In recognition of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (CMNH) has announced a new emotional well-being initiative for families they are designing called “Wonder & Wellness”, funded by a generous $30,000 grant from the Kennebunk Savings Bank Foundation.

“We need to prioritize children’s emotional and mental wellbeing in the same way we prioritize their physical health,” said Brad Paige, CEO of Kennebunk Savings. “The Museum’s ‘Wonder and Wellness’ initiative will provide children and their caregivers with the tools they need to foster positive social-emotional wellbeing through playful enrichment experiences. This is a powerful initiative that will do a lot of good in the community.”

As part of a planned expansion project happening this fall, CMNH surveyed daily visitors and members to help identify the changing needs of families with young children and how this expansion could best support those needs. Among top desires was an exhibit focused on supporting children’s emotional well-being. This, in addition to the persistent news covering the sharp rise in mental health concerns in children post-pandemic, and a greater incidence of emotional challenges in younger children, solidified the intent to incorporate a mental health component into not only the new exhibits, slated to open in early 2025, but to go further and also overlay positive emotional health educational information, strategies, and take-home materials for families throughout the Museum.

While not a substitute for professional services, CMNH serves as a partner in a network of mental health support systems for families. “The Museum is seen as a safe place, free of stigma, and strives to normalize family discussions about mental health and emotional well-being,” shared CMNH Education Director, Xanthi Gray. “Offering information and activities at a place of play will provide a pathway to opening up these conversations that is friendly and accessible.”

According to CMNH President, Jane Bard, funding received will support a multi-faceted approach to incorporating ‘Wonder & Wellness’ strategies at the Museum. “We’re excited to offer these tools and jumping off points to help families discuss emotional well-being,” said Bard. “We are grateful to the support from the Kennebunk Savings Bank Foundation, who recognizes the importance of supporting children’s emotional health and the impactful role children’s museums can have in doing so.”

Wonder & Wellness plans include installing new signage to be unveiled this Fall highlighting ways parents can support their child’s emotional well-being during everyday activities, plus the release of a take-home educational piece for families. Additional Wonder & Wellness programs are being planned for 2025 including a speaker series and the opening of a low sensory calming space within the new exhibits for children or adults who need a place to recharge during their visit, providing additional educational resources and activities for families.

IMAGE: Left to Right: Rachel Peter (KS Community Engagement Manager), Dory Polanco (KS Dover Branch Manager), Erica Place (KS Retail Experience Manager & CMNH Board Member), Jane Bard (CMNH President), Meredith Brustlin (CMNH Content Specialist). Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.