ENID, Okla. – Tracy Bittle’s two now grown children often joke that the Leonardo’s Children’s Museum is her “third child.”
Bittle had taken her children to visit the museum when they were younger, and in 2017 Bittle became the executive director of Leonardo’s.
Now all of Bittle’s time and effort goes to Leonardo, but she said it was still worth it.
“The things we see happening here are so incredible,” she said.
A main attraction
Bittle said Leonardo’s attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year from across the country and even from Canada and Mexico.
Attracting people to Leonardo’s is part of its mission to inspire children and families with creative and educational activities, Bittle said.
Leonardo’s sees between 5,000 and 9,000 visits per month during its “bread and butter” months and between 3,000 and 7,000 during its low months, Bittle said.
An increase in the number of visitors occurs during the “excursion season” in March, April and May and during the summer months.
“(Attendance) is very seasonal, but we’re working to combat that,” Bittle said.
Birthday parties and events Leonardo’s year-round hosts help boost visitor numbers during those “free months,” she said.
Leonardo’s is promoted as a “really good day trip” for families needing souvenirs or stimulation, and the museum can be included in Enid tourist packages.
Since Enid can be midway for travellers, Bittle said Leonardo’s is a good way for kids on the go to release some energy.
Bittle said the COVID-19 pandemic – although it has reduced the number of visitors to Leonardo’s – has shown parents the importance of keeping their children’s minds stimulated.
Once Leonardo’s spring and summer camps reopened, enrollment increased, Bittle said.
A generation grew up there
Leonardo’s Children’s Museum was founded by Helen Mary Walker Garriott and former astronaut Owen Garriott, who Bittle said felt the Enid community needed a place where children would have the opportunity to learn the arts and sciences .
In September 1992, Enid Arts and Science Foundation was established by community leaders, and in September 1995 Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse officially opened at 200 E. Maple.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have traveled there each year, making Leonardo one of the most popular destinations in northwest Oklahoma, Bittle said.
She said she constantly hears stories from parents who visited Leonardo as a child and now bring their own children to the museum, and from parents who say Leonardo has helped their children pursue STEAM-related careers. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
“We have a whole generation of children who were raised in this academically stimulating environment,” she said.
All the things you can do
In 2017, Leonardo’s completed a seven-year, $6.2 million capital improvement project, which included renovating the building, adding the Educational Annex, and transforming Leonardo’s Warehouse Discovery into Leonardo’s Children’s Museum. .
The project doubled the square footage of Leonardo’s – and doubled the educational fun it was able to provide.
“We’ve gone from a 30,000 square foot exhibit area and an educational area to 60,000 or 70,000 square feet indoors, and that’s not counting the 30,000 square feet (at Adventure Quest) “Bittle said.
Bittle said there are now several projects planned to update and restore the Adventure Quest castle. The suspension bridge was replaced earlier this month and the water table will be replenished in the coming weeks before the summer hits.
Leonardo’s and its outdoor Adventure Quest – the largest community-built outdoor playground in the world – are open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Admission is $11.99 plus tax, but the last two hours of each day are half price. Leonardo’s members and children under 2 enter for free. For 16 guests or more, a group rate of $9 per person, plus taxes, is offered.
The exhibits inside – including the Critter Clubhouse, Giant Lite-Brite, Power Tower and Tinkering – have been designed with hands-on in mind and feature over 100 hands-on activities for kids and families.
Some of the exhibits also reflect the local community, Bittle said.
Leonardo’s features elements of agriculture, oil, natural gas, and wind power, as well as a grocery store, financial, medical, and dental areas for kids to interact with.
“It can be as educational or as fun as you want it to be,” Bittle said.
Leonardo’s offers several camps and programs throughout the year that children can participate in.
From June 6 to July 29, Leonardo’s will host the “DaVinci Day Camp”, with the theme “Passport Around the World”. Full day, morning and afternoon sessions are available.
The first seven weeks will focus on the different continents of the world, and the “wonderful waters of the world” will focus on the eighth week.
Registration for DaVinci Day Camp is open until June 2. Prices vary for members and non-members. Discounts are available.
Additionally, Leonardo’s offers after-school programs: OG&E Science Club, Junior Welfare League Fashion and Design Institute, and Tools for Home Schools.
Other programs include Critters in the Classroom, Sizzlin’ Science, Art Smart, Weekend Wonders, and Art Quest.
For more information on any of the camps and programs, go to www.leonardos.org/programs.
Leonardo’s also offers volunteer opportunities and has several vacancies.