Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Getting a Head Start at the Museum

This post was contributed by the Museum’s Head Start team: AmeriCorps Museum Educators Gina, Jenny, Jess and Kerrie and their supervisor, Early Childhood Program Developer Mary Scott Hackman. Together they serve the more than 1,300 preschool children in the greater Providence Head Start program.

A Pre-Visit Orientation (PVO) is the first interaction we have with a Head Start class. Each classroom we enter greets us with a whirlwind of energy and excitement that makes us, in turn, excited to be there. We start with a rhyming story and song that describes each Museum exhibit and calls for notable Museum characters to “join our parade!” We rarely get through the entire story without the children chiming in to tell us how much they would love to join, too. Often children will point to a picture of an exhibit and say, “I want to be in there!”
The final step to a PVO is to let the children play with toys from the Museum. This tends to be the children’s favorite part and is the hardest for us as activity leaders to bring to an end because it is so enjoyable to watch children become owls and skunks and construction workers and build us houses and cars of Magnatiles and circus blocks. By the end of our 30-minute visit, the children can’t stop chattering about when they’ll visit us at the Museum and we leave their classroom feeling rewarded by their joy and looking forward to their field trip.
– Jenny

Field Trips are one of the most rewarding (though tiring!) aspects of working as a Head Start team member. After we have visited kids at their center classroom and introduced them to the Museum, they get to visit us and experience the fun and exhibits themselves! Each of us leads a group of seven to nine Head Start children through the exhibits along with their teachers, assistants and chaperones. Many of the children have never been to the Museum before and this always elicits exclamations of “Wow!” “This is awesome!” and “I love this place!” They tend to notice Museum details that even we have forgotten, and their enthusiasm for imaginative play is truly contagious. There is nothing quite like the sight of wide-eyed 4-year-olds encountering the air tubes for the first time or the sound of boisterous giggling that inevitably takes place in front of our funny mirrors. The hardest part of each visit is saying good-bye, but we encourage the children to come back with their families again and again!
– Gina

Over the course of our AmeriCorps year we have the opportunity to develop and implement 10 Training Workshops for Head Start center teachers and assistants. This year the team chose a “Back to Nature” theme to encourage teachers to use natural resources as play tools both in and outside the classroom. Each workshop involves 15-20 teachers and lasts 40-50 minutes. It begins with a group activity of “music making” using all natural instruments including maracas and water shakers. Next Mary shares the benefits of physical activity and open-ended play in nature for children’s social development. Then the activities begin and teachers learn exciting new things to bring back to their classrooms, like how to make sand dough, terrariums and paint with pine cones. No one leaves empty handed, each teacher takes away what they made, open-ended questions to ask their kids, and a packet of a dozen new activities to try. All the while collegial conversations between teachers inspire new ideas for activities and ways to support their children.
– Kerrie

In addition to our pre-visit orientations and field trips, we lead two different Classroom Activities over the course of the year with each of our 55 Head Start rooms. We designed our lessons around a science theme, which was voted most desired by Head Start teachers. For our first activity, we chose to investigate weather – specifically rain, thunder and lightning. The children explore creative writing with a group poem, pretend to be a storm in a movement exercise and participate in a rain art activity. This is often the highlight of the lesson as children are able to draw their own pictures and use colored water and pipettes to simulate rain on their pages. In our second lesson, we introduce children to the life cycle of a frog through a book, a felt pond, a collage activity, a movement exercise and a song. It’s a busy 40 minutes but we have a lot of fun. Each room we visit teaches us new ways to improve, so our activity is constantly growing and changing (just like the frog itself!)
– Jess and Gina

On Family Nights, hundreds of excited Head Start children get to introduce their moms, dads, and siblings to the Museum and their special Museum teachers. They come in for dinner – pizza, pasta, cheese and crackers, fruit and pastry donated by area restaurants, provided free of charge to families. During the course of the evening, everyone can sign up for a free pass to come back to the Museum as often as they want for a whole year. Another wonderful aspect of Family Nights is that the children’s Head Start teachers volunteer alongside the AmeriCorps team to provide a great experience for our families. The teachers serve food, assist in exhibits or distribute free passes to families. It’s a tremendous collaborative effort. This year, we had 1,100 visitors on three Head Start Family Nights – fantastic evenings where the Museum turns into the “city square” and everyone enjoys food, fun and family!

The hard-working, high-spirited Head Start team!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

And what a terrific job you do, Gina, Jenny, Jess, and Kerrie! As director of education, I've had the opportunity to see you in action and to talk with Head Start teachers. Kids and teachers are excited by your enthusiasm and the creative activities you bring.