This year, the Omaha Children’s Museum celebrates 40 years of bringing joy, education, and imagination to Omaha youth.
The museum has come a long way in 40 years, from starting out in the back of a station wagon to now being one of the biggest children’s museums in the world. The museum has seen major renovations, countless exhibits, and hundreds of thousands of children. Last year the museum set an annual record for attendance at 302,000.
Executive Director Lindy Hoyer says the Omaha Children’s Museum offers a safe space for children to learn and grow.
“That time [at the museum], where kids are engaging and exploring in different types of activity is developing them as a whole person,” Hoyer says.
Hoyer’s fervor for the museum is matched only by her love for education, and making children the best they can be. She would love to formally claim that bringing children to the museum guarantees they turn out to be geniuses, but nonetheless she will not.
“I don’t know that we can be so bold as to say that, but I wholeheartedly believe they are going to become better people, and as successful as they are destined to be by utilizing what we have to offer here,” Hoyer says.
Justin Rader is 20 years old now, but when he was younger his grandmother took him to the Omaha Children’s Museum regularly.
“The most memorable experience I had going there was when they had a dinosaur exhibit upstairs,” Rader says. “I was getting to an age where I was a little hesitant on going to the museum, because all the kids there where younger, but all my reservations about the exhibit quickly diminished as I climbed up the stairs—bumping elbows with eager kids older and younger than me.”
Rader may not have been the only young person feeling a little old for a “children’s museum.” According to Hoyer, the museum has noticed their clientele is often a bit older than their intended target audience.
“For many years we have focused on activities for an audience of children who are in the early childhood age,” Hoyer says. “We are seeing more and more that we are serving children much older than that. You’ll probably start to see us adding more things of interest [for the older age group].”
Brooke Criswell, 19, was also a recurring customer at the Omaha Children’s Museum as a youngster. Her mother would take her and just one other friend whenever she could.
“I loved seeing all the different exhibits,” Criswell says. “I just remember really having my imagination being broadened, and having a day with my friend.”
The Omaha Children’s Museum has been located at 20th Street and St. Mary’s Avenue since 1989. The facility itself is more than 60,000 square feet, which puts it in the top 15 percent of children’s museums worldwide. Even with such a massive space, Hoyer says the museum is bursting at the seams. “We have got some challenges ahead for what we are going to do about supporting the growth we are seeing,” she says.
Hoyer says they are considering an expansion of the current building, and potentially even looking at a new site altogether, so that the Omaha Children’s Museum can celebrate another 40 years of bringing joy, education, and imagination to youngsters.