This “Tiny Museum” Melts Hearts

Seeing this story MADE MY DAY. Thanks to The Brain Scoop for posting it!

GOODBYE lemonade stands! These kids love natural history SO MUCH that they started THEIR OWN MUSEUM.

Miller and Maria Williams hold artifacts from their Tiny Natural History Museum. Boyd Huppert, KARE.

Maria (9) and Miller (10) Williams have been interested in nature since they were very young. Luckily, their parents allowed specimens like spiders, reindeer pelts, and turkey feathers into their home.

Maria loves museums so much that she was determined to open her own museum of natural history. Anna, Maria’s mother, wasn’t sure that opening a museum in a home was legal, but after Maria looked into the bylaws HERSELF, she found no rule against it. That’s serious passion. In fact, Miller even gave up his own bedroom so that Maria could make her own tiny museum. What a nice brother!

They took their now traveling museum to the Southshore Community Center in Excelsior. Miller and a friend worked the admission table, while Maria served as the docent. At the exhibition, Miller, Maria and family were shocked when 75 people showed up.

Over three hours, they made $250!  They donated half to the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. How AWESOME are they?

The Bell Museum, in return, gave Maria and Miller a few small objects for their own museum and a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s collections.

If you live in Minnesota you can see their collection at the Bell Museum of Natural History on March 26th.  The two will be present during the Saturdays with a Scientist program running from 11 a.m until 2 p.m.

If you can’t make it to their exhibition, be sure to follow them on their own Facebook page!

I’m so curious to see what they’ll be when they grow up! No matter which careers they choose to pursue, I’m sure they’ll both have a wonderful appreciation of our natural world.

We were all that kid.

Today, a shy little girl and her friend hesitantly approached the desk in the Smead Discovery Center carrying a small brown wicker basket full of colorful cloth.

“Hi! Can I help you?” I asked.

“Yes.” She said. “I’ve been dreaming for years of bringing my collection to the museum. Can I have someone look at it?”

“Sure!” I exclaimed. I work in paleontology. Can I look at it?”


Her eyes were wide with excitement as she started to unwrap the colorful bundles of cloth one by one. Each multicolored scarf  in the basket held a few treasures that she had collected over the years. (A few years is a LOT of time for an eight year old!) As she revealed her collection specimen by specimen, I was immediately reminded of my own childhood. Her treasures were all very similar to the rocks and objects that I had in my very own childhood rock collection–worn, gray limestone pebbles with impressions of mollusks, an interesting oxidized piece of sandstone that she said looked like “a Native American painting”, and a shell so weathered and worn by the waves from Lake Erie that it was only recognizable by the grooves on the surface. She even had a bird bone with a hole in one end and a sharp point on the other–an artifact obviously worked by human hands. As I ran it through my fingers, I realized it was definitely a Native American artifact, and an awl at that. The largest object was nestled in tissue in a plastic fast food clam shell–a groundhog skull that had rodent gnaw marks all over it.


As we talked about each of her treasures, I could SEE the passion in her eyes. The collections in her basket wrapped with the utmost care were the beginnings of a love of science. A love of nature. A blossoming appreciation for our natural world. I quickly realized that WE (my husband, colleagues, co-workers) were ALL that little girl. I was that little girl.

I approached her mother and thanked her for nurturing her daughter’s passion. “I was JUST like her. Every scientist who works in this building started in a similar way.” I said. Her mother responded, “She’s been wanting to bring it for years! This is just some of the things she has. We have more at home.” I couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement. “Feel free to bring in anything at any time when we’re here.” I said. “Fostering that love of natural history is so important and as a museum educator, I love helping kids identify what they’ve collected.”

A bit later, Natalie, the little girl, drew me a picture:


“To Ashly From Natalie, The girl with the rocks. Foxes name is Fossil.”

…and I die. “The girl with the rocks” says it all, doesn’t it?

How many of YOU had a collection? Do you still have your childhood collection? Did collecting as a kid influence your career path?

Please email me (ashleyfrag at with your own personal story of how your collection influenced your career. Did collecting insects as a kid make you go into academia?  Did looking for fossils at the beach make you want to pursue a career in museums, medical, or a completely unrelated career?

I’d like to share your stories AND PHOTOS in future posts because honestly, we were all that kid.