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Wondertrek Children’s Museum announces Mailhot as program coordinator

Through Playful Connections, WonderTrek will engage children and adults in play-based studio explorations to help design an "up north" signature climber experience reflecting regional art, culture and heritage.

Headshot of Emilee Mailhot
Emilee Mailhot
Contributed / Andrea Baumann
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WonderTrek Children’s Museum, a museum in North Central Minnesota for children, families and educators, announced the appointment of Emilee Mailhot as program director for its Playful Connections studio explorations programming.

Mailhot will join the project team in developing and implementing Playful Connections, a new 18-month regional program funded by the Minnesota Legacy, Arts, Culture and Heritage Fund, according to a news release.

Through Playful Connections, WonderTrek will engage children and adults in play-based studio explorations to help design an "up north" signature climber experience reflecting regional art, culture and heritage. Special attention will be paid to engaging families from a diversity of backgrounds and lived experiences at WonderTrek’s studio space at the Franklin Arts Center and at remote venues through the region. Particular attention will be paid to reaching families experiencing participation barriers. By bringing together diverse perspectives to share ideas in a studio learning process adapted for WonderTrek’s audience, Playful Connections empowers children to lead the way to a more connected region and state through the power of play.

“I was fortunate to grow up in the Brainerd lakes area in a family that loved and respected nature and local culture. I loved being outside and exploring in the forest, and I was always curious about everything around me. I remember taking field trips to the Children’s Museum in the Cities and the Aquarium in Duluth where I was able to learn more about the environment in which I lived. Everything seemed so magical,” Mailhot said in the news release. “It wasn’t until I attended college that I realized my fascination for science was actually a passion so I pursued a degree in psychology and neuroscience. After spending several years working with kids in early childhood development and play-based learning settings, I moved back to the area and am incredibly honored to be part of the team developing a Children’s Museum in our region.”

Wondertrek Children’s Museum received a grant funding award from the Minnesota Humanities Center. The monies received will support in-person hands-on programming at 185 events and encounters in 17 communities throughout the five counties, serving more than 4,000 children and 1,500 families. The programs reach families who have traditionally been underserved throughout the region, WonderTrek partnered with Region Five Development's Community Engagement specialists to help serve more than 100 Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Latinx, immigrant, military, and Amish families with COVID-19-safe Play Packets designed to stimulate family learning at home.

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In addition to achieving significant engagement with families, previous Legacy funding further provided for development of the master plan framework for WonderTrek's Center for Play and Interactive Learning, a multi-dimensional resource for play, experience development, hands-on learning materials and workshops that serve museum staff, volunteers, teachers and education leaders, from the early years through middle school from across the region. As an emerging children's museum, WonderTrek reported it made strides in delivering on its mission of "bringing together the region's children and families in shared experiences that are grounded locally and open onto the wider world.”

Even with pandemic-related timing issues, WonderTrek continues to operate its studio location at the Franklin Arts Center, an Artspace mixed-use facility in central Brainerd, and plans to open the new, permanent children's museum facility in the next few years. Now, WonderTrek is consolidating the learning and building upon the relationships established over the past two years and is prepared to further its mission to bring families together through shared experiences with an innovative new program.

This work is funded in part by the Minnesota Humanities Center with money from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, 2008.

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