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 JBLM six months ago, we’ve met so many amazing on-base families and want to reflect on the time (and fun) we’ve had together so far.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord

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 become 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 on-base children and their families, with an emphasis on early learners and children and youth with special needs.

Accessibility

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 provide low sensory hours once a week, where weighted vests and noise cancelling headphones are available to visitors.

Climber                 Nest

Exceptional Family Member Program Play Group

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 to 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 Play Group runs from 10 – 11:30 a.m. on Monday mornings. 

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Community

Play to Learn

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. In the time of COVID-19, it provides a space for our youngest friends to meet other kids their age and also gives caregivers the opportunity to meet one another. 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.

Events

We want the Museum to be a place where the JBLM community can congregate, and we have had the opportunity to bring a few community-focused events to on-base families so far!

In August we hosted Storytime during Museum hours as well as a Letters to Our Loved Ones table, where visitors wrote letters to friends and family serving our country.

In October, we hosted a Soldiers’ Angels Treats for Troops candy drive and were blown away by the community support that came in! We collected over 1,000 pounds of candy to be sent to deployed service members and veterans.

The latest of our community events was our Thankful for Military Families and Veterans event in early November, where we provided information on resources available to families on base and wrote letters to veterans at the VA to thank them for their service.

         Veterans

We plan to continue creating a community at our Museum, and the best places to stay in-the-know on these opportunities are our website and our social media accounts.

Why working with military families is so special for Brittany Gautschi, JBLM program manager

“I grew up in a military family, served in the Air Force for 8 years, and am currently married to an Airman. My whole life has been influenced by the military. Military life, while rewarding, can also be challenging. Between the TDYS, deployments, PCSing, and what is going on in the world- there is a lot of stress on our military families. Sometimes the stressors of military life can be overwhelming and hard to navigate, especially when you just moved to a new area and are creating a new support system.

The Children’s Museum at JBLM is a space where families can come together and not only meet and connect with new people, but also connect with each other as a family. It’s a space where you can just take a deep breath and escape the stressors of military life. It’s a space to reconnect with a loved one when they return from a deployment. It’s a space to learn about the resources available to families on and off base.  It’s a space for families to learn, grow, and build confidence through championing play.

Military families play a critical role in the readiness of our nation’s military, which makes our families so strong and resilient. Working as the JBLM Program Manager, this job is very personal for me. I am so honored and unbelievably humbled to be a part of Greentrike and to support the families and military members who serve our country.”