Explore! Children’s Museum Founder and Arts Philanthropist Jane Cafritz Curated A Collection of Inspiring At-Home Activities for Kids and Parents
Above: Screenshots from Sandbox, an online hub for at-home activities from the Explore! Children’s Museum
Jane Cafritz, a board member of some of D.C.’s largest arts organizations and the founder of the Explore! Children’s Museum, thinks it is important to remember that “learning doesn’t have to be boring and structured.” Before the pandemic, Cafritz demonstrated this belief through a popular children’s exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery and “Mission Mobile,” a traveling simulator that teaches local D.C. students problem solving and critical thinking.
Once the pandemic struck, Cafritz, a grandmother, knew parents and children were going to need an online-option for continued creativity and exploration during quarantine, so she created Sandbox. The online hub includes over 100 kid-friendly activities from resources like NatGeo, NPR, PBS and the Smithsonian Institutions among other U.S. and global institutions. For instance, explore movement and dance through the story of The Sleeping Beauty. Travel on a space adventure. Learn how to make s’mores with solar energy. Make your own whistle. Create your own roller coaster. Mix up some milky fireworks. No matter the passion, Explore! Sandbox has it, from arts, food, movement and performance to science&nature, storytime, summer, and more.
We talked to Cafritz about Explore! Sandbox and learned more about her hopes for the future of her online community and the Explore! Children’s Museum set to open in Fort Totten in the coming years.
WL: What do you see as the future of Explore! Children’s Museum and The Sandbox?
Cafritz: Our goal for The Sandbox is to continue to be a resource for parents and children that inspires creativity and play. We are constantly updating and adding to our site. We have a new section for at-home Summer activities that kids can do because they are unable to physically participate in camp.
We’ll continue to expand our content to meet the changing needs of families in the future. We plan to grow The Sandbox into an online community where families can post their own content and connect with each other on a safe site. Presently, we are a virtual community. We look forward to meeting our online community in person when we open our physical Explore! Children’s Museum in Fort Totten in a couple of years.
WL: How has your personal love for art and culture come out through this project?
Cafritz: I have always felt that the arts are essential to every individual. I currently have the privilege of serving on the board of a number of arts organizations and museums, such as the Hirshhorn Museum and the Washington National Opera. I feel it is important to bring art into every project with which I am involved.
As a grandmother, I have experienced the need for online resources for my own family that are easily accessible, well-curated, and encourage creativity and curious thinking. What better way to do that than incorporating activities around literature and creating music and making art? The Sandbox is designed to fulfill that need. I love sharing this with families in the DC metropolitan area, across the country and around the world.
WL: Before the pandemic struck, you had a popular children’s exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery and the “Mission Mobile,” and now, you’ve launched Explore! Sandbox, an online community for parents to gain quick and easy access to hours of content for their children. How has the transition from an in-person exhibit to an online community looked?
Cafritz: We have found it necessary to re-connect with our community. Whether it’s our exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery, the Mission Mobile which we bring to regional schools, or the Explore! Sandbox, our goal of reaching families and creating a space where every child is individually celebrated stays the same. By using resources like NatGeo, NPR, PBS and the Smithsonian Institutions, we were able to build an amazing online tool that we hope will enrich the lives of kids everywhere.
It is important to remember that learning doesn’t have to be boring and structured.” – Jane Cafritz, Founder of Explore! Children’s Museum
WL: What advice do you have for parents and kids during the pandemic to keep fostering an educational environment?
Cafritz: It is important to remember that learning doesn’t have to be boring and structured. We have over 100 activities available to spark creativity and curiosity in unique ways — through a cooking lesson, virtually playing with an octopus, or learning a cool yoga position. While they may not seem like traditional activities you would find at museums and science centers, they foster new and unique connections between parents and children that are invaluable during times like these.
WL: What are some of your favorite kid-friendly places in the district to take your grandchildren and why?
Cafritz: Living in DC gives us the privilege of access to some amazing – and free – museums. The National Portrait Gallery offers a great storytime that connects children to portraiture in a new and more meaningful way. The Phillips Collection offers wonderful art-making activities that speak to creativity. And, of course, the Smithsonian Museums provide alternative learning with a vast variety of themes. Outside of museums, The Kennedy Center has wonderful music programs that children find very appealing. Imagination Stage offers live participatory theater experiences that really resonant with children. The Explore! Sandbox brings experiences from all these institutions to one virtual space! What the future Explore! Children’s Museum will do is bring exciting arts opportunities to children in a way that engages their creativity and individual identity.