Wonder Works Children’s Museum, 6445 W. North Ave., is offering an alternative to virtual schooling at home. For those looking to switch up an uninspiring learning atmosphere for a more stimulating one, Wonder Works is opening its doors to learning pods and children’s enrichment groups. 

“I just can’t wait to have kids and people back in the museum again,” said Julianne Nery, Wonder Works board president.

Learning pods are small in-person groups of about six to 10 students who learn together under the guidance of a supervisor. With schools moving to remote learning due to COVID-19, learning pods are meant to safely educate children without sacrificing socialization with their peers. Wonder Works offers a change of space for kids who have been cooped up at home, learning from their kitchen table.

“The kids can go and read their books in the treehouse that we have inside,” said Nery. “They can sit and talk about class on the stage. We have an art room where they can do projects.”

Wonder Works can partition the space to separate different learning pods and enrichment groups to reduce contact. The premises will be sanitized after each pod or enrichment group with a special electrostatic sprayer. No group has rented yet, but Nery hopes the museum will begin hosting groups in December. 

“We’ve had a lot of interest. We’ve had quite a few calls and emails,” said Nery.

Cost is dependent upon time, according to Nery. A period of four and a half hours costs $300 or $25 per person in a group of 12. To gauge demand, the Wonder Works board is offering rentals Monday through Wednesday, but Nery said they are flexible if groups require certain times and days. 

“We’d love to work with bigger community groups that might be interested in renting on a steady basis,” said Nery.

The children’s museum closed back in March under state order and has been closed since. Like many other non-profits, the pandemic has dealt Wonder Works a considerable financial blow. The museum relies heavily on grants and donations, as well as membership fees. With no guests visiting, revenue dwindled, requiring the volunteer board to lay off the entire Wonder Works staff. The museum launched its first ever appeal to donors this year.

The board has taken over fulfilling staff duties but was recently able to rehire their technology person and hopes to bring back more staff members.

“If we can have a steady rental schedule in the first half of the year, that would be awesome, because then we can bring back some former employees,” said Nery.

Due to its interactive activities and toys, which small children often try to put in their mouths, Wonder Works cannot reopen as a museum until phase four of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan. The toys and other “loose parts,” as the museum says, will not be available to rental groups out of concern for safety.

In the meantime, Wonder Works has gotten new air conditioning, new flooring and sanitizing stations. A separate lobby was created to safely check-in guests. With all the new improvements, Wonder Works is ready to operate as a museum again, whenever the time comes.

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