Norwalk’s Stepping Stones Museum reopening nearly two years after pandemic shutdown

Photo of Emily Morgan

NORWALK — Shut down originally in March 2020 due to COVID restrictions, the Stepping Stones Museum for Children kept its doors closed a little bit longer to pursue a massive renovation project in one fell swoop.

The children’s museum will reopen its doors to the public on Saturday at 8 a.m. and reveal four new exhibits, renovations to longtime favorites, and new, STEAM-infused educational programming. The museum has also added a gift shop and expanded its Healthyville Cafe with a focus on locally sourced food.

“All of us at Stepping Stones Museum for Children cannot wait for our community to take this amazing journey into the future with us,” said Rhonda Kiest, president and chief executive officer of Stepping Stones in a news release. “We are thrilled to fully reopen our doors and debut this newest iteration of our wonderful children’s museum.

Stepping Stones will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum remains at $16 for non-member adults and children over 1 year of age and $12 for seniors. All museum members and children under the age of 12 months will be admitted for free.

The museum offered virtual experiences throughout the pandemic and opened its outdoor spaces this past summer as part of the governor’s “CT Summer at the Museums” program. Carolyn Knott, the museum’s vice president of integrated brand communication, expects people to be “absolutely astounded” when they walk through the doors for the first time in almost two years.

“They’re certainly going to be welcomed with open arms and likely teary eyes because we have absolutely missed out public,” Knott said. “We were able to get a glimpse and hear some giggles outside in the Celebration Courtyard over the summer, but it just doesn’t compare to feeling that energy that comes through the door when we’re open.”

As visitors come through the door, they’ll see old favorites such as the ColorCoaster, Tot Town and the Energy Lab, but as they round the corner, they’ll walk into an immersive light experience, and beyond that see Connecticut’s state dinosaur, the Dilophosaurus.

The new “Lights On!” exhibit features the latest light gadgets and innovations. Children can learn about “reflection, refraction, bending light, manipulating, kaleidoscope light, and playing with shadow” as well as hologram technology, according to Knott.

The “Big Adventures: Dinosaurs” exhibit gives children the opportunity to be junior paleontologists, uncovering dinosaur bones and other fossils at a dig site. They can also launch back in time 50 million years ago through the “wacky and whimsical time machine” to see a “living” Dilophosaurus and other dinosaurs and plants that existed in the Connecticut area during the early Jurassic period, according to Robert Townes, the museum’s director of public affairs.

“It’s an opportunity for a child to learn through play about Connecticut history and learn more about where they’re from,” Townes said. “That’s one of the really exciting things, we’re starting to introduce more things about our local area into these exhibits.”

Knott added, “It’s very immersive. They’re touching. They’re exploring. They’re learning.”

The Healthyville Cafe will soon allow families to order their food ahead of time using a QR code, so they don’t need to wait in line. The museum is also taking advantage of a grant from the Campbell Soup Company to overhaul nearly everything in its cafe and stock it with locally sourced food, starting with produce and dairy products from Silverman’s Farm and Shaggy Coos Farm in Easton.

“We’re really getting the opportunity to introduce children to the farm to table concept,” Townes said, explaining it goes beyond how the food is processed and makes it to a person’s table, but also how that affects real-world issues such as the national and global supply chains.

“So, you get the opportunity to teach children these things when they’re young and these lessons take hold now, and these are going to be habits that they form for later on in their lives,” he said.

Upon reopening, the museum will also launch its Worldwide Light Celebration, illuminating nearly every square inch of the building, inside and out. The museum will celebrate the traditions of light and how they play into winter celebrations and holidays around the world, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day.

Stepping Stones isn’t done yet adding to it collection. The museum launched a five-year capital campaign leading into its 20th anniversary in 2020. A $1 million donation from the Bauer Family Foundation jumpstarted the campaign and the museum is maintaining its progress toward a $6 million goal, according to Townes.

In 2023 and 2024, Stepping Stones plans to build then unveil a new Energy Lab exhibit, a “We (Heart) American” exhibit, and a new toddler exhibit. The “Lights On!” and “Big Adventures: Dinosaurs” exhibits are traveling showcases and will make room for new exhibits in the future.

For information about the museum’s reopening, visit the website at steppingstonesmuseum.org or call the museum at 203-899-0606 ext. 264.

emily.morgan@hearstmediact.com