It’s hard not to feel the magic when you step inside the children’s museum on Kirkwood Road. Its name, after all, is The Magic House. The high-pitched tinkling of the musical instruments and little bodies scrambling up a giant beanstalk welcome you to a place where all children can explore, play and learn.

The combination of education and community is what attracted president Beth Fitzgerald to the museum 36 years ago, and she’s stayed ever since. She wants as many children as possible to experience the magic. “The museum has two sides, public and educational,” she says. Fitzgerald explains that from the beginning, its founders decided to not have public hours in the morning in order to focus solely on curriculum-enriching field trip programs for schools, especially those that don’t have funding for them. Last year, The Magic House hosted 60,000 field trips, about half of those free of charge. The ultimate goal, Fitzgerald says, is to provide free visits to all area schools with a Title 1 designation (those that receive federal funding for disadvantaged students) and those with 50 percent or more free or reduced lunch students.

OFC-Magic-House7This focus on the underserved has always been a top priority, she notes. “Our goal from day one has been to make sure everyone has the opportunity to visit, because it’s the right thing to do,” she says. Last year, in an attempt to make the community more aware of these efforts and gain support, The Magic House started a named initiative called Access for All. “These words are the essence of the museum,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re not just a family attraction. We have a very serious focus on learning and providing for children who need access.”

During the summer months, the museum hosts a free night for all branches of the St. Louis Public and County Library. For the St. Louis City library branches, it provides transportation to and from library sites and gives a free book to each attendee. “It’s an important connection with the library’s reading program and also a way for us to engage children in the community in learning outside our walls,” Fitzgerald says. The museum also gives all foster families and Big Brothers and Big Sisters free memberships and hosts complimentary nights for children with special needs and their parents. Aside from the children having the run of the museum, Fitzgerald says it’s a good way for parents to connect with others in similar circumstances.

“Research shows that underserved children don’t get many opportunities to play, so we take our responsibility to help with that very seriously,” she says. “Coming to the museum will be a lifelong memory for them.” To receive support for its free educational programs and events, The Magic House hosts an annual gala. This year, The Magic Ball: A Royal Affair will be held Oct. 14 at Peabody Opera House. The theme correlates with the museum’s traveling exhibit, ‘Kings, Queens and Castles’ in partnership with the World Chess Hall of Fame, a display that opens at the museum Oct. 1. Co-chairs Linda Hunter and Aisling Leonard explain that this year’s goal is to raise funds specifically for the Access for All initiative. “The Magic House wants all children to experience hands-on learning and make memories with their peers and families,” Hunter says. “Without community support, The Magic House wouldn’t be one of the best children’s museums in the country and a true gem for our city.”

Photo courtesy of The Magic House

The Magic House, located at 516 S. Kirkwood Road, serves as a family attraction and provides free educational programs and events to underserved children through its Access for All initiative. Its annual gala, The Magic Ball: A Royal Affair, will be held Oct. 14 at Peabody Opera House. For more information, call 314.822.8900 or visit Pictured on the cover: Co-chairs Linda Hunter and Aisling Leonard
Cover design by Allie Bronsky | Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton