Museum marvels

The more theatrical took to the stage in costume, twirling while observing their movements on small monitors.

Others donned doctor’s coat and stethoscope to check heartbeats, utilized a rubber mallet to test reflexes, gave shots to those braver-at-heart, or checked specimens under a large and powerful microscope.

Hitting the high seas, some served as captain of a pirate ship (complete with large, colorful parrot), while mermaids ‘swam’ below in the deep blue waters with an octopus and fish (of the stuffed variety).

In bright red with carefully-placed wide, yellow stripes, firefighters rolled out the water hose, stepped over the dalmatians (again, stuffed), and jumped from the fire engine to put out the “flames.” Medical emergency services waited closeby, should there be any casualties.

The musically inclined gave impromptu piano concerts. Future archaeologists dug in the sand for hidden bones or artifacts.

It was a busy day at the Children’s Museum of the Sierra in Oakhurst when a group of 23 preschoolers from Yosemite Lakes Christian Preschool (along with several younger siblings) spent the morning playing (and learning) at the interactive museum.

It’s a place where children can explore, imagine, create, and make choices on their own through interaction, dramatic play, and hands-on exhibits.

“We take the children to the museum every year after our three-week unit on community workers,” preschool director/teacher Karin Sayre said. “It’s a perfect wrap-up because the children get to experience hands-on what they’ve been learning.”

“The museum is an educational process, where children learn by doing,” museum director Jim Elliott explained. “They enjoy going around touching and feeling ... a few of their favorite areas are the stage, emergency services, and the doctor’s office. I have a theory that if things are broken, the kids are using them and then I know they are having fun. If you can educate them during their play time, you keep their attention and they don’t even know they’re being educated.”

The museum development and exhibit design is provided by devoted and generous volunteers who have a passion for both the museum and enhancing the lives of children.

It was founded in 1995 by a group of parents and individuals interested in offering a variety of activities to occupy the hands and minds of youngsters (ages 2-12) and their families.

After being awarded a grant by United Way of Madera County, the museum opened to the public in July 1997.

Averaging more than 1,000 visitors monthly, the non-profit relies upon revenues generated by private contributions and earned income from admission fees, memberships, grants, gift shop sales, and special events.

Still, operating costs aren’t completely covered. Last year, the museum’s revenue was $47,450, while expenses were about $52,500.

“We would like to encourage all groups or individuals interested in sharing our vision for a thriving and growing Children’s Museum of the Sierra to join us,” Elliott said. “Our future really is in your hands.”

Sponsorship opportunities are available at $1,000; co-sponsors at $500. Family memberships for free unlimited admission for an entire year are $75 (admits two adults and children under the age of 18 from immediate family).

Future museum upgrades include the communications area and the remodeling of the taxidermy exhibit. Elliott, who has hand-built most of the museum’s exhibits, is currently working on a three-sided, four-foot-tall duck-into kaleidoscope, and a six-foot Smokey Bear. He previously designed for Disneyland in Anaheim, where he created, built and installed attractions, including the popular “It’s a Small World.”

“It’s amazing that we have this available in our community, and don’t have to drive down to the valley,” Sayre added. “The philosophy at our preschool is if it’s not in the hands, it’s not in the brains, so we totally believe in hands-on learning ... which is why we love this museum so much.”

The Children’s Museum of the Sierra is located at 49269 Golden Oak Drive, Suite 104, in Oakhurst.

Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; they are closed Sunday and Monday.

Admission: $6 for those aged 2-59, $4 for those above age 60, and free for children under two years of age.

For pre-arranged educational groups of 10 or more, the cost is $2 per person; one adult must be present for every four children.

Details: (559) 658-5656,

Pirate’s Day

The museum will host Pirate’s Day, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, March 21. A pirate, along with his ship, will be guests of honor. Attendees will have the opportunity to create pirate hats and participate in a scavenger hunt.