Wendy Sims-Moten: Welcome to Robin Gose, Ed.D., the president and CEO of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. This is one interview I definitely regret not conducting on site!

Robin Gose: You’re always welcome to come learn and play!

WSM: First 5 field trip, coming up! We all love learning that feels like play. How do you engage and support families in their children’s education?

RG: MOXI offers families the opportunity to explore, tinker and create in an environment that embraces creativity and innovative ways of thinking. The experience of visiting the museum and engaging with our exhibits will differ from family to family and child to child depending on a variety of factors, including age, background and interests.

The single best thing a parent can do while visiting MOXI with their child is to get in there and play and explore alongside them. Our Sparks staff can also help model curiosity and experimentation to deepen engagement.

There is no better opportunity than to learn from doing something with your own two hands. Particularly in science, being able to explore, discover and observe phenomena in the real world makes a meaningful and lasting impact on children.

Over the course of my now 20-plus years in education, I am reminded time and time again that the most exciting moments of learning happen when a child is engaged in doing something of interest to them personally.

I’m often asked how we measure success at MOXI and I like to say that it’s measured in moments — moments of questioning, experimenting, wondering, discovering, exploring and, of course, those “aha” points of realization when something clicks. Walk through the museum at any given time and you can see these MOXI moments happening; it’s incredible to witness.

WSM: Let’s talk about how we can get more kids having MOXI moments. What resources do you offer for parents of children 0-5?

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Boys test their skills at the “Build It, Test It, Race It exhibit in the Speed Track. (MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation photo)

RG: We offer a space where children can discover their own interests in science, technology, engineering, art and math. Come spend some time at MOXI interacting with the exhibits together with your child — and let your child lead you to where their curiosities pull them.

In addition, we offer different facilitated activities in our Innovation Workshop each week, and also have temporary exhibits in our Interactive Media Track. Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 18, we will once again offer Toddler Tuesdays. These are mornings reserved for our tiniest tinkerers and explorers because we don’t book any field trips or bigger groups for these hours. So it’s a quieter time, perfect for younger children or really anyone who would benefit from a less crowded, less hectic experience at MOXI.

We will also provide a few extra surprises and provide accommodations to make our exhibits more accessible for younger children. Toddler Tuesdays run during the school year from 10 a.m. to noon.

WSM: Next month, we’ll be kicking off our Talk, Read, Sing campaign highlighting the importance of building brain connections. What is your favorite talk, read, sing activity to do at the museum?

RG: The best talking activity is when families work together to tackle a challenge or create something together at one of our exhibits. A perfect example is our Light Patterns exhibit on the second floor. It is basically a giant Lite Brite, and a wonderful place to talk with your children about colors and patterns, and then also talk about what they can create using those colors and their own creativity.

My entire life I have been an avid and curious reader. It started in kindergarten, unlocking a mystery — finally these books that my parents had read to me for years revealed their secret code to me, and then I could read them for myself.

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The light tables are a bright attraction for children. (MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation photo)

While reading is so important to a child’s development, we intentionally limited the amount of reading that needs to happen at MOXI in order to encourage our guests to just start playing, exploring and creating with our exhibits.

WSM: What are tips for making the most out of a museum visit with very young children?

RG: My No. 1 tip for making the most out of a visit to MOXI with young children is to play alongside your children and encourage their active discovery and creativity. There is no wrong or right way to approach any of our exhibits.

We encourage experimentation and embrace failure. Parents need to model those behaviors to show their little ones the way.

A few practical tips for parents with very young children — you and your children may prefer to visit when it is a little less crowded — summer is very busy, but afternoons (after 1 p.m.) during the traditional school year it is a little more quiet.

If you’re visiting on a weekend or summer day, try to arrive when we open at 10 a.m. and head to the rooftop or second floor first, as most guests dive right in on the first floor, leaving the other two floors more quiet.

Robin Gose
Robin Gose, as a child in Dickinson, Texas. (Gose family photo)

WSM: What is MOXI’s biggest challenge and why?

RG: MOXI’s biggest challenge is getting new visitors to discover us. Do you know that more than 70 percent of the nation’s population does not visit museums? Even though we’ve seen more than 200,000 guests in our first year, that statistic tells me that the majority of our immediate community has likely NOT visited.

We want to inspire and impact as many people — particularly children — as we can, so figuring out a way to take the MOXI experience beyond our four walls is our biggest challenge. Creating a robust outreach experience requires resources, funding and support from the greater community.

WSM: What is something people would find surprising about MOXI?

RG: One, we’re a nonprofit. I think sometimes people don’t realize that the majority of our community’s best and most loved attractions are nonprofit organizations.

While we rely heavily on the cost of admissions and memberships, we also receive critical support via donations from individuals, foundations and corporations to keep our doors open.

Two, adults report having just as good, if not a better, time than children at MOXI! This museum was originally conceived as a children’s museum. It evolved into a STEAM- (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) focused museum for all ages, though children, and preparation of the next generation of engineers, problem solvers, scientists and innovators are a key driver of our programming fueled by our mission to ignite learning.

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A dad and son play MOXI’s giant guitar. (MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation photo)

WSM: What does MOXI need most from the community?

RG: Your support — whether that be through visiting, and bringing a new friend along with you, or attending an after-hours event, volunteering or becoming a member. Memberships start at just $90 and pay dividends out to our greater community as well as to you, the member.

We have so many different partners who have contributed to MOXI in a variety of ways — from content creation for our Innovation Wall, or programming for our Afterparty events, to volunteering or donating in-kind goods and services. Partners have also helped us evaluate and adjust our guest experience from an accessibility and learning standpoint.

We are also grateful for those partners who have and are able to support MOXI through financial contributions. We rely on their generosity for nearly 40 percent of our revenue.

WSM: What returns can the community expect to see from their investment in MOXI?

RG: MOXI is here for the long haul and intends to live up to its name, particularly the “Innovation” part. We will continually iterate on the MOXI experience, and foster and nurture creativity and innovative ideas.

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View from the Towbes Lookout Tower of the MOXI building near the Santa Barbara waterfront. (MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation photo)

We also want to expand our reach and have an impact on children who may not visit the museum due to financial, geographic or other barriers. Your financial support as a member or donor will help us do that.

WSM: Why do you personally work to build a network of support for children and families in Santa Barbara County?

RG: Because I’m a mother of two children who are growing up here and I want them to be a part of a broader community that places a high value on education, learning and creativity. Even if I weren’t a parent, as someone who has worked in education for more than 20 years, I hope to always live and work in communities where these networks exist and are valued.

It’s cliché, but it’s true — it takes a village to raise a child; the more connections we can build between organizations that serve children will only amplify our overall impact and lift up everyone in the community.

WSM: I know I’ve benefitted from my village. Thanks to you and all the MOXI staff for adding such a fun and innovative place for children and parents to grow!

MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation is located at 125 State St. in Santa Barbara. Click here for more information.

— Wendy Sims-Moten is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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