Monday, September 15, 2014

Water Ways Transformation Begins

Work on Water Ways is well underway! It has been for quite a while, actually – the exhibits team has been fabricating new components and furniture in the Museum’s workshop and partners have been working with us to create new tanks and water activities offsite. (More on that later.)

The big changes to the environment itself began this month, with demolition of the tanks, wave cave, cabinets and more, then prepping the space – cleaning, building new walls and painting the entire room.

Some scenes of the process so far:

Taking apart the wave cave.
Staff survey the demolition.
The last tank is removed.
A nearly empty room!
New walls, fresh paint.

Up next: new flooring and new water filtration and mechanical systems before the installation of Water Ways tanks and components can begin – stay tuned!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Water Ways Farewell

Last week, Museum staff and visitors bid a very fond farewell to Water Ways (version 1.0).

The last kids to play in Water Ways gave it a fitting sending off – lots of pumping, splashing and laughter as water shot high into the air.

Staff also enjoyed some fun-filled final moments of water play.

After more than 16 years, we all share so many wonderful (and wet!) memories of Water Ways.

What about YOU? Visit our Facebook page to share favorite memories, stories and photos of Water Ways.

And stay tuned for scenes of making Water Ways version 2.0!

"Goodbye wave"

Monday, September 1, 2014

Coming This Fall: A Whole New Water Ways!

An entirely renovated, reimagined Water Ways environment will transform Providence Children’s Museum with torrents of fun this fall!  Visitors of all ages will splash, explore and discover imaginative all-new water play:

  • Transform the size and shape of billowing mist and water domes 
  • Send objects spiraling and twisting through vortexes 
  • Connect pipe pieces to form fountains that funnel the flow of mist and water 
  • Investigate and sculpt crushed ice using a variety of tools 
  • “Paint” watery designs on a large slate wall 
  • Explore an expanded toddler play area with balls, ramps and spigots
  • And MUCH more!

After 16 years and more than 2 million visitors, Water Ways closes for renovations on September 2 and the brand-new space opens in November.  Stay tuned for stories and photos of reinventing Water Ways!

Illustrations by Valerie Haggerty-Silva

Friday, August 29, 2014

Beach Adventure Play

This article, by Museum Executive Director Janice O'Donnell, was also posted on Kidoinfo.

When I describe the adventure playgrounds I explored in England and Wales to Americans, they might be delighted or appalled, but they’re always surprised. Adventure playgrounds are places absolutely committed to kids’ free self-directed play. Children build (and destroy) their own play structures, often using hammers and nails; loose parts – old tires, mud, boards, buckets, rope – abound; and taking risks is encouraged as part of healthy development. These playgrounds have a long history in northern Europe, but are rare in the US (there’s one on the UK model in Berkeley, CA) and can look chaotic and dangerous to American eyes.

But the kind of play adventure playgrounds provide isn’t actually unusual here. In fact, it happens all the time and is completely acceptable – at the beach.

As at an adventure playground, kids (and grown-ups, too) are free to alter the beach space to the limits of their abilities – dig a hole, engineer a canal system, build a castle. Open-ended play objects are everywhere – sand and water are the endlessly malleable ultimate in loose parts, plus there are shells, seaweed, sticks and stones to decorate your mud pies or sand sculptures, turn into drawing and digging tools, and wear as costumes. And appropriate risk is ever present. Small children, not yet ready to tackle deep water, challenge their own fear by running toward the receding waves and back to shore as the water rushes at them. More competent swimmers make decisions about which waves to ride and how deep to venture. And, for the most part, we let them use their own judgment to assess risk and their own abilities.

I think one reason we adults are so comfortable with open-ended, child-directed and somewhat risky adventure play at the beach is because we’re familiar with these activities. We indulge in riding waves and sculpting sand ourselves. Likewise, a lot of the adults I met at adventure playgrounds in the UK had grown up playing in just such places. They’re used to that kind of play in that kind of environment. Also, adventure playgrounds have playworkers, people well trained and experienced at supporting children’s play without directing it. Having knowledgeable adults on hand, paying close attention to what the kids are up to – but letting them – certainly mitigates any danger. Even if a child does fall off the zip line, there’s a grown-up who’ll help him out. The lifeguards at the beach play a somewhat similar role. They’ll warn us of real danger, such as a rip current, and they’ll help us if we get in trouble, but they don’t tell us how to play. They keep an eye on things without interfering.

We can learn a lot about our own attitudes toward free play and risk if we observe and reflect on our children’s and our own enjoyment of a day at the beach. Maybe we’re not as risk averse as we sometimes feel. Maybe our kids are a lot more competent and inventive than we realized.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Persistence: A Head Start Story

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our AmeriCorps Museum Educators over the 2013-2014 service year. This story was shared by Amanda Howard, a member of the team that served 1,000 Head Start preschoolers in 58 classrooms in greater Providence with fun-filled Museum explorations and a year-long series of imaginative activities to help them understand and value diversity. 

We bring each of our Head Start groups on Museum field trips. During one field trip, I was able to work with and observe a 3-year-old boy playing with the ramps and balls in Play Power. The boy dropped a ball into a magnet ramp that was already set up and watched it glide down until it fell through a space in one of the pieces. The boy was disappointed that his ball did not complete the entire ramp and proceeded to move the pieces around and pick new ones until it worked. On a few different tries I asked him questions like, “Why do you think the ball didn’t complete your ramp?” and “How can change the ramp to make sure the ball doesn’t fall off?” When he was finally able to get the ball to go all the way down, he was so proud of himself. He showed everyone how great his ramp was and everyone thought it was very cool.

Later, his teacher told me that he had never spent so long working on something and usually gives up very easily when things do not work out for him. I’m glad that I was able to help him stay focused and not give up on his task even though it took him a while to work it out.

Redirection: Boys & Girls Club Stories

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our AmeriCorps Museum Educators over the 2013-2014 service year. These stories were shared by members of the team that facilitated a Museum Learning Club at the Boys & Girls Club on the Southside of Providence and provided engaging STEM enrichment activities to 190 2nd to 4th graders. 

One of our 2nd graders has trouble acclimating to lessons and is often reprimanded and scolded throughout the school day because of such issues. This day, he was acting out by knocking down the cup towers other children had made. I told him that I know how much fun it is to knock things down and we could do so together if he built his own tower first. When he responded that he didn't know how, I realized what the problem was and jumped on the learning opportunity. I tried several different methods until he finally grasped the concept of building cup towers, smiled and became completely engaged in the activity. A couple minutes in, one of his so-called rivals came over and he started to shoo him away. I suggested we could all build together and my heart melted as he handed his maybe-no-longer nemesis a cup and began teaching him how to build a tower the same way I taught him.

Meg Conery

We were facilitating Imagination Playground and our kids were a little restless. There was a lot of pretend play happening, some of it becoming chaotic and all of it becoming loud. Right as the activity was reaching the point where we were going to have to reel everybody back in, I heard a shout. "THE QUEEN IS HERE! ATTENTION! EVERYONE LOOK UP!"

It was like magic. I had tried to get everyone's attention to lower the volume or remind them to be safe without success, but a small girl with a big voice froze the room in an instant. She announced the queen's arrival and made all of the subjects sit on the floor. She hired the other kids one at a time to work on constructing the castle, channeling what was loud, undirected play into thoughtful, purposeful pretend play. Every time the castle subjects were off task, the girl would redirect her peers. It was incredible to watch their ability to self-regulate and establish peace in their blue foam kingdom.

 – Sarah Schnurr