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Dreaming of Play & Learning

While feeding her own toddler’s curiosity, Gina Moreland was inspired to start Habitot Children’s Museum. See how an active childhood of her own and a lot of research on early childhood development helped her launch her Big Dream.

Name
Gina Moreland

City / State
Kensignton, CA

What was your big dream?
To create a play and learning place especially for preschoolers, one that would support parents as well. This was over 15 years ago, long before most children’s museums had adopted early childhood areas, and longer before the for-profit play centers and cafes started springing up everywhere. There simply wasn’t anything like this before.

How did you accomplish it?
Six years of community awareness building and fundraising. Lots of volunteers stepped forward to help. We developed a traveling exhibit based on water play, and everywhere we set up the exhibit (festivals, shopping malls, community settings), people asked where they could go to find more exhibits like this. Many parents couldn’t believe how long a preschooler’s attention span could actually be!

Where did you find inspiration to get started?
My first inspiration was my own childhood – my sisters and I spent hours and hours outdoors, building forts, digging channels in the creek bed, and imagining all sorts of scenarios for play. My second inspiration was my own 18-month old, who was the most interesting person – so fascinated by everything, so engaged with me, and not at all the uncommunicative, uncurious being many people imagine babies to be. I felt consumed with wanting to keep up with him and all the things he was discovering.

What motivated you to keep going?
A tremendous amount of brain research on early childhood started hitting the mainstream press about ten years ago – it is really phenomenal the incredible opportunities that exist in the brains of infants, toddlers and preschoolers that, depending on how those are activated, have a huge impact on whether a child reaches his or her potential. Equally phenomenal is the incredible waste in not taking advantage of those opportunities early childhood, which is sadly the case for far too many children. I have been inspired by other people who run children’s museums — we directors do all fundraising and program planning and budgeting and marketing (just like businesses!) to keep these wonderfully rich environments open and available to all families, not just those who can afford to pay. Serving new parents, seeing them bond with their young children through play, knowing that we are helping create happy families and building good parenting skills is a long-term gift to the community.

What’s your next Big Dream?
I hope I am allowed more than one! I would like to see Habitot come into its own with a grander space with an outdoor environment. And I would like to develop a program to deepen our work with parents and of our society’s support of parents. So many parents today have so little time to spend with their young children. I worry that the emotional bonds of connection will not be as strong as they need to be. I’ve seen an awful lot of parents lacking confidence in raising their own children – something they’ve largely had to or chosen to delegate to others. More than anything, I’d like to see play return to children’s lives – true play like those of us over 50 take for granted. Inner city kids and any kids at risk need to have lots of access to nature and open-ended play. Our nation’s creativity and economic success probably depends on it.

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
A flower or vegetable gardener or someone who saved plants and animals.

What about when you were 15?
A commercial artist or a chemist.

Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I hope to remain open to new opportunities, new ideas that move me to action and not locked into one way of being when I’m ‘grown up.’ I’m always looking for a way to make a difference, in my own life, in the lives of my children and family members, and perhaps in my small corner of the world.

What book is on your night stand?
(I’m a multitasker, so:) The Geography of Childhood, a book of Billy Collins poems, Walter Mosely’s Fortunate Son, and Bryce Courtenay’s Power of One.

What’s your Guilty Pleasure? (Grey’s Anatomy, Peppermint Mocha Lattes)
Cooking gourmet dishes.

What song moves you?
Louis Armstrong singing “On the Sunny Side of the Street”

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