In 1976, a forward-thinking Montessori educator, Portia Sperr, founded Please Touch Museum with the mission of enriching the lives of children by creating learning opportunities through play. She understood importance that early childhood learning opportunities to school success and clearly saw our museum as an engine for the Philadelphia region's arts and culture community.
By 2008, Please Touch Museum had outgrown its capacity to serve Philadelphian children and their families. The Museum required more space to deepen and expand it's commitment to the youngest members of our community and made the move the national historic landmark, Memorial Hall in Fairmont Park. The Museum is situated in one of the largest urban green spaces in the United States covering 3700 hectares of trails, woodland and wetlands. It is housed in the last remaining building on the site of the 1876 Philadelphia World's Fair marking the US centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The theme of the 1876 fair celebrated innovation and new thinking in a variety of disciplines including the arts, education, invention, technology, and agriculture. It also featured a model kindergarten inspired by the ideas of German educator, Friedrich Froebel, that people could observe. His ideas maintained that when children engaged with the world, they gained understanding. Froebel's play materials and activities were sold at the fair. The gifts included blocks that architect Frank Lloyd Wright's mother bought at the Exhibition and took home for her son, which would later have great influence in his designs and theories.
Please Touch Museum presence at Memorial Hallmdash;a site that had been a place for new thinking about education over 130 years agomdash;now brings to very young children the idea of the museum experience through play.
A hallmark of Please Touch Museum is its commitment to creating environments, programs, and experiences that expand and deepen the abilities of our youngest learners and help them transition to the formal learning environment. The early childhood years are the most developmentally important in a person's lifespan, as the brain develops more rapidly during these years. By age five the brain has developed 90% of the foundation for problem solving, communications, and critical thinking. It is imperative that children are exposed to a rich variety of learning experiences from a very young age to support cognitive growth during these most formative years. Play is regarded as one of the most powerful stimulants of intellectual and socio-emotional growth for young children. Please Touch Museum understood this and became the first children's museum in the nation dedicated to serving children ages seven and younger, advocating for the value of playful learning by providing programs with hands-on introductory learning experiences in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Our School Readiness programs, including events that help children transition to Kindergarten have raised kindergarten enrollment in the surrounding neighborhood by 10%.
Accessibility is another of the Please Touch Museum's defining attributes. We strive to make our facilities, programs, and services accessible to all children and families, irrespective of socio-economic background or level of ability. Our aim is to mitigate or abolish all barriers that prevent Philadelphia's families from experiencing our playful learning. Our award-winning community programs serve more than 8,6000 individuals each year. We admit more than 46,000 visitors, many of them low-income and at-risk, to the Museum each year with free or discounted admission. We also strive to be a leader in our field in developing programs and services that serve families of children with special needs. Our Play Without Boundaries program, for example, provides a set of programs and services for families of children with disabilities, helping them feel welcome and comfortable in our Museum.
Please Touch Museum is innovative in both the scope and quality of its programming. Our programs address the full range of needs of families with young children, beyond conventional academic subjects. Recent examples of this are our financial literacy programming and our healthy lifestyles initiative, where we portray complex subjects in ways that are engaging and comprehensible, an approach firmly rooted in our philosophy of learning through play. During our Pinch and Penny theater show, children are introduced to the concepts of earning, saving, and sharing, through a humorous puppet show. At Stroller in the Park, our visitors walk a 5K path around the Museum and receive access to a Health Pavilion and Healthy Snack Tent, where they can learn about making healthy choices.
Our theater program, for example, distinguishes our museum among other children's museums and cultural institution in the city of Philadelphia. Live theater provides an excellent opportunity for aesthetic, cultural, and behavioral child development. As Please Touch Museum is a first museum experience for many of our young visitors, we are proud to introduce children to their first theater experience. The Theater is a key component of the overall Museum experience, providing opportunities for playful learning and imagination. It presents a repertoire of both original productions and adaptations, written and produced by in-house actors. The works focus on ideas that highlight permanent exhibition topics and programmatic themes ranging from financial literacy, healthy eating and the world of jazz.
In recent years, Please Touch Museum has undergone a period of rapid and profound growth. Our annual visitation of 580,000 includes us among Philadelphia's most-visited cultural venues. Since 2008, we have welcomed more than 3 million visitors. Please Touch Museum has a long history of providing innovative learning experiences and resources that put young children at the center and help support the development of the youngest members of our community. We remain committed to expanding the scope and impact of our programs with the continued velocity that the Museum was founded.