Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nori in the Snow

Nori the dragon looks a little surprised – and chilly – from
his post atop the Children's Museum, wearing a snowy cap

and perhaps freezing his tail off!

It might be a long winter...

Friday, December 12, 2008

This I Believe

Museum Director Janice O'Donnell recorded an essay about her belief in the power of play for the This I Believe - Rhode Island program on WRNI, our NPR station. It aired recently and you can listen to it through WRNI's website. Janice shared the following in a recent email:

I've received some nice feedback on the WRNI piece. I love that it compelled people to share their own play memories and reflections! Here are some:

Hello Janice
Wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your essay on play on WRNI. It reminded me of my childhood play with my neighborhood friends exploring in the woods and creating a museum in my friends garage of all the things we found in nature. Toys were unneccessary to our creativity and enjoyment. My children were fortunate to have that experience, as well. We lived in a neighborhood with a cul de sac around the corner filled with 8 - 12 children of various ages. They always found inventive and imaginative ways to play using nature as their tool box.

Dear Janice,
I listened in this morning and thought it was wonderful. I love that the segment has individuals present their own work. It makes it so much more alive and meaningful. Of course, I especially enjoyed your sharing today.
we enjoyed hearing your essay. thanks for not mentioning your cousin who always wanted to be a lamb. MGS

Janice, loved your piece on "play." Brought back golden sprinkled memories of childhood in New England forests, streams and fields. Skating and hockey on frozen ponds, paths leading to "monsters" surely, caves that could become small houses - good grief, so wondrous. I am sad that my grandchildren spend all of their after-school hours in homework, if not already involved in organized activities. One of my children, an msw married to a psychologist, has managed to effect changes in the homework requirements of the school their daughter attends. It was a monumental job but they are satisfied with the result and feel that parents have to become involved in order to free their kids from the competition that should NOT begin in first grade! Thanks for the lovely trip back to my child, who is still there in this 76 year old person! Roberta

These photos, by Susan Sancomb, are on display in the
Museum's new Play Power exhibit.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The "Big Kids" Have Their Say...

Kids love Play Power, but so do the grown-ups! Arielle, one of the Museum's Experience Coordinators, proudly demonstrated last week that she's learned three songs on our new musical pipes: "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Hot Cross Buns." (Next time you're at the Museum, I'm sure she'll be happy to share!)

Adults and older children have had fun responding to the talk-back board in Play Power, which asks, "What was a special place where you played?" Here's what they've had to say:

Merideth, another Experience Coordinator, is encouraging the Museum's staff and volunteers to reflect on the great play that they're seeing in our new exhibit. She posted the following in the staff kitchen:

I'm sure there will be more great stories to come. What have YOU seen with the dome, or elsewhere in Play Power? Leave us a comment!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Murder and Mayhem at the Museum?

A recent exchange regarding the alleged "killer starfish" in Tank #1:

"Those of us who work on Sunday are wondering what goes on in that tank on Saturday nights. Last Sunday we had half an eel in the starfish and half that we gave a final resting place... We don't know if the starfish has super starfish speed and is catching the fish or if it is just tidying up after the fish/eels die of natural causes... Who knows what unforeseen havoc that 5 legged wonder has in store for next weekend."

Erin Kenny, Experience Coordinator (and aquaria observer extraordinaire)

"Starfish and crabs are opportunistic scavengers. If they are eating a fish it is because the fish was dying. (Anyone who has watched Spongebob would know Patrick and others of his kinds are not blessed with super starfish speed.)"

Dave Marchetti of Animal Experiences (aka "The Fish Guy")

Sounds like we don't have to worry about any further fish-icide!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Preparing for Play Fest

Get ready for some serious playing! Next Sunday, November 23, the entire Museum will be overtaken by Play Fest from 1 to 4 PM. Play Fest? Doesn't play happen here all over, all the time? Well, yes, but this is a special celebration of play, an extension of the opening festivities of Play Power. We'll have imaginative activity stations scattered throughout the Museum that encourage and incorporate many different kinds of play.

Play Fest was planned by Museum education staff, primarily our newest team of 11 AmeriCorps members. They've dreamed up a day of fabulous fun, and last week I observed them working – and playing! – hard to prepare.

The Blue Crew (Kate, Liz, Miranda and Whitney) will engage visitors in a series of creative movement and music workshops, including tap dancing, sound effect and instrument-making, and even beatboxing!

With the Red Crew (Katie, Kelly and Paul), kids and adults will explore the visual arts as they make colorful masks and collages, weave giant patterns, build big with boxes and indulge their senses with an investigation of different textures.

And the Green Crew (Camille, Jennifer, Melissa and Molly) will facilitate an outdoor experience inside as families touch squishy & slimy things in The Swamp and let loose in the Big Woods play structure, where they'll even encounter Mortimer the Moose!

It's going to be great fun – don't miss it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Play Power Under the Microscope

Yesterday, the Museum hosted a group of museum professionals, mostly from other children's museums, as part of a NEMA (New England Museums Association) conference session. Members of our exhibit team (the X-team) presented a session called "Putting Play First," which shared the process of developing and creating Play Power, followed by a response from a panel and the audience.

Carly & Janice kicked things off by leading participants in an exercise revisiting their childhood memories of play, then Valerie and Chris joined them to talk about the exhibit.

Janet Rice Elman, executive director of the Association of Children's Museums, moderated a panel as they shared their positive and critical responses to the exhibit. They all said that they were impressed by the beauty of the environment and its components, and also by the Play Power video, which shows children at play throughout the Museum. But some questioned the goal & effectiveness of the exhibit labels and the role adults were intended to take, and mentioned different museum & play research studies.

“You accomplished creating a space for people to play in different ways,” Suzanne Olson, executive director of the Children's Museum of Maine, told the X-team. Dr. Robin Meisner, former Providence Children's Museum exhibit developer, said the new exhibit "will help change the perception of why play is important." Responding from the audience, Neil Gordon of Boston Children's Museum said he'd like to see us "put more questions out to parents to find out what they're taking away."

All in all, a thought-provoking session that will give the X-team much to consider as they continue their evaluation of our newest exhibit. Participants also had plenty of time to play as they were thinking about our exhibit. It was fun seeing so many "big kids" in Play Power!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Talking Back

The Museum has several Talk Back boards for kids and grown-ups to respond (or not respond, as the case may be!) to various prompts. Here are some words – thoughtful, funny, imaginative and heartfelt – that children have recently shared on the board in the Story Center, which asks: "The United States is made up of people from many different places, of a variety of races, who have many different religions and beliefs – and we are all Americans. Who are you?"

And some thoughts from yesterday, an incredibly busy school vacation day – 1,400 visitors! – including an ode to pie:


Friday, November 7, 2008


Thursday evening the Museum held the fabulously festive grand opening celebration of our newest exhibit, Play Power. More than 200 people – families, Museum staff and board members, and other interested folks from the community – came to play and party!

The colorful creature columns were a big hit as kids spun the intricately sculpted cubes to form critters like this:Executive Director Janice O'Donnell, Board President Carol Peterson, Exhibit Designer Chris Sancomb and Exhibit Developer Carly Loeper spoke about the Museum's exciting changes and new exhibit – and what it took to get here. Carly shared a number of amazing anecdotes from her observations in Play Power over the past week, including the following:
• We’ve heard both kids and grown-ups as they’re building tracks to race balls through mazes ask themselves, “what if we try THIS?” One parent shared, “my inner engineer is having so much fun!

• I saw a Grandpa sitting off to the side, nodding off a bit. He tapped me and leaned in, pointing to the children stacking and balancing blocks on the floor. “They really are all little scientists, aren’t they?”

• How delightful children are when they’re sending balls and scarves through the air tubes! A mom pointed out to me today that there’s a universal sound that you make when something flies out, whether you're 3 or 46: “WHOA!”

And Janice also shared this wonderful thought, which just says it all:
"The most effective kind of education is that a child
play amongst lovely things."
- Plato

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Banner Day

Museum staff have been working pretty hard recently, including Graphic Designer extraordinaire Valerie Haggerty-Silva.

Here's a look at some of her recent creations, which Chris, James and crew got ready for display yesterday:

These photos don't do justice to the beautiful graphics she created to wrap around the exterior of our newly renovated building, so everyone should take a closer look next time you're at the Museum!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Writing on the Walls

We have had such a wonderful time watching children and families enjoy Play Power for the past few days. The cries of "Wow! This is awesome!" and "Mom - look at this!" and the peals of laughter are such music to our ears after being so many weeks without children. Staff have already spent hours watching kids doing some amazing playing, seeing how they're using the various components, thinking about what comes next.

Play Power has a few labels that ask open-ended questions like "What else can you try?" and "What could this be?," which are a prototype until we've had time to evaluate their best placement. We tend not to have a lot of labels in the Museum. There's just so much else going on around here that people don't necessarily get a chance to read what's on the walls! Well, that was not so today.
As executive director Janice O'Donnell shared in an email exchange to the X-team just moments ago:
"A few minutes ago two kids were discovering Air Play. Mom watched what they were doing, glanced at the label, and asked the kids, What do you think will happen?"

To which Graphic Designer Valerie responde
And just now I went out to the exhibit to place the last little label on the beautiful organ and I met Keith, who is 8 years old. He sometimes plays the organ at his church so he wanted to name each note that he played as he walked around the organ. It was a satisfying moment!"

We are so loving watching and talking and thinking about this exhibit!

And we had a nice surprise this afternoon when former Experience Coordinator Laura Hodo, who left the Museum in March to move home to Arkansas, returned for a visit. She loved exploring Play Power and seeing all of the changes to the Museum and told me that she's a big fan of this blog and has been checking it daily. So this is in honor of Laura, our #1 fan!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Play Power is...

At long last, after 8 weeks of extensive renovations – removing windows, deinstalling and reinstalling exhibits, painting, sanding, recarpeting, and building Play Power – the Museum finally reopened at 9 AM. And our first visitors arrived a few minutes later and immediately ran into Play Power, where they stayed for the next 4 hours! (With a short snack break, of course.) Build-a-maze was a big hit, as was Air Play and the Musical Pipes. OK, they seem to like it all so far!

Museum staff gathered around and eagerly watched children enjoying the new exhibit. They'll continue to watch, especially Carly and Chris, the exhibit's developer and designer, and other members of the exhibit team (the X-team). Through close observation over the next few weeks and more, they'll see how kids are using the exhibit components, determine what's working, and evaluate what adjustments need to be made – and I'll share updates about their discoveries and the interesting conversations we're all having.

The exhibit may be ready for visitors, but the Play Power process continues!

Finishing Touches – Day 56

Monday brought a flurry of activity and attention to remaining details. As Molly created new ramps and tracks for the build a-maze activity, Carole Ann reinstalled the case beneath the admissions desk and Water Ways got a good scrubbing. The final pieces of colorful plexiglass were added to the play dome, the musical pipes were tuned, new lights were added to the kaleidoscope, and graphic designer Valerie Haggerty-Silva and her helpers installed the rest of the Play Power graphics.

And before the doors opened this morning, staff tested everything in Play Power to make sure it's working smoothly – and tons of fun! Here are some photos of Museum staff at play as they prepared for the first visitors to arrive.

As Janice climbed into the play dome, Chris checked the sounds of the musical pipes.

Admissions desk clerk Nick investigated the air tubes before his shift while Carly got the activity tables ready for visitors

and Arielle and several AmeriCorps members tested their maze-building skills.
Believe me, we CAN'T WAIT to see the kids again!