non-toxic paint.

The Cayton Spotlight has more than 130 videos on YouTube that showcase art-making, programming, community engagement and playing.

The Courage Climber is a netted enclosure where kids can go above the museum floor in a safe, enclosed environment.

“That way they can have a different perspective,” Sinzinger said.

The museum offers sensory-based field trips to all schools through its outreach program.

Sinzinger said, that at the Cayton Children’s Museum, learning means connecting to arts, to the world, and most of all, to one another, which is why it offers tours for students from pre-kindergarten through third grade.

School visits to the museum, in-person or virtually, extend classroom learning and are designed to provide lifelong tools for success.

The Cayton Community Programs bring the museum experience to a particular community through partnerships with local organizations, schools, and community events.

The museum believes all families in Los Angeles County should have access to play, so a unique variety of creative and interactive programs have been designed beyond its walls and throughout the community. Partnering with local organizations, schools, and community events the Cayton provides opportunities for children and their families to participate in active, artistic, and purposeful play.

Cayton-On-The-Go is a mobile museum program created to bring the arts to children and families who may not have ready access to the museum. The museum partners with nonprofit and community-based organizations across the county to host creativity-free workshops for children (ages 2–8) and families enrolled in or receiving services.

Through interactive storytelling, music, movement games and process-based art making, the workshops encourage children to grow from Cayton’s core principle of “playing our way to a better world.”

Because inclusion is at the heart of everything the Cayton does, its Cayton-on-the-Go projects are enjoyed by a wide range of ages and abilities, empowering little ones to work independently or in cooperation with their grown-ups.

The popular, monthly sensory play events are designed for community organizations that support families with children of diverse abilities and special needs. Families are invited to the museum for custom events that cater to sensory sensitivity and other needs to make the museum a more personable experience.

The museum also hosts sensory-friendly hours from 3-5 p.m. monthly. During those hours families and members with children who have sensory sensitivities and disabilities are welcome.

Each day various activities are offered. Activities include Breathing Wands, craft-calming breathing wands that teach soothing breath exercises for achieving peace of mind. There is also Storytime +Art, Affirmation Rocks where participants can hunt down pebbles and turn ordinary rocks into positivity gems.  

At the Bubble Dance Party, kids can dance, jump and pop to fun music while surrounded by a sea of bubbles. Mirror, Mirror takes kids on a journey of self-expression and positivity by drawing their reflection in mirrors.

There is also a Watercolor Wonderland, Creature Catchers, Fall Sensory Bins and Parachute into Play, a high-flying experience, bouncing stuffed animals and balls together in a gravity-defying adventure.

During the summer, the weeklong Camp Cayton is available and designed for kids ages 4-8. It offers an immersive and unique full-day camp experience with themed art lessons, creative activities and free museum play. The innovative curriculum encourages campers to take risks, express themselves creatively, and work as a team to accomplish goals.

On Oct. 28, the museum will host a howlin’ good time at its Howl-o-ween special event. Mr. Funn the Magician will be on hand to transform into a creature of the night with Cardboard City. Kids can explore a spooky maze, paint pumpkins and more.

Sinzinger said there are many more activities available at the museum.

“We encourage parents to bring their children to the museum,” she said. “We service all of California. They are all invited to come play.”

Cayton’s Children’s Museum is located at 395 Santa Monica Place, Unit 374, in Santa Monica.

For more information, call 424 416-8320; email info@caytonmuseum.org; or visit caytonmuseum.org.

“Making a Difference” is a regular feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to newsroom@wavepublication.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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