November is Military Family Month, a time to recognize the sacrifices and contributions military families make every day. Since opening the Children’s Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord two years ago, we’ve met so many amazing on-base families and had the opportunity to integrate military-family-specific programming and events. This Military Family Month, we want to highlight military family life on post and the work being done at the Children’s Museum at JBLM to support these families.
JBLM is the largest family military base in the U.S., with over 60,000 on-base family members. It also has the highest concentration of children experiencing special needs on a U.S. military base. Although military families are incredibly resilient, the strains of deployment and the challenges of military life affect service members as well as the people who depend on them and support them. The stressors of military life can compromise children’s emotional and behavioral development, and lead to lower levels of parent-child attachment. Many military families also struggle to access resources off base, and parents often lack a sense of community and spaces to gather.
By recognizing the disproportionate challenges military families face and doing our best to provide support, we hope that the Children’s Museum at JBLM can be a place where on-base families build community, decompress, and bond through play. Our museum is the first children’s museum on a military installation, and we hold steadfast the intention to serve children and their families living on and off base, with an emphasis on early learners and children and youth with special needs.
In designing the Children’s Museum at JBLM, we intentionally ensured accessibility for all. The Museum is all on one floor, and our playscapes are designed so everyone can play! One example of this is our Climber, which has low-hanging nets and seated-level talk tubes. We also have a Calm Zone with couches for family snuggles and assistive technology like hanging chairs, and we provide Low Sensory Hours once a week, where weighted vests and noise-canceling headphones are available to visitors and museum lights and sounds are lowered.
Exceptional Family Member Program Playgroup
Military families deal with a lot of transitions, which can be especially tough for people with special needs. The Department of Defense’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) helps make transitions easier by ensuring that children with special needs get the care and services they need.
At the Children’s Museum at JBLM, we provide a space for EFMP professionals and families to come together to play. Similar to Play to Learn, the EFMP Play Group includes a circle time, music, and a small art activity, and provides a space for families to connect with each other and connect with their child through play. So far, we’ve had a consistent showing at our weekly EFMP Play Group and hope to increase this program’s visibility. Our EFMP PlayGroup runs from 10 – 11:30 a.m. on Monday mornings.
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Play to Learn provides a space for military families to connect with families they may not have met otherwise, bringing together the Army and Air Force sides! It’s a space where families can come together, forget the stressors of military life, and just have fun. Play to Learn at JBLM not only educates our youngest friends, but also provides local resources to our community’s caregivers and adults. This program runs Friday mornings from 10 – 11:30 a.m.
Many military children endure high levels of loss, fear, and anxiety due to the strenuous realities of military life. Led by coaches, the Resiliency Challenge we hosted over the summer aimed to highlight the mental health challenges associated with these difficulties and facilitate self-expression in a creative, safe space. School-aged children of service members were invited to learn creative ways to cope with their emotions Saturdays in April. Museum visitors can still view a display of artworks created from Resiliency Challenge activities in the Program Room at the Children’s Museum at JBLM.
We want the Museum to be a place where the JBLM community can congregate, and we recognize that one way to do this is to build relationships with trusted organizations on base and collaborate to provide community-focused events at the Museum.
USO Northwest has partnered with us to host free family brunches, seasonal celebrations and private pre-deployment events.
We have also recently partnered with PBS Kids and KBTC TV to bring Daniel Tiger to the Museum for storytime and hugs.
Protective Factors Survey – Military Families
Over the last several years Greentrike has coordinated with military researchers, internal staff, an external evaluator and other partners to create and disseminate an evaluation tool and supportive resources to help community-based organizations measure their programmatic effectiveness in strengthening resilience in military families.
The Protective Factors Survey, Military Families assesses multiple protective factors known to keep families strong and reduce and mitigate child maltreatment, as well as factors unique to the challenges of military family life. Subscales include social support, nurturing and attachment, military family life and resilience, concrete support, and program evaluation. The survey gives providers a snapshot of the families they serve, measures changes in family protective factors, and helps identify areas where staff can focus on increasing protective factors for each family.
“This will expand our project’s reach to community organizations and military families across the country and—we hope—the globe,” said Kimberly McKenney, planning and evaluation director at Greentrike. “It has been so gratifying to synthesize goals developed over the past 10 years with community members and partners into a tool that could have such broad benefit.”
Follow the link to learn more and download the PFS-MF guidebook and tool.
Military families enjoy discounts on membership and facility rentals for birthday parties and special events to increase financial accessibility and encourage military families to engage in the full scope of our offerings.
The Children’s Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is supported by donations from our visitors and community. Your thoughtful contributions are crucial in supporting Pay As You Will admission, Museum operations, and programming for children and families. Consider supporting the Children’s Museum at JBLM, a vital place of play for military families. Donate here.