Arrrgh, matey! Explore pirate ships and more at this new Idaho kids museum, open Saturday

Cold, autumn air leaked into the building as a large wooden pirate ship entered the open doors of 790 S. Progress Ave. — formally a Tony Roma’s Steakhouse.

The voices of the small team guiding the soon-to-be exhibit inside echoed off the hard floors and other unique construction in the building, all in various states of completion.

That was the scene of the Children’s Museum of Idaho, a nonprofit educational facility set to open Saturday. Wednesday marked the arrival of the museum’s pirate ship exhibit, one of the last major steps before opening day.

The pirate ship accompanies several other exhibits throughout the museum, all built to give children a chance to learn about a given topic through interaction and the guidance of an adult. Each exhibit was designed as a learning opportunity, teaching children about anything from how to save money at a bank to who was the U.S. president in 1890 when Idaho became the 43rd state.

Just a few feet from the new ship — complete with a large mural depicting an ocean shore perfect for swashbuckling pirates — children can enter inside a rocket to understand more about space exploration. Or they can head into a dark cave to learn about bugs and small creatures of Idaho.

Each exhibit will provide handouts or wall plaques and posters to assist parents who will guide children through the learning process. According to the museum’s executive director, Pat Baker, these learning guides will include information about the exhibit, how to interact with it and open-ended questions to ask children about their experience to hopefully stoke their curiosity.

“It’s not a drop-off day care,” Baker said. “They learn together with the adult who is with them.”

Moving forward, the museum hopes to include more opportunities for parents to be involved and learn along with their child, such as putting on programs where parents can learn more about the exhibits from experts.

The museum also features several other exhibits, each sponsored by a different business or organization in Idaho. For example, a miniature grocery store will be sponsored by Trader Joe’s, a small vet’s office with puppets and stuffed animals will be sponsored by WestVet and an airplane cockpit will be sponsored by the Boise Airport.

The new space was years in the making.

According to the museum’s treasurer, Dan Barselone, the idea of creating a children’s museum in Idaho is connected to the people who serve on the Meridian Development Core’s Urban Renewal Board. Barselone is a member of that board. The idea also proved to be popular among residents in polls put forward by Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd to determine what residents would like to see developed in the area. De Weerd is now a member of the museum’s board.

Two years ago, the museum became a nonprofit organization and began working on its vision. After hearing about the project, Baker quickly got involved as the organization’s executive director.

“We fell in love with our joined vision,” Barselone said. “This could not have happened without Pat.”

After about a year and a half of planning, the museum received its first sponsor this summer from Dan Price at Mountain West Bank. In the following months, the museum picked up 18 other sponsors. The exhibits were design through collaboration between the sponsors and the museum board. Mike Schroeder of Schroeder Creative, a marketing and design agency, also contributed to the collaboration.

While the museum will be run by paid staff, it will rely on volunteers as well. Those interested can sign up on the museum’s website. The space is also available for field trips and birthday parties.

Annual passes start at $85. Single admission tickets are $8 for everyone ages two and up.

CORRECTION: This article originally misidentified Dan Price and Mountain West Bank.