Friday, November 6, 2015

Serving Up a New AmeriCorps Team

The Museum was excited to welcome a new AmeriCorps team – our 20th! – in September to begin a year of playful, powerful service.  The team extends the Museum's reach by inspiring inner-city children with after-school math and science programs at the Boys & Girls Club and Highlander Charter School, facilitating play-based problem-solving activities for Children’s Friend Head Start preschoolers, engaging Museum visitors in play and exploration, and recruiting and supporting Museum volunteers.

The 11 MuseumCorps members bring with them a wide range of skills and experience.  Cara was a mentor at New Urban Arts in Providence, and Elizabeth interned as an aquarist at Save the Bay.  Jillian has been at the Museum for year already as a work-study student.  Leigh was captain of her swim team at Brown University, and Meg has a degree in Geology.  Taylor is experienced in the Japanese practice of gyotaku, or fish printing, and Filipa is an aspiring cartoonist/animator.  Hayley taught English to children in France, and Monica is majoring in Spanish.  Rachel was an AmeriCorps member with City Year Boston, and Anna spent a year of service at a homeless shelter in New Jersey. 

Each team member is passionate about inspiring children’s lifetime love of learning.  “More than anything,” says Rachel, “I'm excited to be in a program that encourages kids to find the fun in learning!”  The team is also focused on giving back to the community through national service.  Leigh has heard many stories about the positive impact AmeriCorps has had on communities and she says, “I am excited that I now get to be a part of it through Providence Children's Museum!”

The new AmeriCorps team planned a frightfully fun Boo Bash celebration.

Welcome, team!

The Museum’s AmeriCorps program is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Serve Rhode Island, with support from additional sponsors for the Head Start and Learning Club programs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Puppets on Parade!

New this fall, see a festive puppet procession past storefronts and spectators, created by Exhibit Developer Jessica Neuwirth, Exhibits Director Robin Meisner and Experience Coordinator Mandy Roach and featuring the Museum’s collection of historic Betty Huestis marionettes.

Jessica shared her inspiration for the display: “I look after our collections – I’ve gone through all of the boxes and documentation and checked the condition of all of the puppets – so I know the range of puppets we have, but the same ones are so often used.  I wanted everyone else to come out so I thought, what story could we tell?”

To showcase the lesser-seen marionettes, Jessica conceptualized and sketched a spirited parade of puppets, which Mandy interpreted to create a lively and colorful backdrop.  During the installation process, they played off the backdrop to determine what other props were needed.

“I’m really happy with it,” said Jessica.  “I’ve seen kids and families taking great pleasure in seeing something new.”

The display will be on view through the spring so see it for yourself and join the parade!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mother Goose in ThinkSpace

The “geometry gallery” in ThinkSpace features changing displays of natural and handcrafted objects that provide strong visual representations of spatial thinking, highlighting shapes in everyday life and the designed environment. Discover the newest installation: scenes from favorite Mother Goose rhymes hand-carved from blocks of wood, complemented by colorful images from picture book illustrations.

The pieces are selections from Hey Diddle Diddle!, a larger display created by Dan Elkins and George Alexandre and previously exhibited in the Museum’s atrium walkway and lobby. Elkins and Alexandre were members of The Splinter Group, a local association of retired craftspeople who were active woodcarvers; Dan Elkins also created the circus carvings in the Museum’s stairwell.

“These wood carvings are a great example of spatial thinking because they involve working from 2-D images or illustrations of nursery rhymes and creating 3-D representations,” said Exhibits Director Robin Meisner. “And carving itself involves taking a simple block of wood, envisioning the final product and using a variety of tools to transform that block into a sculpted piece.”

The carvings will be on display for the next few months – take a peek to see Jack jump over a candlestick, a cow jump over the moon, and more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE LAND: A Film and Conversation About Risk and Adventure Play

Providence Children’s Museum and Providence Children’s Film Festival proudly partner to present the Providence premiere of “The Land” – a powerful 2015 documentary short film about the nature of play and risk – at the Museum on Thursday, October 22 from 6:30 - 8:00 PM.

The film is set in The Land, a Welsh adventure playground where children climb trees, light fires and use hammers and nails.  It’s a playspace rooted in the belief that kids are empowered and understand their own capabilities and limits when they learn to manage risks on their own.  The film has attracted national attention after being featured in a number of recent articles including “The Overprotected Kid” a provocative piece in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin that provides a look at adventure playgrounds and how “a preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery – without making it safer.”

Credit Hanna Rosin
Following the screening, join a lively conversation about the film, adventure play and the benefits of risk to kids’ physical and emotional development.  Discuss ways to foster healthy risk-taking in kids’ play, and how to provide kids with opportunities for adventure play with panelists Erin Davis, “The Land” filmmaker; Michele Meek, filmmaker and educator; and Janice O’Donnell, Providence PlayCorps director and former Children's Museum director.

The screening and conversation are part of the Museum’s commitment to advocate for and raise awareness about the critical importance of self-directed play for children’s healthy growth and development.

The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited – click here to RSVP.

See the trailer, and click here to learn more about the film:

Also check out these recent articles about adventure play and the importance of risk to children's development:
  • Where The Wild Things Play  Adventure playgrounds may look like junk piles but offer kids tremendous opportunities for free, unstructured play. (NPR)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cardboard Challenge!

For the third year, the Museum is participating in the Global Cardboard Challenge , an annual worldwide celebration of child creativity and the role of communities in fostering imaginative play, inspired by the incredible story and film Caine's Arcade .

Beginning this weekend – Saturday and Sunday, October 3 & 4 – and continuing Tuesday, October 6 through Monday, October 12, kids and families will design and build original creations using cardboard, recycled materials and their imaginations. Collaborate to invent and construct games, gadgets, robots, rocket ships and much more!

In honor of Cardboard Challenge, we're reposting a favorite story of creative cardboard construction from a past year's event – sort of like our very own Caine's Arcarde!
A mom, dad and their seven kids all busied themselves with their own projects, individually or in teams. Parents and 11-year-old Alvin got to work building a drive-up coffee shop – a tall structure that required dad’s help to attach the roof and stabilize the building. They added a box to serve as the drive-through window and then mom illustrated the storefront. Alvin labored over food preparation, creating delicious donuts and M&M cookies from colorful foam shapes, which he served with coffee in small cardboard cylinders. And “Alvin's Coffee Shop” was born!

After offering free samples to rave reviews, Alvin created a menu to post by the window, took his station, and provided stellar service in a structure that mom was amazed to realized they'd spent over an hour and a half building. Watching this wonderful moment unfold, I was impressed by how Alvin’s parents followed his lead and worked seamlessly together to realize his creative vision.

Megan Fischer, Interim Executive Director

Friday, September 11, 2015

Little Rhody

New at the Museum: peek into the atrium walkway window boxes to take a tiny tour of Little Rhody.   Follow a quahog on a playful journey to some of the greatest hits and highlights of the Ocean State – sampling frozen lemonade, strolling through WaterFire, taking a spin on a Looff Carousel, and more!

The imaginative excursion was created by AmeriCorps members Mary Burke and Ali Sandler with support from other members of the their team and exhibits department staff Robin Meisner and Jessica Neuwirth.

Mary spoke about the concept and process:
“We wanted to do something that would appeal to visitors and be fun for both kids and grown-ups and the idea of Rhode Island emerged.

The hardest part was figuring out what scenes they would be. We generated a list of ideas, then divided them up, drew sketches and gathered materials that would make good miniatures – though we didn’t always know what they were looking for!

Once we began assembling the scenes, it became clear what was needed and how to use materials – the process prompted me to look at materials in new ways and wonder, what could it be?

I’m curious to know which boxes will be visitor favorites. I hope they say, “Remember when we went there?” or “We should go there!” – that the boxes are a real conversation starter.”

Little Rhody will be on view through the fall so make a point to do some sightseeing on your next visit!

Mary's favorite scenes include the Rustic Drive-In, Del's Lemonade truck and Point Judith Lighthouse.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Power of Problem Solving

This article, by Museum Education Director Cathy Saunders, was also posted on Kidoinfo.  

As summer winds down and parents think about preparing for the school year, it’s easy to get caught up.

At the Children’s Museum, we’ve been thinking about problem solving a lot lately. We’ve looked at
the obvious connections between the playful learning experiences we try to foster and some of the formal educational standards. Problem solving is a foundational skill that appears in the RI Early Learning Development Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards and is something that we have a lot of fun with.


How do you know when your child is exercising problem-solving skills? There are times that seem obvious – she completes a complicated puzzle or negotiates taking turns with a friend. But sometimes it can be easy to miss moments where a child is building his problem-solving toolkit.

Here are some of the things we look for and celebrate:
  • Asking questions can indicate thinking process. Questions and wondering signify curiosity and interest. A “What happens if…?” shows planning for investigation.
  • When a child uses descriptive language she is using observation skills and trying to connect meaning between vocabulary and her observations. This is true of a toddler discovering that a ball is “round” and “big” or a 9-year-old describing the same ball as “a sphere” and “the size of my hand.”
  • Seeking peer support is evidence of a child trying to figure something out; she is looking for assistance and negotiating a social relationship.
  • Stick-to-itiveness. It takes persistence to find solutions through trial and error. Each time he tries he is gaining new information about what works and what doesn’t.
And these are some ways we like to spur children’s problem solving:
  • Ask open-ended questions – you know, those questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer and that need to be answered with descriptive language.
  • Offer just enough support – give a hint or stabilize a wobbly piece.
  • Invite children to problem solve with you. Ask them for their ideas and solutions when puzzling something out.
  • Problem solve out loud. How are children going to know how much problem solving we do on a minute-by-minute basis unless we clue them in? They need to hear us reason things out and think things through.
Problem-solving opportunities occur throughout the day – when getting ready for school, making a meal, playing… Seize the opportunity in those small moments to notice and encourage your child’s innate ability to use logical thinking to reason things out.