A Look Back at 10 Years of Playful Learning at the Children’s Museum

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of our grand opening, we are taking a trip down memory lane to look back at some of our biggest milestones at the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CMOSC)! 

To our supporters,

On behalf of the Board and Team here at CMOSC, we want to extend heartfelt gratitude to the thousands of investors and volunteers for their incredible generosity over the past decade. Your time and financial support have been instrumental in ensuring the Children’s Museum is a safe place for all children to learn through joyful, transformative experiences.

– The Board and Team 

The Early Years of the Children’s Museum (2005 – 2010)

Collette Michaud, CEO and founder of the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, circa 2005

Our story began in 2005, with a mission to provide joyful and transformative educational experiences to Sonoma County children and families. Recognizing the need for spaces that offer experiential learning in Sonoma County, Collette Michaud founded the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, bringing together a group of committed volunteers to help.

That same year, with just small donations, we launched the traveling Museum-on-the-Go program. This mobile science and art outreach initiative brought fun, interactive educational activities to local schools and events, while also raising awareness and building support for our dream of a permanent museum. 

The Museum-on-the-Go Program Expansion (2008)

Children playing with interactive, educational activities brought to local community events by the Museum-on-the-Go program circa 2005-2010.

In 2008, thanks to the generous seed funding from the Junior League of Napa-Sonoma, our Museum-on-the-Go program expanded its reach, bringing the joy of curiosity and discovery to even more families across Sonoma County. The Museum-on-the-Go trailer quickly became a beloved sight at community events, further solidifying the importance of providing fun, early educational experiences to children in our community.

In 2009, thanks to a significant matching grant from committed investors, we hired our first team member and traded in the trailer for a van, which we still use! To this day, our Museum-on-the-Go van continues to be a staple at many family-friendly events around Sonoma County.

Building a Permanent Museum (2010 – 2014)

The Children's Museum of Sonoma County Board of Directors circa 2010

Our dream of a permanent home became a reality in 2010 when CMOSC secured a lease on a 4.2-acre property neighboring the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. In May of 2011, we received a $1.8 million grant from the State Parks and Recreation Grants Department to build Mary’s Garden – an outdoor, nature-focused educational space. 

That same year, CMOSC received a generous legacy gift from family and friends of the Ella Bisbee Fund at the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, which funded the creation of Ella’s Art Studio – a dedicated space for artistic exploration. The Dow Family gave a generous gift for a multi-purpose space in the same building adjacent to Ella’s Arts Studio.

Another huge turning point came in 2013 when we received a grant from the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation to begin building the interior of the Children’s Museum.

The Children’s Museum Grand Opening (2014)

A "Opening 2014" sign posted outside the Children's Museum of Sonoma County circa 2013

In December 2014, the much-anticipated grand opening of the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County finally arrived! Mary’s Garden and Ella’s Art Studio officially welcomed visitors, while construction on the indoor exhibits continued.

Mary’s Garden (2014)

Construction team standing next to new Little Russian River exhibit in Mary's Garden at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, circa 2014.

Named after the Spanish word “mariposa” (butterfly), Mary’s Garden is a haven for exploration and learning. This outdoor space was thoughtfully designed as a garden first and foremost with interactive exhibits layered in. The exhibits throughout the Garden playfully introduce concepts like sustainability, local ecosystems, the importance of preserving native wildlife habitats, and much more.  

Little Russian River

Our Little Russian River exhibit is designed to give children an up-close look at the natural filtration process our local water supply goes through to become clean drinking water. This exhibit also demonstrates the river’s role as a vital habitat for salmon and other wildlife and the importance of protecting this natural resource and the animals that call it home. 

This unique and beautiful exhibit was made possible through a generous gift from Aquascape and Sweetwater Landscape, which donated labor and materials, including the enormous boulders used in creating it.

Edible Garden 

The Edible Garden gives kids an opportunity to see first-hand how plants grow and where many of their favorite foods come from. In our thriving edible garden, children can participate in hands-on activities that nurture a deeper appreciation for the origins of food and a love for the environment. 

Ella’s Art Studio and Dow Event Center (2014)

Exterior of Ella’s Art Studio and Dow Event Center circa 2014

Ella’s Art Studio is a vibrant and inspiring environment for children to unleash their creativity! Through open-ended art projects using all recycled and repurposed materials, kids of all ages and abilities can explore how to use new artistic tools at their own pace.  

While birthday parties were once held in this space, the Dow Event Center has since transformed into a dedicated creativity and imagination area with expanded art activities like our beloved Creation Station and Sewing Creations programs. 

Museum Expansions and New Beginnings (2015 – 2020) 

Two people building the first interior exhibit at the Children's Museum circa 2015

June 2015 marked the grand opening of the Science & Imagination Gallery, our first indoor experience! Soon after, we debuted TOTopia, a dedicated space designed specifically for infants and toddlers up to 2.5 years old.  

This marked a significant milestone for the Children’s Museum, solidifying our commitment to providing joyful, interactive learning experiences for children of all ages.

The Science & Imagination Gallery (2015)

Children and guardians playing in the Science and Imagination Gallery, Nuts and Bolts Hardware Store exhibit

Our Science & Imagination Gallery is a vibrant and interactive space that is a true testament to the power of play-based learning. Stepping through the doors, children are greeted by an interactive wonderland of exhibits all designed to spark curiosity and encourage learning through imaginative play! 


Our AirMazing exhibit is a 15-foot-high, floor-to-ceiling, air maze designed to introduce children to concepts like cause and effect in a fun, interactive way. By manipulating the airflow, kids can send scarves shooting through the maze of tubes, demonstrating a direct cause-and-effect relationship at play. 

Salta and Pepper Diner

Our Salta and Pepper Diner is a beloved exhibit for imaginative play. Here, children transform into miniature chefs, navigating the kitchen space as they whip up pretend meals. This playful scenario fosters essential social-emotional learning as they communicate and coordinate with each other. 

Dino Dental Clinic

First opened in 2015 and reimagined in 2024 thanks to support from SMILE Orthodontics, our Dino Dental Clinic is a one-of-a-kind exhibit that tackles a common childhood fear: dental anxiety. Here, children transform into caregivers, brushing the teeth of Izzy, a friendly Dino patient, and taking x-rays in a dentist’s office setting. This playful approach can help reduce anxiety associated with real dental visits. 

Nuts and Bolts Hardware Store 

Limited only by their imagination in the Nuts and Bolts Hardware Store, little construction workers build using rotating building materials, like wooden blocks and Brackitz! Early understanding of proportion, balance, physics, and engineering is fostered by this exhibit which is generously sponsored by Friedman’s Home Improvement. 

Science & Medical Lab 

In the Science & Medical Lab kids can put on lab coats and stethoscopes while they “experiment” with different items in the lab, view specimens under a large viewer microscope, or inspect X-rays of the human body. Guests can also tend to babies in the incubator, or diagnose a patient on the exam table. Support for this exhibit from the Manitou Fund and the Surani & Patrick Kwan Family Trust helps nurture our future scientists and doctors.

TOTopia (2015 & 2020)

TOTopia exhibit at CMOSC circa 2025

In 2015, we unveiled a dedicated space designed specifically for our littlest learners: TOTopia! This area is a haven for curious toddlers, brimming with engaging activities that focus on sensory exploration and motor skill development. 

In 2020, generously sponsored by Encore Events Rentals/Cal-West Rentals, TOTopia underwent a transformation to match the ever-evolving quality of the Science & Imagination Gallery. The centerpiece of this renovation was the addition of a new Toddler Tree House and Sea Grotto & Ball Pit. 

Museum Renovations (2020-2021)

Children and guradians riding tricycles around Gus's Trike Track at CMOSC

Like the rest of the world, our doors remained closed for fifteen months during the shelter-in-place period of 2020-2021. But the CMOSC team wasn’t idle! We took this as an opportunity to restore some of the well-loved areas of the Children’s Museum and add some new features in preparation for our re-opening. 

Hearts and Minds Pathways 

Accessibility is a top priority at CMOSC, which is why we installed the Hearts & Minds Pathways in Mary’s Garden. Nearly 9,500 square feet of walkways were resurfaced with painted asphalt and a colorful pavement coating. This not only brightened the space but also ensured year-round accessibility for visitors of all abilities. 

These paths were created in honor of Seth Swanson and Madison Baker and all who will experience easier access thanks to generous contributions from Santa Rosa Rotary East and the Joanne Dow Charitable Trust. 

Gus’s Trike Track 

We also added a new interactive experience to Mary’s Garden: Gus’s Trike Track! This exciting addition provides a dedicated space for children to master balance and coordination while navigating the track on tricycles. 

Continuing the Adventure Full STEAM Ahead! (2021 – Present)

In 2016 CMOSC secured a new lease agreement that extended our stay until 2050 and secured two acres of additional space for future development. In 2021, we launched the Wild Zone area in that additional space, an exciting new outdoor play and exploration experience. 

Wild Zone (2021)

Children playing in the Mid Lab in the Wild Zone at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County

The Wild Zone provides a safe and welcoming environment for imaginative play, filled with loose parts and unstructured play activities. This dynamic space encourages children to connect with nature, embrace open-ended exploration, and build essential social and creative skills. 

Mud Lab

Our Mud Lab provides a delightful space for messy fun. Here, children can unleash their imaginations, concocting mud pies, or forming mud sculptures, all while strengthening their fine motor skills.


Set sail for far-off lands in the Wonderstruck Sailboat!  After cruising up and down the Russian River since the 1930s, the sailboat found its new home at the Children’s Museum in 2023, courtesy of the generosity of Exchange Bank.

Space Odyssey for Galactic Explorers (2022)

Child playing with the Mission Control exhibit in the Space Odyssey for Galactic Explorers exhibit at CMOSC

In 2022 we launched into a whole new world of wonder with our Space Odyssey for Galactic Explorers exhibit! This immersive experience takes visitors on an exciting journey focused on space exploration, science, and engineering. 

This out-of-this-world exhibit was made possible by the Active 20-30 Club, L3 Harris Technologies, Mike and Suzy Marzalek, and the Mel and Lois Tukman Fund. 

Lunar Lander

Budding astronauts can climb aboard our replica Lunar Lander and imagine themselves exploring the Moon’s surface for the first time, just like the Apollo 11 crew! 

Mission Control

In the heart of the Space Odyssey lies Mission Control, a bustling hub where children communicate vital instructions to the astronauts in the Lunar Lander. This interactive space fosters teamwork, communication, and critical thinking skills. 

Virtual ISS Tour

Every day, visitors can enjoy an awe-inspiring view from the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbits around Earth, allowing them to witness our planet from a unique perspective. 

Mechanical Waterways 2.0 (2023)

Child playing with the Mechanical Waterways 2.0 exhibit at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County.

In 2023, our new Mechanical Waterways 2.0 exhibit brought a wave of excitement to the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County! This multi-tiered structure features a series of cascading water tables, creating a dynamic environment for exploration. Children can experiment with water flow, launch toy balls into a spiraling water vortex, build dams, and more! 

This incredible water play experience was made possible by the estate of Sally Krahn, the Manitou Fund, Bill and Jeanne Osterland, and the William G. Irwin Charity Foundation. 

What’s Next?

Ten years ago, when Collette Michaud founded the Children’s Museum, our community did not have a dedicated place for experimental play, which is essential for brain development, imagination, and good old-fashioned healthy no-screen fun.  

Now, we find that the demand is high, the need is great, and the Museum has outgrown its space. An increase in subsidized memberships and daily admission for low-income community members means the Museum is no longer big enough.   

However…we’re bursting with potential.  

The Unlock Potential (UP!) campaign is our call to action! 

  • $15 million investment to expand our facility by 17,420 square feet. 
  • We’ll more than double our indoor exhibit space from 4,500 sqft. to 12,000 sqft. 
  • Create a dedicated STEAM Lab.   
  • We will double the multi-purpose program spaces allowing more room for programs like Big Thinkers, Toddler Time, and Spanish Story Time (Cuentos Con Ritmo) 
  • Maybe the best part is that we can increase the number of low-income children and loved ones served.  We’re dedicated to inclusion, bridging gaps between cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. In 2023, over 40,000 children and caregivers from low-income families—an increase of more than 200% from the previous year - found respite and inspiration at the Museum—a testament to our unwavering mission. 

If you would like to help or get involved, learn more here.  We are looking for ambassadors to help spread the word!

Experience the Power of Playful Learning at the Children’s Museum!

The Children’s Museum has come a long way since our inception in 2005! As we look towards the future, we’re excited for the countless wonders and discoveries yet to come. We invite you to join us on this incredible journey and experience the power of play for yourself!

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