By Jon Johnson
PIMA – There’s a new place in the Gila Valley where parents, grandparents, guardians and babysitters can bring children for a day of family-friendly playtime.
The Pima Children’s Museum held its grand opening celebration Saturday, with a magical event thanks to local magician Samuel Siminoe.
The facility is the vision of owner and operator Laura Bernal, who started her experience in children’s play places by running a couple of them for Bashas’ grocery stores.
“I decided that I wanted my own giant clubhouse, but I didn’t have the money to fund it,” Bernal said. “So I went to work at the mine. I worked there for a while. I left the mine, took out part of my 401K and did this.”
The facility, located at 7 N. Main St. (the northeast corner of Main Street and U.S. Highway 70) has a large center play area as well as a variety of themed rooms throughout. It also has a designated birthday room for parties and Bernal hopes to utilize the building’s former restaurant kitchen for culinary instruction. The facility is geared for children ages 3-8 and accepts children 2-10.
In addition to running the Pima Children’s Museum, Bernal also teaches culinary class and childhood development at Mt. Graham High School. She said having adequate playtime is essential to a young child’s development.
“Children learn through playing, and that’s what we wanted to do; incorporate a place that was air conditioned and heated so it would be all year round that they could come in and play,” Bernal said.
Parents in attendance expressed their pleasure with the facility. Jessica Smallwood, of Pima, brought her 6-year-old daughter to the grand opening and said she had a wonderful time.
“I think it’s great,” Jessica Smallwood said. “ I think we definitely need things in Pima for kids to do – for anybody to do – so I think it’s wonderful.”
Bryan and Tiffany Stradling brought four children to the grand opening, ages 2-11. They were surprised at how much stuff there was to do, especially for their younger children.
“I love it,” Tiffany Stradling said. “I think it’s awesome.
When not being amazed at the magical talents of Samuel Siminoe, who is the standout magician of the Gila Valley with a variety of professional tricks and illusions, children enjoyed interacting with the various large play fixtures and other toy set-up areas and even got to hang out with a visit from Santa Claus, who was Bernal’s fiancé, Robert Porter.
Porter also agreed on the importance of interactive play for a child’s early development.
“We’re trying to develop a foundation here at Pima Children’s Museum,” he said.
The facility is currently generally open weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. but will also be open weekdays during Christmas break from Dec. 26 through Jan. 8. It is also available for special party scheduling and will be open throughout the week during the summer. The next big event in the works is a children’s comic-con slated for February.
Cost to use the facility is $5 per child for children ages 2-10 for two hours of play time. Adults are not required to play with the children they bring to the facility, but they must remain onsite. For more information or to schedule event call Bernal at 432-0011 or message her page on Facebook.