Monday, July 6, 2015

Museum Debuts Interactive Sound Sculpture

By Megan Fischer and Robin Meisner

Providence Children’s Museum has designed a vibrant, interactive sound sculpture for Harriet & Sayles Park in South Providence as part of PopUp Providence – an innovative urban place-making program funded by Providence’s Department of Planning + Development that supports temporary and inexpensive artistic and cultural interventions to enliven neighborhoods across the city.  Installed at the park now through August, the sculpture invites kids and adults to explore rhythm and make music on a variety of inventive percussion instruments.

Exhibit Designer Chris Sancomb observes the first kids to test the sculpture.

Children inherently respond to banging on drums and ringing bells – they love making and sharing music.  The Museum-created sound sculpture invites kids of all abilities to play with instruments in their own ways and to create meaningful interactions with music and with each other.  Making music together promotes confidence and social skills, as well as the development of language, mathematical and spatial thinking – and it's just good fun!  By incorporating a variety of intriguing reclaimed objects and new materials, the sculpture offers kids the opportunity to play both usual and unusual instruments.  We hope to inspire children and their caregivers to explore ways that everyday items can be repurposed into something playful, and to encourage kids to explore their interests and express themselves freely.

While some sculpture components were repurposed, others were laser cut or handmade from steel and welded together.

Many people don’t know that we make our own exhibits at Providence Children’s Museum.  One of the defining features of our environments is that they are original creations made by the Museum's professional staff along with additional educators, scholars and artists, which means that most of what you see at the Museum was developed, designed and fabricated in house.  We were excited to go beyond our walls to create the sound sculpture for Harriet & Sayles Park because we have a deep commitment to bringing high-quality play and learning experiences to low-income families across Providence – particularly to the South Providence neighborhood close to the Museum.  Most of our outreach takes the form of programs and activities, and the sound sculpture allows us to offer something new.

Stop by Harriet & Sayles to make some joyful noise this summer!  And if you arrive on a weekday from 11 AM - 2 PM, you’ll also see unstructured, creative play activities guided by Providence PlayCorps, in conjunction with the free federal summer meals program.

See more photos of the music sculpture installation on Facebook.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Play at the Park!

For a fourth summer, the Children’s Museum is bringing playful hands-on activities to neighborhood parks across Providence, building on our efforts to advocate for and raise awareness of the critical importance of children’s play, and our commitment to provide opportunities for unstructured, child-directed play throughout the community.

Join us to build forts, blow bubbles, and discover other open-ended fun with loose parts, in conjunction with the "Celebrate Providence!" Neighborhood Performing Arts Series evening concerts.

with Providence Children's Museum!
All events from 5:00 - 8:00 PM

Tuesday, July 7
Fargnoli Park | Smith and Jastram Streets
Music by Sidy Maiga + band (West African drumming) from 6:00 - 8:00 PM

Wednesday, July 15
Brown Street Park | Brown and Creighton Streets
Music by Roz and the Rice Cakes from 5:30 - 7:00 PM

Thursday, July 23
Dexter Training Grounds | Dexter and Parade Streets
Music by Sally Rogers and the Last Time String Band from 5:30 - 7:00 PM

Thursday, August 6
Harriet and Sayles Park | Harriet and Sayles Streets
Neighborhood Block Party starting at 5:30 PM

Thursday, August 13
Harriet and Sayles Park | Harriet and Sayles Streets
Neighborhood Block Party starting at 5:30 PM

Tuesday, August 18
Roger Williams Park | Broad Street entrance
Performance by ECAS Theater (spoken word, theater and music) starting at 4:00 PM

RSVP on Facebook for event updates.

Children’s Museum activities at the parks are free and open to the public and are part of our participation in Playful Providence 2015 – a citywide celebration of play commemorating Providence’s fourth consecutive recognition by KaBOOM! as a Playful City USA, and presented in collaboration with the Partnership for Providence Parks and the city’s Departments of Parks + Recreation and Art, Culture + Tourism.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Providence PlayCorps Returns!

After a successful pilot in 2014, Providence PlayCorps expands this summer!  An innovative collaboration between Providence Children's Museum, the Partnership for Providence Parks and the City of Providence’s Healthy Communities Office and Department of Parks + Recreation, PlayCorps activates low-income neighborhood parks across the city with free play, art and creative exploration in conjunction with the free federal summer meals program.

Teams of trained play facilitators are a consistent presence at neighborhood parks throughout Providence.  They provide activities and materials to engage neighborhood children in physically active play, improving the overall safety of the parks while encouraging more children to take advantage of free, nutritious summer meals.  By working in neighborhood parks, PlayCorps fills the gap when school is out to ensure that Providence youth are active, safe and healthy over the summer.

From July 6 to August 21, weekdays from 11 AM to 2 PM, PlayCorps will coordinate play activities in these parks:

  • Billy Taylor Park (Mt. Hope)
  • Bucklin Park (West End)
  • Father Lennon/Camden Street Park (Smith Hill)
  • General Street Park (Wanskuck)
  • Harriet & Sayles Park (South Side)
  • Wallace Street Park (Silver Lake)
  • Zuccolo/Pastore Park (Federal Hill)

In addition, play facilitators with the PlayCorps “Playmobile” – including several members of the Museum's AmeriCorps team! – will travel to other parks and events throughout the summer.

The PlayCorps team participated in a very successful Pop-Up Play Day at Roger Williams Park on June 20, and on Monday they’ll be dispatched to their parks to begin to connect with the community and kick off an exciting summer of play – building forts, blowing bubbles, making art, making music, exploring nature, making friends and SO much more!  We’re delighted to have worked with thoughtful and committed partners to expand this important program and look forward to seeing how it grows and develops this summer.

For updates and activity announcements, follow PlayCorps on Facebook and Twitter.

PlayCorps is supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the City of Providence’s Department of Parks + Recreation, Healthy Communities Office, and Health Equity Zone grant through the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cultivating Collections

This article, by Museum Exhibits Director Robin Meisner, was also posted on Kidoinfo

Most visitors know Providence Children’s Museums as a collection of experiences in which children and families learn through play and active exploration. One of the defining features of our exhibits is that they are rich in discoveries and stimulating for the senses. We incorporate unusual and ordinary objects to make learning tangible, and are deeply committed to surrounding children with beautiful learning environments.

One way we do this is by sharing the Museum’s collection of childlife objects, which includes tin toys, penguin figurines and a wonderful grouping of marionettes created by Betty Heustis  (1901-1983). We also love sharing other people’s collections. This spring, children and families investigated intricate metal miniatures handcrafted by Cambridge, MA artist Abraham Megerdichian (1923-1983) and shared by his family, and colorful Chinese and Indonesian shadow puppets from the collection of Hilary Salmons, executive director of Providence After School Alliance.

Collections are fascinating – they tell stories about the objects themselves and the individuals and institutions that collect them. At the Museum, they provide tangible, powerful ways for children and families to engage in quiet moments of observation and reflection. And for individuals, collecting offers opportunities to build and share pieces of themselves.

From a very young age, children form attachments to things – favorite blankets or stuffed animals – and as they develop, they begin collecting objects that they enjoy in other ways, like rocks, stickers or postcards. Collecting is empowering. It allows kids to make their own choices about what to collect and how to display it. Their collections are their creations, which say something special about their identity and their world at a particular moment in time.

Museum staff shared some of their favorite childhood (and grown-up) collections:

“When I was maybe 10 to 12, I used to collect business cards from stores. Maybe I was inspired by the Laura Ingalls Wilder books – in one of them having a “calling card” was a very big deal.”
– Cathy, Education Director
“My dad traveled a lot for work when I was growing up and he would always bring me a snow globe from wherever he was visiting. I didn’t really have any special attachment to the globes themselves, but I loved he was thinking of me while he was away.”
– Turenne, Volunteer & AmeriCorps Coordinator
“As a child I was completely entranced by “The Wizard of Oz” and collected everything related to the movie. I had a set of miniature dolls, posters, books, costumes and even a marionette puppet of Dorothy.”
– Corrie, Membership & Marketing Coordinator
“In high school, I collected psychedelic polyester shirts from the 1970s. I think I had over 40 all together, and yes, I did wear them regularly.”
– Suzy, Research & Evaluation Specialist
“My 7-year old daughter and I collect chickens in a variety of forms (ceramic, wire, cloth). This started with a friend who made some artful chickens and gave them to us, and from there we have started buying chickens whenever we see them. They now roost in our home.”
– Jessica, Exhibit Developer
What do you and your kids like to collect? There’s almost no limit to what’s possible!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Learning About Learning: Circuit Blocks and Labels

The Museum is partnering with Brown University on a major National Science Foundation-funded project (award #1223777) to study how children develop scientific thinking skills and understand their own learning processes.  Museum researcher Suzy Letourneau shared this project update.

Last summer, the Museum opened the new Mind Lab space, which hosts ongoing research about children’s learning and development by the Museum and its academic collaborators.  When researchers aren’t in the space, there is a self-directed “circuit block” activity with batteries, motors and buttons that can be connected in many different configurations.  On the surface the activity is about electricity and circuits, but the deeper message we hope to convey is the important role of exploration and experimentation in learning about cause and effect.  The activity draws on scientific research that shows that when children make their own discoveries about how things work, they explore and learn more deeply.  Thus, we purposefully did not include step-by-step instructions with the blocks to encourage children to test their ideas and make discoveries.  While prototyping the activity, we found that children often systematically tried the blocks to see how they worked, experimented with different ways of making a circuit, and collaborated or shared their ideas with one another – all evidence of learning.

The exhibits team tested resources for adults to support children’s thinking as they play, including observation tools and prompts caregivers can use while playing with their kids (for example, questions to ask when kids get stuck or aren’t sure how to get started).  Caregivers who tried these resources were more engaged in the activity themselves, either by observing while their children explored and made discoveries, or by helping them work through challenges in different ways.  The team also created labels to communicate how children learn through experience, exploration and play, and offer research evidence to back up these ideas. 

The labels are based on Museum staff’s discussions and knowledge about the ways that play and exploration support children’s learning and development, and are informed by conversations with dozens of caregivers.  We asked caregivers what they noticed about their children’s play, what they thought about how children learn through play, and what questions they had about these topics.  Caregivers often agreed that kids learned through play, were very interested in research on children’s learning (including the research that happens at the Museum), and wanted to learn more.

We created prototype labels and resources using low-cost, temporary materials so we could get feedback and make changes easily.  Some show specific examples of different ways that children can learn through play, and others give illustrated summaries of research studies.  We asked visitors: What did the new materials make them think about or wonder?  Which parts were most interesting?  Was anything confusing or unclear?

Based on comments and suggestions, we revised the labels in the fall to make our messages clearer.  We’re also creating more illustrated research summaries, since they were visitors’ favorites.  And we added a “Guide for Grown-ups” to the circuit block activity to suggest ways that caregivers can support their children’s learning as they play together.  Over the next few months, Mind Lab will continue to be a site for ongoing research and prototyping that will help Museum staff learn alongside visitors.

Visit the Museum’s website and see previous blog posts for more information about the Learning About Learning project.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

PlayWatch: Making Tracks

This story was shared by Experience Coordinator Maggie Dawson  

We had a very dedicated visitor who was so fun to watch. He was about 3 years old and I saw him building a line of blocks. He would place one block at a time and once it was set down, he would step back, place his hands on his hips, shake his head, and run to select another piece.

His mom said that he has done this before and is constantly doing similar projects at home. I told her that it was wonderful to watch him plan this because ThinkSpace, the exhibit he was in, is dedicated to spatial thinking and he is demonstrating his own spatial skills. She told me that his goal was to make it all the way down the ramp!

It was also fun because other visitors watched him and were cheering for him. One father even stopped his toddler from destroying it because he was so impressed. As you can see, he made it pretty far before the Museum closed!