Monday, May 11, 2009

Feedback from Philadelphia

Some of our staff recently went to the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) annual conference in Philadelphia for several days of good conversations and new ideas. Here are some of our highlights and impressions:

Carly, Exhibit/Program Developer:
• Paul Orselli's funny and interesting slideshow of seating at museums around the country. We loved how he asked museums to give up "the notion that you can foster parent-child interaction by not giving the parent anywhere to sit down."

• Learning how museums make themselves more welcoming to families with physical disabilities. A presenter shared a quote from one of their volunteers who has a disability: "Don't assume what people with disabilities can and can't do."

• Attended a session about the Culture of Playwork in the U.K. joined by Joan Almon of Alliance for Childhood and Penny Wilson, a playworker in London's adventure playgrounds. I liked the "rules" at an adventure playground: "have as much fun as possible without anyone getting hurt." From thousands of conversations with people about their memories of play, there were similarities around the world – almost always outdoors, often with a little danger, games about survival. "Trying to define play is like trying to define love. You can't do it. It's too big for that."

• Several presenters at the conference spoke about how we are moving from the age of information to the age of knowledge, in which *integrating* information and innovation will be an essential skill. By playing, we learn how to think flexibly, tinker, and use information in new and different ways.

• Roxanne Spillett, President and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, spoke about the impact of the Boys and Girls Club Movement on children's lives and how the organization has grown and adapted through the years. It was meaningful to learn more about the bigger picture of Boys and Girls Clubs since the Museum has worked with the staff and children of Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence for 11 years through our AmeriCorps program.

Heidi, Director of Families Together
• Partnership was an often-heard buzzword, whether for children with special needs or funders and museums.
• I presented about partnerships between social service agencies (state, federal, local) and children's museums with a group representing four children's museums in the US and England!
• Met a registered play therapist currently working in a "museum without walls." She and I talked about working with families of war veterans and the role children's museums could play in their adjustment to civilian life as well as specific play therapy techniques for child welfare involved families.
• Felt proud to be amongst museum educators/administrators/marketing & pr managers who are creative, determined, passionate, fun!

Cathy, Director of Education:
I had the opportunity to attend AAM (American Association of Museums conference) as well following ACM. I loved hearing my colleagues from outside the children's museum world talk about sensory experiences for children (and their adults). They described kids sniffing the stench of the stockyard in Chicago, hearing the rumble of an incoming tornado, and acting out an expedition down an uncharted river. These kinds of exhibits and programs enliven the senses and inspire curiosity and imagination. I wanted to visit all their museums!

And my own highlights:
• Seeing colleagues from across the country and talking about how they’re responding to changes in traditional media and the expansion of social media.
• Realizing that we’re able to do so much with a budget that’s relatively small for a museum of our size and audience - and how broad our reach is in our community
• Hearing directors of 3 children’s museums (Denver, Chicago, Boston) discuss their leadership styles and innovative new staff projects
• An evening event at the newly relocated and beautifully renovated Please Touch Museum
• Several other Philadelphia museum adventures!

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