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A Look Back at An Extraordinary Year - and a Glimpse of What's to Come

Play. It’s a simple word – but one of the most important and essential things we can offer to children as they develop and grow.

And as we look at the year behind us – and the year ahead – it’s obvious that play is even more necessary than ever before, as children and families need opportunities to play together, to make and spend time with friends, and to recover emotionally from what has been an incredibly challenging year.

With that in mind, Port Discovery is more committed than ever to use play, learning, and community to be a positive force in the lives of children, families, and the communities we serve –  and thanks to our donors, supporters, and fans of play, we’ve been able to serve children and families in new, unique and important ways over the past year.

Our Impact on Children & Families

As a community resource, an educational lab, and an advocate for children and families of all abilities, Port Discovery’s work extends well beyond what happens during a physical visit within our four walls – and this has been especially true throughout the past year, when we needed to make sure we could reach children virtually, in person, in communities and beyond.

Here are some of the ways that our work over the last year has touched the children and families:

A look back at the ways we've served our community over the past year

In the Community:  Virtual Learning, Play At Home Activities, PlayPacks, and More!

  • Virtual Play at Home Activities: When safe places to play (including Port Discovery) temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Port Discovery’s educators began offering live, pre-recorded, and downloadable Play At Home activities to explore arts and culture, music, literacy, STEM, and more!
  • Virtual Learning for Schools & Learning Kits: When Port Discovery couldn’t welcome school groups – or go out into classrooms, libraries, and community locations, the Museum created and offered a suite of pre-recorded and live virtual educational programs, supplemented with Virtual Learning Material Kits that have provided students with supplies for playful activities that made virtual learning a hands-on, interactive experience! More than 17,000 students participated in Port Discovery’s virtual learning programs, and more than 4,500 Material and Virtual Learning Kits were distributed to support hands-on play and learning!
  • Virtual Play Packs: With many children and families lacking access not only to safe places to play – but also educational toys and activities to enjoy, Port Discovery created Project PlayPack, an initiative that pairs reusable essential play and learning items with activities designed to help children and families play, learn, build connections with their loved ones, and support their well-being. Through partnerships with The Hunger Project, Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids, and Baltimore area Judy Centers, more than 4,000 PlayPacks have been distributed to children and families during this past year.
  • Virtual Youth Advisory Council: Aimed at helping children develop communication and leadership skills, build connections with others, and designed to give them a voice both in our Museum and in their community, Port Discovery’s 2020 Youth Advisory Council was held virtually this year – and had a greater impact than ever! This year’s cohort included 10 students and their siblings and caregivers from various Baltimore City Schools who met once a month with Port Discovery staff and artists to connect, share stories, develop communication skills, and create an oral history project showcasing an event in each child's life, family, or community.  

In The Museum: In-Person Play and Community Access Programs

In-Person Play & Learning: In October of 2020, Port Discovery re-opened, weekends only initially, for in-person play and learning, offering a variety of safety measures to ensure that children and families had a safe, smart, and magical place to play, learn and make memories together. We’ve heard stories from many of our members and visitors about how essential it was for their children to be able to visit, enjoy and benefit from Port Discovery – and, as of June 2021, more than 32,000 have come through our big orange doors to play together!

  • PlayMakers Access Program Launch: We are committed to ensuring every child has access to powerful, purposeful play – and as part of that commitment, we proudly launched our new PlayMakers Access Program in May of 2021, with the goal of eliminating cost as a barrier and inviting people of all backgrounds and circumstances to visit and benefit from Port Discovery Children’s Museum. Through Port Discovery’s PlayMakers program, any Maryland family that qualifies for nutritional assistance and has an EBT/Independence Card or WIC ID can visit Port Discovery for $3 per person on any day the Museum is open to the general public.
  • $2 Community Day:  We felt it was important to continue to offer this access program during this time and doubled down on our commitment to this monthly offering. This will stay in place along with our new PlayMakers Program.  
  • USO Day & Salute the Troops:  In an effort to make it possible for military members and their families to spend and enjoy special memories together, we hosted our first USO Day, where members of military families from Maryland and Virginia visited Port Discovery to enjoy a free day of play. We also continued offering our annual Salute the Troops program, where military members and their families enjoy free and reduced admission to the Museum!

What’s Ahead

  • More Play! As the world returns to a new version of normal, Port Discovery is poised to increase the number of children and families that can benefit from in-person play and learning at the Museum. The Museum is currently open five days per week, offering two play sessions per day, and working to bring back additional in-person programs, unique family events, and more fans of play!
  • In-Person & Virtual Learning for Schools: Port Discovery will be offering both in-person field trips and visits and virtual learning for schools, camps, and other organizations.
  • Increased Community Outreach: Our teams of educators and play experts will continue expanding community outreach efforts, working with partners throughout our community to educate parents and caregivers on the importance and benefits of play for their children, helping them use playful learning techniques at home, and inviting them to visit the Museum via access programs, field trips,  memberships and more.
  • Fathers at Play: Last year, we were awarded Second Prize in the national Saul Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for developing a partnership with The Center for Urban Families (CFUF). This innovative program supports CFUF’s Responsible Fatherhood Project by providing unique monthly father-child parenting events that engage vulnerable fathers in ongoing playful learning with their children and is aimed to help increase fathers’ connection and emotional support with their children.  We had to pause this program during the pandemic, but are delighted to have started up again on June 19th and we look forward to seeing the results of this impactful work. 
  • Capital Projects: Port Discovery plans to continue work to create innovative learning opportunities and exhibits in the Museum by launching the next phase of a Capital Campaign project. Plans for this phase include work to design and create an Indoor Nature Park that inspires visitors to explore and appreciate nature and to design and create a Fish Market Exhibit paying homage to the building’s original use, along with much-needed building improvements and work to re-imagine other exhibits within the Museum. 

Like so many institutions, Port Discovery has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But thanks to our wonderful staff and Board of Directors, our committed community partners, our donors and supporters, and the fans of play who support us, Port Discovery is strong, with a solid foundation for bringing unique and powerful play and learning to children and families.

Thank you to our donors, supporters, and funders for making playful learning possible!

Please join us in making play, learning, and healing possible for children and families in our community.

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