The largest children’s museum in the Southeastern United States, located in Columbia's Vista, is celebrating two decades of operation by working to create an inclusive environment for children to experience the joy of learning.
EdVenture Children’s Museum first opened its doors on Nov. 8, 2003, and has since had more than 3,000,000 visitors representing every state in the U.S. as well as 18 international countries.
Education Initiatives Manager Tyshica McConner said that the museum owes a portion of its success to the Columbia community, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If it wasn't for our social media and just our support in the community…not sure how we would have survived,” McConner said.
Kendal Turner, EdVenture’s Program Coordinator, said that since re-opening after COVID-19, EdVenture has been working to ensure the museum is inclusive and welcoming for all its patrons.
"We realize that kids come from all kinds of different backgrounds, have all kinds of different family structures," Turner said. "And our goal is to really meet children where they are and to help elevate them in any way that we can."
She said that the museum's philosophy on inclusivity is best described by the words that are displayed directly above the entry doors.
“On the front of the building, it says 'Education. Everyone,'" Turner said. "That means everyone — no matter what — everyone is welcome here, and we provide an environment of respect. One of the things that I try to do (is) making sure that we are showcasing scientists from all different backgrounds of all different colors, men, women, queer people (and) trans people as much as we can."
Another one of the museum’s recent attempts at making a more inclusive environment is their designated “sensory nights." These nights are focused on ensuring that children with specific sensory needs are able to enjoy all the museum has to offer.
Sensory nights are held every other month and are free to anyone who wants to attend.
“We dim the lights (and) we turn off all the loud sounds," Turner said. "We have some activities that we have going on on the floor that I help facilitate that are just fun activities but are geared with a sensitivity towards kiddos that may need to interact with it in a different way."
Turner said that the museum is ensuring that their older exhibits are more inclusive as well. This includes the museum’s ambassador: Eddie.
Eddie is a lifelike replica of a 10 year old boy “representing all the races of South Carolina” and lovingly referred to by the museum as the “world’s biggest kid."
Reaching 40 feet tall and weighing in at a whopping 35,000 pounds, Eddie allows children to explore the human body in an interactive way.
“Today I was leading a group up past Eddie, and a little boy says, 'Oh, Eddie looks just like me,' and you're like, 'Yeah, he does look just like you, buddy,' because we know that when kids can see themselves on a larger scale, it's really empowering,” Turner said.
Dr. Kathie Williams, EdVenture’s health and safety advisor and a graduate of USC’s doctoral program said she is looking forward to the museum's continued growth.
“We're excited that we're going forward (and) reopening programs that we haven't been able to do," Williams said. "Slowly, we are expanding and growing like we were before.”
The museum is closed on Tuesdays, but individuals can visit Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.