Toronto Children's Museum Downtown

Take a morning stroll down King St. W. and you’ll quickly spot one of the city’s hottest recent trends.

No, we’re not talking flared jeans. Or jump suits. The Canadian tuxedo? Nope.

We’re talking Strollers. Specifically, strollers bursting with babies.

In recent years Toronto has been hit by a minor baby boom. Between 2006 and 2011, the toddler population (kids 4 and under) in Toronto’s downtown west area– think Liberty Village, King St. W. and the Entertainment District– spiked a whopping 65 per cent. In the downtown east end? A 41 per cent jump.

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That’s a lot of diapers.

A little over a year ago, Jeanhy Shim, a real estate development strategist and downtown-dwelling mother of one, realized that, when it comes to kids, Toronto is seriously starved of play space. Sure, there are places like the Toronto Zoo, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ripley’s Aquarium, but, according to Shim, those places don’t quite cater to kids 6 years old and younger – one of Toronto’s fastest growing demographics.

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“They’re wonderful places, but they’re really geared to older kids in terms of comprehension,” said Shim. “They’re not really designed to engage them in their specific stages of development.”

So Shim, who describes herself as a “doer,” got to work. Alongside a team of early childhood development experts, she created a space perfectly suited for the budding brains of young children. Now, more than a year later, she’s nearly ready to unveil the Children’s Discovery Centre, a multi-use educational, recreational and research centre on Strachan Ave., a short walk from Liberty Village.

“It’s like a museum because it’s interactive,” she told Vv Magazine. “Kids can go and interact with educational displays and activities as opposed to a typical museum for adults where you go and look at artefacts.”

The idea isn’t exactly new. Over 200 similar children’s museums exist across North America in cities like New York, Chicago and even London, Ont.

But don’t call it a playground. Or a babysitter. The 20,000-square-foot space, set to open May 23 in a former Toronto Police building at 45 Strachan Ave., will combine learning with fun. Ten “discovery zones” will focus on different kinds of play: an art hive littered with craft supplies; a “pet vet” to give your Teddy bear a check-up; a children’s library teeming with books. Kids will be given free-rein to explore, get messy and give their imaginations a proper work-out.

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But there’s one thing the Children’s Discovery Centre is concertedly lacking: screens.

“The philosophy of the place is that the best learning tool for kids under 6 is not an App or a TV show. It’s play,” Shim said.

Besides creating a new play space for city kids and their parents, the centre will also be a source of joy for an unlikely group – condo developers. Visitors will be invited to opt-in to a research study analyzing the housing needs of the modern urban family. This information will then be shared with both real estate developers and urban planners at city hall.

“This will hopefully inform the policy makers at city hall and my clients,” said Shim, who says she’s already scored a thumbs-up from some city councillors. “If they understand what people want, they can deliver.”

And for cash-strapped parents, it’s a cheap play date. For $13 each (parents and kids included), a day at the Children’s Discovery Centre is more affordable than the Ripley’s Aquarium ($20 for kids 6 to 13), the Toronto Zoo ($18.00 for 3- to 12-year-olds) and the ROM ($14 for children 4 to 14.)

The downtown play space is just a pilot project, at least for now, but Shim hopes that parents and their kids will flock to the space when it opens later in the next few weeks, proving that Toronto needs a permanent children’s museum.

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“I hope when it opens up the proof will be in the line up down the street.”

The Children’s Discovery Centre will open May 23, at 45 Strachan Ave., and run until September 30, 2015.

If you live in the downtown area and have children, be sure to share with us your thoughts on the The Children’s Discovery Centre in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.