The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) began as the dream of a group of mothers who were committed to creating a world-class, play-based learning space for young children in the Upstate region of South Carolina. That dream became a reality when the Greenville location opened in 2009.
Today, TCMU offers two locations, one in Greenville and Spartanburg, that together provide exceptional educational experiences to over 200,000 visitors annually. Guided by a mission of igniting a community of compassionate problem solvers through intentional and inclusive play, TCMU was also the first children’s museum to be recognized as a Smithsonian Affiliate.
In 2017, community leaders in Spartanburg, SC felt the community needed an intentional space designed to support early childhood development and Kindergarten readiness. With significant community support, TCMU-Spartanburg opened in May 2018. This museum location houses 6,000 square feet of exhibit and learning space designed to support children ages 0-6.
For those who have never visited TCMU-Spartanburg, when you enter the white brick building on Magnolia Street, you immediately enter a space full of color, unique play structures and a profound sense of joy and wonder. Most young children make a beeline for Duke Energy’s Treehouse, an exhibit that allows children to climb into a tall tree and learn about the ecosystem of South Carolina. They might then head to the Spartanburg Regional Health Center and play ‘doctor’ with the life-size operation table. Imaginative play is encouraged throughout all of TCMU-Spartanburg’s immersive exhibits–as children imagine themselves as medical professionals or pretend to check out groceries at the nearby Farm to Table Fun market. This type of play builds important social and developmental skills, in an exciting way for young learners.
As you make your way to the museum’s lower level, you will hear water splashing at the Spartanburg Water tables. Children can fill up buckets, spray water and tinker with boats at this hands-on exhibit. It is certainly a family favorite! For families with children under 1, spaces on both floors provide soft cushions for crawling and playing with toys. These areas provide prompts that display the Palmetto Basics–practical skills such as “Talk, Sing & Point” or “Explore through Movement & Play”. These are key ways for parents to help encourage brain growth–of which 80% occurs before the age of 3–and help foster school readiness.
Families can also participate in free programming through Open Art, Story Time & More and the museum’s think-tank lab, steamWORKS Jr. These offerings are designed to excite young minds through deeper engagement and intentional learning opportunities. Every week, TCMU staff centers programming around a theme–with some favorites of the past year being, Scientific Senses and Whimsical Weather.
New this year, TCMU-Spartanburg launched Pop-Up Classrooms. These classes were structured to teach rising Kindergarteners (3K-5K) important skills for the classroom, such as raising their hand, or using their inside voice. Each session focused on a different skill and provided engaging activities in a classroom-style setting. Through a generous grant from South Carolina First Steps, young learners also took home free books every week during the 10-week program.
TCMU-Spartanburg also welcomed over 1,300 guests to four family events in 2022. Countdown to Kindergarten was hosted on August 5, in conjunction with a statewide celebration. This is a free annual event that celebrates the start of Kindergarten. The event invited local partners to provide resources for families about early childhood education, back-to-school habits and a variety of other information. Children participated in activities geared at building fine motor skills–such as how to carry a lunch tray and how to get on a school bus!
Additionally, TCMU-Spartanburg hosted three seasonal events – BunnyBurg on April 16, Trick-or-Treat on October 29 and World WONDERLand on December 10. These events offered a special moment to celebrate each season and engage in creative and festive crafts and activities in a unique space.
Beyond the museum’s walls, TCMU-Spartanburg widely extended its efforts into the greater Spartanburg and Upstate community. With support from the Foundation for the Carolina’s Longleaf Fund, TCMU-Spartanburg’s On-the-Go program brought its educational programming to various community events, schools and libraries–meeting families where they live, work and play. Specific outreach efforts in 2022 included the BMW Charity Pro-AM, The Spartanburg Soaring! International Kite Festival and Dickens of a Christmas. TCMU-Spartanburg has served over 2,500 individuals through these efforts and is excited to extend this reach even farther in 2023, with the help of a newly awarded grant from the Mary Black Foundation.
At the onset of 2022, TCMU rallied behind the mantra “Big Plans, Bright Futures.” We set out to open new exhibits, provide exceptional experiences through programming and events, encourage Kindergarten readiness and expand our offerings to communities in need. Because of the support of incredible community partners, returning member families, new visitors, and a team of dedicated board and staff members, 2022 has been a big year of many bright highlights for TCMU-Spartanburg.
As we look towards 2023, our work continues in creating bright futures for children across the Upstate. We know that the intentional encouragement of young minds can positively impact the future of our community, and TCMU seeks to provide these meaningful learning opportunities. Together, we can help foster the dreams of our community’s future thinkers, creatives, leaders & change-makers.