Two of the staff of Treehouse Children’s Museum had the opportunity to hear former First Lady Barbara Bush give the keynote address at the Association of Children’s Museum Conference in Houston, Texas on Friday, May 7, 2003. We were excited to hear Mrs. Bush speak about literacy and reading and her work as a tireless advocate for literacy, and we were surprised and thrilled when Mrs. Bush mentioned Treehouse in her remarks. It meant a great deal to the staff and Board of Treehouse at the time because we had recently moved the Museum to a temporary location while we worked hard to raise money for our permanent home on 22nd Street, the beautiful Elizabeth Stewart Treehouse Museum. Her speech reminded us of the importance of Treehouse’s mission and energized us all. As a tribute to Mrs. Bush, who died at the age of 92 on Tuesday, we would like to share an excerpt from that speech with you.

Your wonderful museums instill in children a sense of wonder and a hunger for knowledge at a very early age. For those students who find it difficult to sit still in class, or to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, or who feel intimidated by a textbook, one visit to a museum can make them realize just how much fun learning can and should be. And, especially for those students who are not getting the attention and the care they need, a children’s museum can be a genuine lifeline. It provides an environment where their minds and talents can be developed and nurtured. Museums bring out the Peter Pan in all of us. We’re never too old to try new adventures or to learn new things and have fun. Just ask that child I’m married to who is planning to jump out of a perfectly good airplane on the day he’s eighty . . . again.

I’m, of course, thrilled that so many of your museums now have a direct relation with local literacy programs or have programs of their own. In Utah, the Treehouse Children’s Museum encourages children and adults to literally “step into a story.” And, at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, students can become a part of Dr. Seuss’s “A Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham.”

And, as you know, family literacy has been my number one cause for more than twenty years. And, when people ask me why I think it’s so important, I tell them actually, it’s simple. Like the experts, I know that if more people could read, write, and comprehend, so many of our social problems would be solved.

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