Little ones are never too young to experience the exhibits, programs and welcoming environment at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, a nonprofit located in downtown Charleston. Just ask Executive Director Nichole Myles.
"Our focus is from birth through age 10," she explained. "Lots of families ask 'how young is too young?' We start programming as soon as they feel comfortable bringing their kids in. We're a great place to play -- right from the start."
In fact, the museum has established programs aimed specifically at children who, in some cases, might actually be too young to walk or talk. For example, Early Connections is all about bonding between children and their caregiver -- which can be Mom or Dad, Grandma, Grandpa or even a nanny. Activities include songs, finger play, stories and interaction with "feeling buddies" -- dolls that help kids communicate their feelings.
Myles pointed out that most of the children participating in this weekly program are between 6 and 18 months, though they can be up to 3 years old. Early Connections classes aren't held during the summer months, when its classroom is occupied by campers, but the program will start up again Sept. 4, at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. The class size is limited, but Myles said additional sessions can be added at 10:30 a.m. if necessary. Participants don't have to sign up in advance and walk-ins are welcome.
"It's best practice to keep it to 10 to 12 in a class, especially with young children," Myles said, adding that little ones are not required to be on their best behavior. "It's really important that families aren't burdened by feeling that their child has to behave in a certain way. Babies and toddlers don't behave that way. They may do everything in the class or only one thing, and that's OK," she explained. The important takeaway is that playful learning supports the healthy development of fine and gross motor skills, language abilities, social skills and emotional self-regulation, and creative problem-solving.
Early Connections, like most programs at the museum, is free with a paid admission.
Another program is designed for families of special needs children. Held from 10 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, SuperStars is limited to 100 kids and family members, about a quarter of the museum's normal capacity, giving families the chance to play in the museum without the crowds or over-stimulation. Participants come from across the Charleston tri-county area at the suggestion of their doctors, therapists, teachers and hospitals and are able to interact with all the exhibits and, more importantly, with other attendees.
"It's a great place to socialize with and really relate to other families," Myles commented. "And, again, it's perfectly acceptable for your child to be who they are."
Kids can get even more out of the program if they download the ExploreCML app (available in the App Store or on Google Play when searching for "Children's Museum Lowcountry," which is free of charge at the App Store.
Another related program that is not open to the general public is aimed at helping young mothers bond with their babies and teaching them how "they can make those precious years the best they can be," Myles pointed out. Baby Scholars is for 16- to 21-year-olds who are residents of the Florence Crittenton Home. The mothers and their kids are members of the museum at no charge after completion of the program.
"It's important for them to be able to interact with each other and see the potential of their own children," Myles said.
The operative word at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry is potential, regardless of a family's financial status. A nonprofit supported by its fundraising efforts, the museum offers a variety of membership options for families that might not be able to pay the full price of admission.
"The museum really is engaged in unlocking children's potential," Myles concluded. "We are an educational entity that believes that play-based environments and experiences are the key building blocks to unlocking every child's potential."
For more information about the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, visit exploreCML.org.