The Cayton Children’s Museum will open June 2 in Santa Monica Place, offering expansive, hands-on exhibits and artistic and cultural programs for children, youth and families.

The museum existed for the past 20 years as Zimmer Children’s Museum near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is now backed by philanthropists Andrea and Barry Cayton. Cayton, which was originally planned to open in November, will be almost twice as large as Zimmer and feature new play elements, including a full-size helicopter, firetruck and veterinary clinic. The philosophy of the museum will remain the same, said Esther Netter, the founder and CEO of ShareWell.

“The way children learn is through play, and it’s how children practice empathy and develop compassion,” Netter said. “We hope you’ll come and visit us and play, and while you’re with us your child will be practicing kindness, caring, cooperation, taking risks and learning what it’s like to live in a diverse world.”

Each area of the museum will provide opportunities for children to take chances, work and reflect together. The installations will foster different character traits and life skills, Netter said.

For example, Cayton will include a “courage climber,” a structure children can climb to view the museum from on high through “perspective windows.”

“The courage climber is about taking risks, literally reaching higher than you have before and practicing seeing the world from a different perspective,” Netter said.

The helicopter and fire truck will be part of an exhibit called “Let’s Help” that will also include a play market and cafe. The exhibit is designed for children to practice helping each other in times of crisis and their community day to day. Another wing of the museum, “Together We,” features installations that children can experience on their own but become amplified when they experience them together, Netter said.

“Together We is about creating opportunities to cooperate, take turns and be patient,” she said. “To be successful adults, we need to practice negotiating shared space.”

Netter said Cayton will also include an exhibit designed to encourage quieter play and reflection.

“We’ve created a stage for helping, climbing and learning how to share, and what was missing in our curriculum was how to give our visitors the chance to practice being still enough to see what’s going on around us,” she said.

One of the installations in “Reflect On” is a small room where a moving image of a meadow in a forest is projected on all four walls. Butterflies flutter around the meadow during the day and are replaced with fireflies at night. The creatures respond to the presence of visitors, Netter said.

“When you walk in and you’re boisterous and loud and figuring it out, they fade from the scenes of nature,” she said. “But when children stop and try to figure out why they move, in their stillness and quiet the space is filled with butterflies.”

In addition to the installations, Cayton will offer a full calendar of classes and performances of visual, musical and performing art, as well as cultural immersion programs in languages like Korean, Spanish and Farsi. The museum will also run summer camps and host special days for children with different abilities and needs.

Cayton is still working on setting ticket and membership prices, Netter said, but the goal is to make the museum as accessible as possible. The museum will invite field trips and no school will be turned away for lack of funding, she said.

Netter said ShareWell chose Santa Monica Place because of its proximity to the Expo Line, ample parking and walkability. She said she hopes the location draws visitors from near and far.

“The summer will be highly trafficked with tourist visitorship, but as we move into the school year our visitorship will be families and school groups during the week and we anticipate families and visitors from a very broad area on weekends,” she said. “We will be working with Santa Monica residents and hope to have a special relationship with and opportunities for locals.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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