About Bear Country Credit Union
AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES of a six-year-old child, Bear Country Credit Union looks just as it should. Colorful. Touchable. Believable. And fun. What’s not visible is all the thoughtful design and planning to make it seem like the real thing. And it is the real thing for starting young children, especially those ages 5 to 8, on the path to financial literacy in an engaging, safe, and interactive environment. Metcalfe Architecture & Design in Philadelphia was hired to transform the idea into an engaging 3-D experience.
Aaron Goldblatt, a partner and senior exhibit developer at MA&D, quickly dialed into the project, having been responsible for exhibits at the Please Touch Museum, among other Philadelphia landmarks. The charge was to create a permanent exhibit “to engage children in activities leading to financial literacy in an environment based on the work of Stan and Jan Berenstain.”
The project began with a brainstorming session on April 1, 2012. “The environment would feel like a step into Bear Country – honoring the Berenstain family’s work and adhering as closely as possible to their style of illustration and storytelling,” Aaron says. He tapped the expertise of South Jersey-based Art Guild, Inc. for help in fabricating and installing the exhibit. The result is a charming and true to-Berenstain landscape and backdrop.
The tree in the middle of Bear Country Credit Union was created by Metcalfe Architecture & Design in Philadelphia and brought to life by South Jersey-based Art Guild, Inc.
There’s a giant treehouse in the center of the room acting as a focal point of the experience. And it just so happens to be reminiscent of the one a certain bear family lives in down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country. Other elements to capture the imagination are a large-scale bas-relief of The Berenstain Bear family, a log bank vault, and several teller stations. In a space of 1,100 square feet, there are interactive elements and places for kids to play, unaware they’re learning about saving, sharing, and spending money:
- A large piggy bank pinball machine lets children collect coins and make decisions about what to do with their money — collect interest, share, shop, or save.
- A night deposit coin slot shows how after-hours transactions are made.
- Coins can be counted and sorted at the honey pot.
- Money and messages can be sent across the room using a working traveling tube system.
- Microphones at each teller station provide the perfect props for role-plays.
There’s also a handmade English sycamore wood desk and chair for the “branch” manager. (What other kind of manager would there be in a treehouse?)
“We needed to balance the pretend world of Bear Country with the real world of a credit union, so the entire space was designed to reflect the many functions of a credit union — a member service center, a teller area, and a vault with storage for the things a bear family would hold valuable,” Aaron says. “To make the most of the learning for the widest range of children, we needed to create opportunities for whole-body play.” This thinking led to the creation of a crawl-through tunnel as an alternative entry into the giant treehouse. There’s also a soft-surface floor along one wall of the entire room, allowing for safe tumbling and rolling around.
Role-playing and pretend play are extremely important methods of learning for this young age group, so Bear Country Credit Union was specifically designed to support and encourage children to take on imaginative roles. And for those who open The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program Cub Account, the whole concept of personal finance begins to make real sense — and dollars, too.
Re-published from Choices® Magazine 2013 Special Edition
NOTE: Currently, FMFCU designates most tours for student class trips. Open houses will be available periodically, so check back here for dates and times, but please note that it is not open to the public on a regular basis.
The Berenstain Bears® Copyright, Berenstain Enterprises, Inc. 2015.