Cover Stories

Play & Learn

Any birthday offers an opportunity for celebration, but the excitement is even greater when the party is for a local institution dedicated to educating and entertaining children. This year on Oct. 16, The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum, will turn 40. Located in Kirkwood, the museum is committed to engaging children through thought-provoking, imaginative exhibits and play experiences in an interactive environment.

President Beth Fitzgerald has been part of the organization since its inception. “It’s been exciting to see how The Magic House has grown and evolved,” she says. Many people who worked with the museum at its start are still involved, including co-founder Barbie Freund and the first board president, Sally Schoenecker. “Quite a few people have been here for three decades or more, and despite changes, our mission remains the same,” Fitzgerald says. “We strive to provide hands-on educational experiences so kids have the opportunity to learn and play together.”

Renovations are currently under way as part of the multiyear campaign, Reimagining Our Future. “One of our goals is to really improve our facility,” Fitzgerald says. “We’ve done a lot of general updates, including new carpeting, wall coverings and furniture. You’d never guess the museum is 40 years old. It looks brand new.” Bigger changes include connecting the north and south wings for better circulation and easier access and adding new exhibits, including the World Traveler Gallery and Emerson STEAM Center. Fitzgerald adds that the museum also has updated its exterior spaces. “It’s important to have opportunities for outdoor play, and we want to encourage children and their families to go outside,” she says.

Another facet of the Reimagining Our Future campaign is community outreach. The museum’s Access for All initiatives make it possible for children from underserved areas to visit and explore. Free programming and field trips are available for Title 1 schools or those where 50 percent or more of the student population receives free or reduced lunch. Big Brothers Big Sisters participants also receive complimentary memberships, as do all foster families in the state of Missouri.

Fitzgerald says the organization’s key outreach programs include satellite locations. “We want to get The Magic House into communities that will benefit most from our unique educational experiences,” she explains. In the past, temporary locations offered summer programming in the Ritenour and Jennings school districts, but the museum recently launched its first permanent satellite, The Magic House @ MADE on Delmar Boulevard in the city of St. Louis. Created in partnership with the Cortex Innovation Community and MADE STL, the location serves as a maker space for kids to create anything from a clay sculpture to a working robot. “Learning how to build something from start to finish helps kids become good problem solvers,” Fitzgerald notes.

To raise money to support its numerous initiatives, the museum’s friend organization will host its largest annual fundraiser, The Magic Ball, Oct. 11 at Stifel Theatre. The theme, Forever Young, commemorates The Magic House’s milestone anniversary. Magician Michael Carbonaro will perform, and presentations will highlight the museum’s past and future. “The focus is only partially on celebrating The Magic House’s history,” Fitzgerald notes. “For the past 40 years, we’ve been on the cutting edge of children’s education. We will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of children and families of all generations.”

The Magic House engages children through unique, hands-on learning experiences. The museum’s fundraiser, The Magic Ball: Forever Young, is Oct. 11 at Stifel Theatre. Pictured on the cover: Sally Schoenecker, Allison Schilling, Linda Hunter, Barbie Freund, Beth Fitzgerald, Jamie Dockman. For more information, call 314.822.8900 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured at top: The new Emerson STEAM Center allows kids to experiment and learn.
Photo courtesy of The Magic House