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Children’s Museum Started by Two Moms Talking Over Pizza

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –You may have noticed a new addition to Valley West Mall over the holidays, but it is not a retail store. It's a museum for kids to play and learn. And, the co-founders plan to expand.

You wouldn’t normally find kids painting, making music, and role playing in the mall. Mom Lindsay McQuarry said, "My son has been enjoying playing with the play food, the ice cream, the pizza."

In a second floor space inside Valley West Mall, you'll see kids fishing, sliding, and learning. It’s the Des Moines Children’s Museum. Co-Founder Laura Johnson said, "We have a mini city made out of the dressing rooms from the previous tenant. There's a doctor's office, pizza parlor, ice cream shop, and construction site."

Co-Founder Julie Burtnette said, "Children's museums are all about play and learning and interactive exhibits.”

Johnson and Burtnette started the non-profit about a year ago. "We were just eating pizza after a playdate one day, and Julie said, do you want to try and start one with me? I said, yeah, let's do it," said Johnson.

The museum started as a traveling exhibit over the summer before moving into the space in the mall in the November. 3,000 people have stopped by so far. The museum is open part-time four days a week.

Johnson said, "The limited hours are because we're all volunteers, so we love to have people come and volunteer with us. It's a family friendly opportunity. You can bring your kids to play for free during your shift."

The museum has a lease to be in the mall through the end of the year, but the co-founders plan to expand. Johnson said, "This is kind of a small temporary location while we raise funds to do a big capital campaign and feasibility study and things we need to do to open a full-size children's museum like the ones in Iowa City and Omaha."

McQuarry said she and her son enjoyed their first trip to the museum. "It's nice to have something educational and fun. I think it's just great to have a place where a child can explore freely," she said.

The Des Moines Children's Museum is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, 9 a.m. to 12:30 on Monday and 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is $4.50 for kids one through ten. Donations are appreciated but not required for other ages.

You can sign up to volunteer or donate on the Des Moines Children’s Museum’s website.