Let the Children Play

By Eric Snider

By any measure, The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples — C’MON! for short — is a spectacular place. Its whimsically colorful exterior beckons with a promise of fun. It looks like an overgrown playhouse — which it pretty much is.

But it’s a playhouse with a purpose. “We have a team of what I call ‘education ninjas,’” says executive director Karysia Demarest, referring to her staff, which consist of 12 full-timers, 30 part-timers and a hundred active volunteers. “The children come in and think they’re just playing. What they don’t realize is that by matching up the oranges and lemons in the market, they’re doing basic math skills. Everything surrounding the museum has some type of element that helps develop the brains of children. Playing is the highest form of learning in early childhood.”

Build it and learn, at The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.

C’MON! is meant for children from birth to age 14. “No adults are allowed without a child and no children are allowed without an adult,” Karysia informs with a smile. So, no, it’s not a drop-the-kiddies-off kind of place.

Inside the two-story, 30,000-square-foot space, the shapes and colors intensify. Thirteen different stations — from a nature house evoking the four seasons (including an artificial igloo) to the World Café (studying Papa New Guinea during our visit) — offer kids and their parents a stimulating array of activities. 

On a steamy late-August Thursday morning, with the museum’s AC a blessing, it was mostly toddlers bustling around. At 11:30, young staff members led a dance session to a children’s song. Some kids hugged close to their moms, while others jumped right in, and one little girl took to it with the commitment of a Broadway audition.

Children enjoy Interactive Learning at The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.

Conveniently located inside North Collier Regional Park and near the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon waterpark, C’MON!, which opened in 2012, has become a significant tourism draw. The museum welcomes 150,000 visitors a year. During the winter months, more than half come from outside the Paradise Coast. Parents and kids from all 50 states and 39 countries have been enchanted by this remarkable facility.

“There’s a lot of wonderful things to do all around the Paradise Coast,” Karysia says. “But let’s face it — you might get tired of schlepping the kids to the beach and all over town. C’MON! is a safe place that breaks down all barriers. The kids get to play and learn, and adults get to be with their peer group.”