COE alumna set to open Denton’s first children’s museum

Pictured: COE alumna Anyah Martinez at the Explorium Denton Children's Museum location.

Anyah Martinez (‘99 BA; ’04 M.S.) needed a project. It was 2012. With her twins about to enter kindergarten and her youngest child gaining independence, she was looking for something that would engage her mind and draw on the skills and training she learned in the UNT College of Education’s Human Development and Family Science program.

The idea came to her during a morning run: Denton needs a children’s museum. And while she doesn’t have museum or nonprofit experience, Martinez said her training in the Development and Family Studies master’s program through the UNT College of Education (she also has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from UNT), combined with her experience as a very hands-on mom and her dedicated board of volunteers, have given her a leg up on making her dream a reality.

“In the beginning, I had the educational background but not a lot of experiential background, except raising my own kids in this fantastic community that had a void we didn’t realize was there,” she said. “Over the last five years I’ve visited children’s museums all across Texas and other states, building ideas of what will work here in Denton.”

The project first started to take shape with hands-on projects for children at the Denton Community Market and programming in Denton schools, preschools and daycares, which Martinez managed with the help of volunteers. Now, after years of fundraising and building support for the project, the Explorium Denton Children’s Museum has secured a physical location – in Stonehill Center off I-35 in north Denton – that Martinez hopes will be open in late 2017 or early 2018.

“We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community so far. Denton is growing at a phenomenal rate, and the number of families coming in is staggering,” she said. “We want to create a welcoming atmosphere not only for those young families, but also for older kids, grandparents and visitors to our community.”

Since signing the lease on the Explorium’s space, Martinez has hit the ground running, hiring the design firm Roto, which specializes in children’s museums, to advise her on best use of the space, exhibit ideas and more. Martinez plans to then hand those ideas over to a local architect to bring them to life.

“We want the museum to be experiential – a really wonderful place for children and families to learn and play together,” she said.

Before the museum opens, Martinez hopes to gain support from fellow COE graduates and Denton residents who want to volunteer their time and expertise.

“Right now we have a small volunteer board, but we’re looking for new people who can offer input and feedback and who have a vested interest in family engagement, parent involvement and education,” she said. “Volunteering with the museum board would be perfect for young alums who need experience working with a nonprofit or a family interested in getting involved with a community project.”

Donate at ExploriumDenton.orgMartinez said parent and grandparent engagement with children’s learning is something she especially values, after learning about its benefits during her graduate studies. Professors like Arminta Lee Jacobson, Rebecca Glover, Barb O’Donnell and more taught her the fundamentals of parent education – lessons she has used in raising her own family and will now put into practice at the museum.

“I want this to be a place where any parent can either be hands off or really engage,” she said. “I say, Let kids explore on their own if that’s the way they learn. But if you are a parent who wants to get involved and work with their kids, we welcome that too!”