First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: Explorium of Lexington

We are in the midst of a blog series to show appreciation for our community partners and supporters! Today, we are going to TALK with Lee Ellen Martin, the Executive Director of the Explorium of Lexington. The Explorium offers opportunities for children to participate in a large number of interactive exhibits and engage in hands-on experiences that make learning fun. To learn more or to schedule a visit, click here.

Let’s learn more about the Explorium in our question and answer session with Lee Ellen!

Can you talk about your role with the Explorium, and what a typical day may look like for you?

I’m the Executive Director of the Explorium, and I’m in charge of the administration of the organization. Our Education Director is currently on maternity leave, so I’m also overseeing programs and camps. We have other people administer them, but my role is to make sure all the content is there. During Covid, we started packaging STEM and STEAM activity kits. We have a lot of those kits going out to schools and kids living in shelters. The kits include all of the disposable supplies they would need to build a catapult, for example.

Can you tell us about the Explorium’s community outreach? What role do you play in the community?

Before the pandemic, we would attend festivals and go to schools in Fayette county and all over Kentucky providing hands-on activities. These activities would be about STEM, STEAM, history, or different countries and cultures. Since Covid, we haven’t been able to do that, but we’ve started doing the kits I previously described. The first half of summer camp last year, we had parents come and pick up some pre-made kits with materials for twelve activities in them with instructional booklets. Those were very popular.

We’ve raised money so that we can get these kits to kids from lower-income families who wouldn’t have access to them otherwise. Our goal for these kits is that, if a kid can read, they will be able to do the activity on their own. We tell them what materials to gather from home and then we provide everything else, along with step-by-step instructions.

Since March 12, 2020 (the last day the kids were in school last year) until the beginning of March this year, we’ve provided daily activities for kids to do at home. This might be a STEM or STEAM activity, a “minute to win it” game to play with the family or a recipe. We also post about someone interesting from Kentucky each Saturday. Last week, our post featured the first female African-American pilot who trained many of the Tuskegee airmen, who were the first African-Americans to integrate into the military. After the kids went back to school this year, we started posting preschool activities on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then continued with our regular posts during the weekends. People are coming to the Explorium more now, but attendance still isn’t as high as it used to be pre-Covid.

How do your programs align with First 5’s values? / Why was partnering with First 5 Lex a logical fit?

We cater to kids from ages 1 to about 12. Early childhood is definitely a hot spot for us. The things we do have to be equally fun and educational. When you come to the museum and do the exhibits, we don’t tell you how to do it, we just provide all the stuff. For instance, we have a courtroom with a couple example trials, one is “Was Woody guilty of pushing Buzz Lightyear out of the window?” but they can also make up trials. Ultimately the kids are learning about a courtroom and about law. We also have a veterinary clinic with stuffed animals that’s kind of the same way. When kids are in preschool, a lot of what they learn is through exploring, and that’s right up our alley.

Why do you think the First 5 message- to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?

That’s just how children learn. Our mission at the Explorium is to encourage the habit of lifelong learning and curiosity. Being curious is all about learning through play and discovering things on your own. I often see kids at the puppet theatre station putting on a show for their parents by using their imagination and language skills.

In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

Having First 5 Lex promote language skills in our community has been paramount to the success of all children.

How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?

We plan to continue partnering with First 5 Lex, especially in providing hands-on experiences for children.


Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

As a kid, I enjoyed reading Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. When my daughter was little, our favorite book to read was about a dance trip in New York that included classes for kids with cystic fibrosis so they could be ballerinas too.

If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

That rarely happens, but some of my favorite pastimes are travel or card games. I would probably want to play a game or do a jigsaw puzzle.

If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

I would want to talk with an inventor about how they come up with an idea of something that’s never been created before and make that idea come to fruition.

Thank you to Lee Ellen and everyone at the Explorium of Lexington who is helping our children Read, Talk and Play!

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