Tiny Tots, Big Dreams

mother wants to transform former Fall Creek church into playhouse/museum

Tom Giffey

Planners hope to include a LEGO play area, perhaps like this one, at the new venue.
Planners hope to include a DUPLO/LEGO play area at the new venue.

Parents of young children know all too well that it can be hard to find kid-friendly activities outside the home that are fun, accessible, and inexpensive. This is especially true for those who live in small towns and rural areas and don’t have the time, money, or inclination to make a long drive to the nearest large city to find playgroups or a children’s museum.

 “There’s zero options aside from the library and the park,” explains Sally Ellison, a rural Chippewa Valley resident a mother of two small children. Ellison’s frustration with the lack of places to go with for her own children has led her to begin a volunteer effort to create a play space inside a vacant church in Fall Creek. Ellison is founder of Tiny Tots Inc., a new nonprofit group that is aiming to solicit $25,000 to $35,000 in donations to begin renovating the former Peace United Church of Christ, 320 S. Wisconsin St. They’ve set an ambitious goal of raising the funds by March 1 and opening their doors by May 1.

If Ellison’s goals are reached, Tiny Tots will be part playhouse and part children’s museum, united under the theme “little people with big imagination.”

 If Ellison’s goals are reached, Tiny Tots will be part playhouse and part children’s museum, united under the theme “little people with big imagination.” Depending on how many donations roll in, one to three rooms will be remodeled into multiple “play stations” for young children and their parents. Ellison says plans include a mock grocery store, a caged ball pit, an indoor “tree house” with a tunnel and slide, a theater in which kids can dress up and be on stage, a Duplo/Lego world, and a room where kids can get messy with paint, chalk, and Play-Doh. “It’s the donations from local businesses and families that will help make the children’s dreams come true,” Ellison emphasizes. “All staff are non-salaried, so 100 percent of your monetary gift will be for the remodel.” Ellison expects Tiny Tots to be open on three weekdays plus weekends. The entrance fee will be $3 per child.

 While Tiny Tots will be aimed at kids under age 8 (and especially the 6-and-under crowd), another age group will be vital to its success: parents. Parental involvement is vital for young children, yet it’s often lacking at playtime, Ellison has observed. “They just sit there and text,” Ellison says of what some parents do when they’re at a playgroup or story time. “There’s no interaction there. We want to bring that interaction back.”

The proposed location in Elk Mound.
The proposed location in Fall Creek.

 Ellison, part of a three-member board of directors for Tiny Tots Inc., was instrumental in obtaining the former church: She and her husband, Scott, own Northbound Living, a real estate company that specializes in renovating old buildings. Northbound bought the former church last year and decided to rent it to the nonprofit at a reduced cost after Ellison struck upon the idea of creating a play space: “I have it sitting here on my lap,” she thought, “so why don’t I use this?”

 While Tiny Tots promises to be fun and educational, there are some things it definitely won’t be: a day care, a drop-off spot, or a babysitting service. Ellison emphasizes that Tiny Tots will be built around the idea of parents and caregivers spending old-fashioned quality time with their little ones while getting out of the house and into a new creative environment. As Tiny Tots’ Facebook page touts, “Children will enjoy interaction with others, grow their vital social skills, let their minds wander with imagination, play with toys they might not have at home, learn songs, play group games and so much more.” If that sounds like a place you’d like to help create, you can learn more about Tiny Tots Inc. by calling (715) 267-6823, emailing tinytotsinc2014@gmail.com, or by searching for Tiny Tots Inc. on Facebook. Donations can be sent to Tiny  Tots Inc., Attention: Sally Ellison, W10711 Camp Globe Road, Willard, WI 54493.

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