The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 10, 2013

Andre Bryan Stefanoni: Newly opened children’s place in Parsons perfect antidote for cabin fever

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PARSONS, Kan. — After being quarantined for two weeks with children fighting the flu, the entire family was ready for adventure beyond our city limits.

Last weekend’s mild temperatures and sunny skies were the perfect backdrop to take a day trip, but it couldn’t be too exhausting, too long or too expensive. We settled on pointing our truck toward the farm store in Parsons to pick up the kit we’d reserved to build our own chicken coop. (That will be a whole other column.)

A jonesing for Mexican food for lunch found us at a new place: El Pueblito, a downtown restaurant that featured fast service and platefuls of wonderful enchiladas, tacos and chili rellenos. But the real score was a spontaneous decision to peek in next door at Curious Minds Discovery Zone, which opened last fall.

Our “peek” turned into more than two hours of imagination, creation and relaxation — just what we needed to get our groove back.

The project was the brainchild of Dan VanLeeuwen, who on a trip to New Mexico took his girls to a children’s museum and decided that Southeast Kansas needed something similar. Back home, he recruited volunteers and set up a board of directors who made it happen.

Crazy thing is, it turns out that VanLeeuwen and his wife are the current owners of my grandfather Bryan’s old home place at the outskirts of Erie, where I spent many weekends and summers making discoveries of my own.

Curious Minds Discovery Zone has 884 backers, who combined have pledged $72,314 toward a $100,000 goal. Business owners and professionals from throughout Labette and Neosho counties have contributed items to incorporate into displays and play areas.

Chrissy Kutz, the director, was proud to show off how much had been packed into a relatively small space. There’s an almost life-size magnetic dinosaur skeleton that visitors can assemble on the wall just inside the door, a small puppet theater that children can use to act out their own stories, and an “Area 51 Creation Station” that includes baskets of Legos, wooden building blocks, plastic foam gizmos and a space-age-looking marble run.

Creative volunteers turned a narrow closet under a stairway into a space station and solar system. A low table of microscopes and scientific slides is flanked by stools made of tree trunks. Kids of all ages happily role-played in a miniature city that includes a doctor’s office, a grocery store complete with miniature cart and canned goods, a bank, and a dentist’s office.

A small area in the back is stocked with art supplies, while another has fossils on display.

My boys — as well as my husband and I — probably enjoyed the “treehouse” the most because there’s just something deliciously cozy about climbing up to a hidden overlook. Kutz kindly made me feel better about my desire for such antics by telling me that a high school leadership group that had recently visited ended up doing the same thing and having a joyful time.

So the moral of the story is this: Hanging out as a family is good, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Spontaneity is good, especially for those like me who must live most of life on a tight schedule. And play is good, no matter what your age.

Curious Minds is located at 1810 W. Main St. in Parsons. It is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays; from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Admission is $5 per child and $3 per adult, or $15 for a group of five. Birthday parties and field trips may be scheduled for special rates by calling 620-778-2657. The place also can be found at and on Facebook at CuriousMindsDiscoveryZone.

Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.