Friday, February 27, 2009

Illustration Inspiration, part I

We're excited to welcome a new exhibit celebrating children's books to the Museum's atrium walkway, just in time for National Reading Month!

See a traveling display of Illustrator Quilts – created by Brooklyn-based author, educator and literacy consultant Muriel Feldshuh – that incorporate original art from more than 90 famous illustrators from around the country, including Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola and Marc Brown.
Also discover Illustration Inspiration, a "ramp box" exhibit created by 17 Museum staff and AmeriCorps members. Our ramp box exhibits follow a theme and change several times a year. It's a unique challenge, to create something visually engaging in such a small space. This time each person created a scene inspired by one of their favorite children’s book artists, like Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg and Beatrix Potter.
We are all so impressed with the result – it's an amazing collaboration, the work of 17 (!) individuals using a variety of materials, each with their own style and story to tell. The boxes are vibrant, detailed and just plain interesting to look at. Here are photos of a few of the boxes created by AmeriCorps members, with the artists' stories about their process and inspiration:

"I chose Maurice Sendak because I have always enjoyed the glorious creepiness of his drawings, and the wonderful quality of movement he can imply. The idea: playing in the city. "
-Miranda Elliott Rader

"Tomie DePaola's illustrations are realistic, yet there is a softness created by their textures and colors that appeal to my tactile senses - I want to touch the spaghetti and ruffle Big Anthony's hair in Strega Nona...I feel the humor of DePaola's illustrations appeals to a range of ages - it is accessible to children, yet sophisticated."
-Kate Jones

"I chose [Trina Schart Hyman] because I was fascinated by her work as a kid - she's someone who draws for a lot of different authors, and it was a long time before I learned who she was. The elements I emphasize in my ramp box are strong female characters, a wide age range, the outdoors, people reading and a sense of adventure."
-Melissa Kline

"David A. Carter creates pop-up books that jump and spring to ramp box includes bright colors and imagery featuring several miniature visuals from exhibits within the Museum - a miniature crazy wavy mirror wall, the Iway spanning the box, and fountains bubbling up, down and sideways."
-Jennifer McIntosh

Coming soon: more inspiration stories, from our staff artists.

Come take a look! The quilts and ramp box exhibit will be on display through May. And in March & April, join our celebration of art and stories with a series of special programs, including Seussational! this Sunday from 1:00 - 4:00 PM!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Meet the Museum's Supporting Players

Fifteen Play Guides (those playful people wearing yellow aprons you might have interacted with in the Museum’s exhibits) recently gathered for an evening training session. The group consisted of volunteers, college work-study students, high school students, working and retired adults, and two mother/daughter pairs.

Play Guides ran through the Museum (something they don’t get to do when children and families are around) in search of clues to solve a scavenger hunt and watched a skit performed by education staff about the role of the Play Guide. We also played games highlighting the Museum’s value of providing excellent visitor experiences. What does it take to make a visit extra special?
Then we began to take our play to the next level. At the Museum, play is serious business! Our Play Guides pride themselves on their ability to interact and inspire play for all visitors. It’s right in our mission, “to inspire learning through active play and exploration,” and each staff person accomplishes this in their own way. Finding that way takes practice and experimentation.

Play Guides broke into small groups, got down on the floor, and honed their ability to facilitate play. Using varied materials they built unique structures and practiced making observations, asking questions and giving challenges. We also discussed the importance of sharing the value of play with visitors.

We ended by playing a game using exhibit components in new and different ways, similar to the prop game on “Who’s Line is It Anyway?” Did you know a foam noodle could be a telephone, a space helmet, and a horse? Overall, the training was a big success. Next time you come to the Museum, look for our Play Guides, ask them about their training, and of course engage in play with them. It’s their job to play and they love it!

This story was shared by Kelly Fenton, Visitor Services & Volunteer Manager (also known as the Play Guides' fearless leader!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where Do the Children Play?

On February 4, more than 75 people – parents, teachers and community members, representing schools, daycares, libraries, the zoo, parks and recreation, urban planning and more – gathered at Lincoln School for a screening and discussion of Where Do the Children Play?, a thought-provoking documentary that examines the need for children to have time and space to play, especially outdoors.

Throughout the hour-long film, the audience was engaged and responsive - there were frequent bursts of laughter following comments made by the kids interviewed as well as constant murmurs of recognition and understanding. So
me points I found especially interesting:
  • Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: "Kids see nature as an abstraction. There’s a disconnection, a nature deficit disorder."
  • One expert said she's most concerned about suburban kids (versus urban and rural) because they're more isolated and often lack imagination. She talked about visiting urban and suburban classrooms and facilitating an activity where kids created their neighborhoods from cardboard boxes. The urban kids worked together to create communities – schools, hospitals, parks – populated by smiling neighbors. The suburban kids mostly worked alone and created a mall, big box stores and parking lots – void of people.
  • The concept “professionalization of parenthood,” referring to the trend of workplace productivity and effectiveness carrying over into parenting, leading adults to schedule their kids' time as efficiently as they do their own work commitments.
Museum director Janice O'Donnell moderated the discussion that followed, along with fellow "instigators" Giovonne Calenda of Lincoln School and Leo Pollock of Southside Community Landtrust. The idea was to have a "community conversation," to engage the audience members in thoughtful dialogue about the issues raised by the film, launched by asking, "What are you doing, wish you could do, thinking about doing?” Here's what people had to say:
  • Chris Hitchener from RWP Zoo spoke about the powerful connection between environmental education and play, saying that “nature helps you start to focus on the moment.”
  • A parent from Providence expressed concern that she doesn’t know a lot about nature, and thus how to be with her kids in nature. Janice responded that it doesn't matter what you know, “what’s important is finding a connection to nature together.”
  • Staff from the Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls spoke about their new playground, a natural space designed to give kids "a flexible, fluid space to play in supervised but child-directed way," developed in collaboration with kids and parents. (And the audience broke into applause when the mentioned they'd ADDED time to recess!)
  • Another parent talked about her efforts not to overschedule her kids and the delicate balance of playing with them versus just starting things, then leaving them alone – “the more relaxed I am and the more I let them do, the more we play.”
  • Anisa Raoof, editor of Kidoinfo, explained that she uses her website to get parents off the computer and to bring the community together, to remind parents that there are so many great things they can do with their kids.
  • In response, an audience member mentioned the idea of joining a nature group, like RI Families in Nature.
  • A Lesley University professor who teaches teachers to work with different modalities in arts curriculum, including movement & kinesthetic learning, reminded the crowd of President Obama's pledge to revisit No Child Left Behind legislation and urged them not to let him forget. "We need to think boldly, beyond just math and science literary – it’s not about how much math you know, but how you can problem solve.”
  • Scott Wolf of Grow Smart Rhode Island spoke about promoting zoning changes to create more mixed use, walkable communities. He also shared a reminder for the business community: "if we want creative people, we need to ease up on standards-based education."
  • A parent mentioned a recent conversation with other parents about summer camp and noted that many parents were competitive about camps and desperate to get their kids in. She also talked about a very young child with a Nintendo whose parent said it was "good for 15 minute car rides" – instead of encouraging him to look outside, learn about the world. Her powerful closing words: "I think parents are afraid to spend time with their children… and I’m concerned.”
As Janice shared in an email to a colleague, "the discussion after the film was lively and informative. It was hard to get people to leave, they were so engaged in talking with and learning from each other. Really just what I was hoping for - a community conversation. "

We CAN'T WAIT to do it again (Wednesday, May 6, 6:30-8:30pm at the Highlander School) and to keep the conversation going – and growing.

The screening was presented with assistance from the U. S. Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that works for the restoration of play in children’s lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Museum's on the Air!

The Museum's playful new PSA is finally done and is already airing on several local stations. We are really pleased with the result – I personally LOVE it! Check it out:

Leave us a comment to let us know what you think!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What do rats & children have in common?

The need for play! (No, they're not both found at the Children's Museum...) Our staff have shared several interesting articles and stories recently. First, Graphic Designer Valerie Haggerty-Silva found a terrific article in Scientific American, The Serious Need for Play – endorsed by Museum director Janice O'Donnell as "Good reading and excellent source for PROOF that kids need free play."

Then Janice passed along a Psychology Today blog post about the connections between rats, children and play. In response, AmeriCorps Museum Educator Paul Fenton shared the following story:
I've told this story to a few people at the museum but it reminded me of research I was involved in as a psychology undergraduate because it involves rats and play.

The experiment we did had two groups of rats, one group placed in pairs able to freely play and one group placed in pairs who had a mesh separating the two rats. They could smell each other, see each other, they could huddle and touch enough to stay warm (very important for rats) but they couldn't engage in full-body gross motor rough-and-tumble play.

We got very robust results showing that brain cell growth in the hippocampus was higher in the group that could play. The hippocampus is a very important part of the brain with major functions including involvement in memory, helping short term memories become long-term memories and sensory processing.

Obviously no one has duplicated this with humans but my professor is confident they are generalizable. So it turns out play helps your brain in a very direct, quantifiable way.

This just goes to show that there's a lot of good work being done to study the importance of play - and that many people are talking and thinking about the same things as we are here in Providence!