Stepping Stones is an interactive children's museum where kids are encourage to learn through play. Opened in 2000, the museum is now host to numerous exhibits, programs, and services designed to promote lifelong learning, curiosity, and imagination. Stepping Stones' Open Arms program ensures that the experiences are available to all children and families, providing financial assistance and encouragement to families and schools that would otherwise not be able to visit the museum.
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06850
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By Jennifer Padget
Emily Friedman is no stranger to excellence. As a participant in the John Hopkins' Talented Youth competition, she has already taken the SATs twice.
Not bad for a teenager who is still years away from campus life, for sure. But more than standardized tests, the 13-year-old Connecticut native has learned that what is really important to her is inspiring others to reach for their potential.
Friedman first got started volunteering during a bat mitzvah project that had her collecting books and reading at local schools. After her big day, she found she was ready for more community involvement. She found out about Stepping Stones Museum for Children at VolunteerMatch.org, and today it's among several organizations where she volunteers around 20 hours every month.
Stepping Stones opened its doors in 1992 as a part of founder Gigi Priebe's mission to "create an environment that inspires lifelong learning" and cultivate children's curiosity and confidence." Through interactive exhibits including a color coaster and rainforest, kids and their families learn while they play.
This year, the center was named one of "America's Top 50 Children's Museums" by Parent Magazine Online.
As part of the museum's “Stepping Up" program, Friedman gets to teach younger kids through hands-on discoveries, whether it be building a race car or learning how to help make their homes green. Some of the fun projects she has worked on include teaching kids about the nutritional value of food (and cleaning out a pretend refrigerator), cutting out paper bugs, and taking "rides" in the museum's grounded helicopter.
What's the reward for all her hard work? "The look of surprise that crosses their faces when you hand them a new piece of information is priceless," she said.
Friedman believes the best way to get the most out a volunteer experience is to have "patience, determination, enthusiasm, people skills, and the drive to make a difference."
Yet often, it's Friedman herself who benefits from the lessons. Not only is teaching through play just plain fun, through her students, "I've learned understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness," said Friedman.
Friedman says her motivation to give back was inspired by her dad, who has been mentoring youth in their community since she was born. In addition to Stepping Stones, she also volunteers time with the Red Cross and Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
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