Maggie and Bjorn Olson have been regular visitors to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix since their daughter, Raya, was born seven years ago. They also have a 5-year-old, Anders.
Both of the Olson kids are big fans of the museum’s Art Studio — and especially its centerpiece art project, a “crowdsourced” painting project that invites visiting children to brush new colors and designs onto a structure that is at times a 10-foot robot, at times a house, at times a castle.
“Kids come and paint and paint and paint on it,” Bjorn Olson said. “It’s always changing. Our kids just love to go paint that thing.”
Along came coronavirus, school closures, stay-at-home orders — and more “sitting here at home not doing anything” time than any family is used to.
Both parents are working from home and trading off home-schooling tasks. Maggie is with ASU’s engineering department; Bjorn has his own boutique construction business, Bjorn Company. He has always made a point of taking the kids with him to his woodworking shop once in awhile.
That gave Maggie an idea.
“Maggie thought about making a playhouse for the kids that we could build at my shop,” Bjorn said. “The idea went from playhouse to a palace then a rolling palace…”
That gave Maggie another idea.
“We have a really close-knit neighborhood in Windsor Square [in north Phoenix],” Maggie said. “The kids were really wanting to reach out to their friends. We talked about creating something that would help connect them to their friends while also practicing social distancing.”
In the ultimate hands-on learning experience, Bjorn and the kids built their Kind Cart, a moveable structure that invites the same kind of group painting experience they had always enjoyed at the Children’s Museum. Rayna even helped install walnut flooring.
“We talked with a neighbor in the healthcare field to figure out how to keep this safe,” Maggie said. “We have each family provide their own paint, their own paintbrushes. Each family gets the Kid Cart for two days. At 7 p.m., we go for a walk with our kids and our dog to grab the cart and move it to the next house. We give 12 hours to breathe [and allow any germs to die]. In the morning, when that family gets up, look what’s outside in the yard! They get super excited.”
And not just the kids.
“Parents are painting it, too,” Bjorn said.
Everyone who has had a hand in painting the Kid Cart has added their name to the inside of the care. There were 25 names listed on the day we talked. Maggie attached a Ben’s Bell to the cart; someone else put up a vintage camper sign; another neighbor painted an ASU pitchfork.
So far, the cart has “lived” at 12 different houses. The Olsons know three or four more friends who want a turn; then they’ll open it up to anyone in their neighborhood who would like to have it for a couple of days. “As long as people are enjoying it we’ll keep sending it to different houses,” Bjorn said.
What will happen to the cart when life goes back to normal? “We haven’t figured that out,” Bjorn said. “Maybe we’ll donate it to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. They could use it inside or put it out front for awhile.”
NOTE: The Children’s Museum of Phoenix remains closed until it is safe to reopen again. During the closure staff members continue to engage with visitors by sharing fun projects and resources on their social media platforms. A library of projects and resources is available on the museum website.