By Barbara Zaragoza
Splash paint on a 1954 Dodge pickup truck, jump on mattresses or climb inside an elaborate tree house. Kids don’t often get the opportunity to engage in this kind of unstructured play.
Tomoko Kuta, Deputy Director of The New Children’s Museum, explains, “We don’t live in a world anymore where children can just walk out their front door and spend all day outside.”
Thirty-five years ago a group of passionate mothers established a traditional children’s museum located at the UTC mall in La Jolla. The fun, interactive toys included a dentist chair and a maze. Within a decade, the Museum had become so popular that it moved into a large warehouse in downtown San Diego. As its success continued, the warehouse was gutted and renovated. Rob Quigley—architect of the Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center and the San Diego Public Library, among others—designed the new 3-story, 50,000 square foot museum building.
Since its re-opening in 2008, The New Children’s Museum has touted being one of the first “green” museums in California. Their large entryways face the bay, allowing air to flow into the Museum and provide a natural cooling system. The building even has an elevator tower that acts as a cooling tower and exhausts hot air. The majority of gallery spaces are naturally lit during the day, and the Museum’s light fixtures are powered by rooftop photovoltaic panels.
Alongside the Museum’s innovative design, the exhibitions team have created a different kind of vision: commissioning contemporary artists who build installations specifically for kids. Many of the installations at the Museum integrate art with concepts in science, history, and other relevant fields to provide children with hands-on challenges that stretch both their creativity and their abilities to innovate.
Think, Play and Create at the New Children’s Museum
Many generous donors help make the New Children’s Museum’s work possible, including San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). In particular, the company supports activities that connect science and discovery with environmental stewardship.
Within the Innovators Lab, the Museum hires professional engineers, artists and architects who give kids various design challenges. Children fuse creativity and problem solving by experimenting with tools such as 3-D computers and lathes. They also get tasks that explore real-world issues. For example, SDG&E supported the Museum’s “Solar Car Design Challenge” during their 2018 Clean Air Weekend when children worked at the Innovators Lab to design and build solar-powered model cars. In the process, they learned about the importance of renewable energy and keeping our air clean.
In addition, SDG&E has provided grants for the Museum’s Garden Project  that educates children on environmental responsibility. The Museum hired artist Isabel “Izzy” Halpern to construct a sculpture in the shape of an electric car made entirely of reclaimed cords and wires. Kids could hop behind the wheel and have fun while learning about clean energy vehicles. The sculpture was inspired by the company’s Power Your Drive  program, which builds electric vehicle charging stations throughout the region. SDG&E hopes to teach kids early the role electric vehicles play in improving our air quality and minimizing pollution.
The merging of the arts, science and sustainability makes The New Children’s Museum a space where kids learn to think and create while enjoying the pleasures of free play. “Every major city needs a good strong children’s museum,” Kuta explains. “Our children’s museum, I think, fills the need for open play, free play, which is really important for kids’ development. And SDG&E’s support helps make all of this possible.”