MIDDLETOWN — For families across the region, Kidcity offers a relaxed environment that engages the imagination of children and grownups alike.
“That’s what we’re designing for, for people to be playing pretend in public, being intimate with each other and, frankly, charming each other,” founder and executive director Jen Alexander said.
“We want the kids to be cute, which it is not a lot of work to get kids to be cute, but it is a lot of work to get grownups to notice, because we’re busy,” she said. Much of the museum’s design is aimed to foster the relationships between child and parent.
The Washington Street museum will celebrate 20 years this September. It houses different rooms with themes like aliens on earth, medieval times, and underwater exploring.
Alexander got the idea for the museum in 1994, when she was a new mother of two. Four years and hundreds of helping hands later, Kidcity opened its doors.
The museum is geared toward children 1 through 7 years old.
“When you’re a new parent, you’re so vulnerable. It’s scary and it’s wonderful and it’s exhausting,” Alexander said. “I just kind of fell in love with the phase and wanting to nurture people who are going through that, so that’s really our covert mission — compassion for parents.”
The staff stocks bathrooms with extra Ziploc bags, diapers, and even shorts in case a child has an accident. They also have special colorful hand stamps and a motion-sensored train to make it a little easier to get children to leave without a fuss.
Alexander is the chief creative director, along with local artists Matt Niland and Scott Kessel. With help from dozens of other local artists, the three have designed and constructed all the exhibits themselves.
Much of the inspiration for exhibits comes from Alexander’s own childhood and her experiences with four kids.
“Our exhibits are different than other museums because they’re sort of based on memories, or feelings or moments,” Alexander said. She described the familiar feeling of being on a long car ride, sitting in the back seat while your mom drives as inspiration for the aliens visiting earth section.
Each exhibit is riddled with details and sophisticated technologies. Alexander said kids can come again and again and never notice certain hideouts or activities.
Heather Baker and her son, Tyler, 3, of Southington, have been visiting the museum for about two years and recently purchased a membership. Baker said they come at least once a week.
“(Tyler) loves it,” Baker said. “He never gets bored here. He just gets to play around and be a kid.”