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Learning Through Play

Putter Bert’s path to her current role as President and CEO of KidsQuest Children’s Museum began organically. She participated in the speech therapy program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and her mother would take her to Boston Children’s Museum to play after each session. Coming full circle, she began an internship at Boston Children’s Museum in college, and went on to work there for a few years post-college (and ended up marrying her boss). After tenures at a number of other children's museums, in 1999 she started as Executive Director at the nonprofit that would give rise to KidsQuest. 

After years of planning, designing and building, KidsQuest opened in Factoria in 2005 as a hands-on, interactive children’s museum that facilitates learning through play for kids 0-10(ish) years old. The museum moved to Downtown Bellevue in 2017 and boasts three levels of interaction for visitors: Self-exploration with exhibits, staff or volunteer involvement with exhibits, and a program or activity that connects the exhibits to a child’s own world. 

“Our community has a high rate of neurodiversity within families, a need that is easily met with headphones and other tools, and low-sensory events the third Thursday of each month,” Bert says. Museum staff is trained in neurodiversity and “We’ve also been a place for socialization because we’re a safe space for kids to do that.” Soundproofing is ongoing to make the space more comfortable for all visitors, and Bert plans to keep the museum at 70% of visitor capacity for comfort and safety. 

Bert mentions that KidsQuest is in an assessment phase, determining whether more space is needed and addressing any master planning issues. Funding is often top of mind, as pre-covid the museum was sustained with 70% earned income (admission and fees), which flipped to 70% contributed income during the height of the pandemic, and now Bert is trying to get back to a place where KidsQuest is funded 50% through earned income and 50% through donations. Community partners have the opportunity to sponsor programs and exhibits, and while KidsQuest occasionally receives small arts grants - it’s not government funded.

The museum serves “a strong 60-mile radius,” says Bert, and there are families who come weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Offerings throughout the summer include Camptivities: “KidsQuest Children’s Museum free summer programming designed to give visitors an opportunity to engage with trained staff in themed activities, much like the ones we host in our Summer Camps. Research shows that significant learning loss occurs during the summer months for children grade K-5. The good news is that summer learning loss can be slowed if children partake in reading, practice math skills, limit screen time, and explore new ideas. Camptivities address all of these learning objectives through play,, so whether we are creating patterns based on bee nests or practicing with hammers, we are learning while having fun! And by having one-on-one attention from a staff member to answer questions or present challenges, children practice what they learn during the school year in a fun summertime fashion.”

As Bert emphasizes, “We are an essential part of the community, not just a ‘nice to have’. If adults and kids used play to learn (as offered at KidsQuest), we would all learn more happily every day. We believe in safe risks, we push kids and their adults out of their comfort zones and I think that’s exciting.”

Putter Bert is a wife and mother of three adult children. She has over 30 years of experience serving in leadership roles at The Children’s Museum of Tacoma, The Children’s Museum of Arkansas, The Portsmouth Children’s Museum and The Boston Children’s Museum. 

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