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A quiet place inside Iowa Children’s Museum inside Coral Ridge Mall, Coralville
Family Sanctuary gets a $15,000 makeover to be a calming space
When the notion of motion, sights and sounds gets to be too much, the Family Sanctuary offers a quiet oasis inside the Iowa Children’s Museum at Coralville’s Coral Ridge Mall.
The room has been there pretty much since the museum opened Nov. 16, 1999, said Jeff Capps, executive director. But now the space, measuring 18 feet by 12 feet, has been spruced up to help calm down guests with sensory sensitivities or offer nursing moms a private space in which to feed the baby.
“We always felt like it was a space that was valuable, and a space that we felt good about having, but it just felt like it no longer really met the needs of most families,” Capps said. “It was just basically one space where a family could close the door and have maybe ... a little bit of a moment where you’re kind of separated.
“It certainly served that purpose, but it wasn’t the welcoming space that we thought it could be. So we intentionally set out to just make it feel more inviting, and certainly more calming for those who needed that kind of quiet moment.”
If you go
What: Iowa Children’s Museum
Where: Inside Coral Ridge Mall, 1451 Coral Ridge Ave., Coralville; just inside the southeast mall entrance, next to the skating rink and food court
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; closed Mondays
Admission: $10 children and adults; $9 ages 60 and up; free under age 1
For those who might equate “sanctuary” with “church,” Capps said in this instance, it means “a break from everything else. And a special quote-unquote ”sacred space“ where you can come with your family and chill or regroup — take a moment to refresh. ... “If (kids) get overstimulated in the exhibits, it’s a place where they can calm down.”
The overall tone is mellow, with much softer lighting, Capps noted.
Overhead lighting is no longer the default lighting. Instead, it’s augmented by peace sconces on the walls.
“We love the fact that they were called ‘peace,’ because we wanted it to be a peaceful space,” Capps said.
“We also were very careful to design it with some nice earth-tone colors. There's almost like an earthen/sky kind of feel in there where you walk in and you feel like it's a more natural space — less of a built environment and a little bit more of a natural kind of space.
“It just feels like you’re in a very peaceful place.”
Books, a playhouse, a light tube with changing colors, an aura LED projector and tactile blocks help keep kids of all ages engaged during some quiet time. New seating includes a cozy couch, kid-sized chair and sofa, atop new carpet in various shades of blue.
“We tried to walk that line,” Capps said. “We didn't want it to become an exhibit, because it's not an exhibit, but we also wanted to have some interactive elements that felt very family friendly for folks when they go into the space.”
It’s also open to guests who don’t have someone with special needs, but just want a retreat from all the activity in the exhibits, Capps said. Those who wish to use the room don’t have to ask at the information desk or make a reservation. The door doesn’t lock, but a window allows guests to see if the room is in use.
The renovation cost about $15,000, financed through grants from Variety — The Children's Charity, the Iowa City AM Rotary Club and the Rotary Foundation.
Another $3,000 paid for installing a size-inclusive changing table in a lockable family restroom down the hall. Even though the table will support up to 400 pounds, Capps said it’s still considered a child’s changing table, designed for someone just under 5 feet tall, since the room has limited space.
The two projects “kind of hung together as something that was really working to meet the increasingly diverse needs of our audience,” Capps said, noting the museum also has another lockable family restroom with an infant changing table.
It was time for the museum to change, in response the various needs of its guests, Capps said.
“People have always had these different kinds of needs that are, as my colleague Jackie (McCall) says, kind of invisible to us. But we just recognize that more fully now to say, ‘Hey, this is a happy place, and it's an exciting place.’
“But an experience that should be joyful and fun-filled can go awry really fast for somebody who has, for example, certain sensory needs, or different sensitivities. Suddenly, what started as a great day becomes a nightmare for a child or for the whole family,” Capps said.
The staff realizes the museum is not “a one- size-fits-all experience,” he added.
It’s all part of a larger conversation about adapting to meet the needs of people with physical challenges and mobility challenges.
“It's just put us in a place where we say, ‘Hey, this is something that we can move the needle on.’ This is a small room that we can make a really big impact on and significantly improve the experience for a lot of our visitors.
“Same thing with the changing table. It’s probably not going to be perfect for everybody, but does it open up a whole new audience that could not use an inclusive changing table,” Capps said.
“It’s just those incremental things where we're just so much more attuned to what some of those needs are and how we can do better in meeting them. So I'd say it's maybe less about the audience changing and more about us as an organization, recognizing that we can do something about it.“
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