Friday, May 14, 2010

Playing (and Working) in Minnesota

Some more inspiration from last week’s Association of Children’s Museums conference:

Carly Loeper, exhibit & program developer:
• In a session on Play and Risk, Aaron Goldblatt made the argument that risk is the ingredient that keeps us in play and it's the challenge that makes the action worth doing. That risk drives people into intense social experiences. I love to witness families taking risks together. When kids, and even parents, hold a worm for the first time in our worm programs the interactions are intense and families so supportive of another in the shared joy – and disgust! I can't wait to see risk-taking reach new heights when we open The Climber in June.

• We heard Peter Benson of Search Institute talk about "spark." In Peter's research into what makes kids thrive, he found they have a common connection to their spark - the quality, skill, talent, or commitment that gives life joy, energy and purpose. I deeply agree that instead of guiding children in any one direction or simply telling them "you can do anything" that we can serve this generation best by helping them find and nurture their spark from the inside out.

Megan Fischer, marketing & public relations manager:
• I was excited to hear an update on a national museum survey we participated in, organized by Reach Advisors. They’re working to understand a group they’ve named “museum advocates” – people who have a life-long love of museums and early “sticky memories” of museum going – and what the museum field can do to work together to ensure we keep growing this group. Their research is fascinating!

• Dan Palotta, author of Uncharitable, talked about the double standard we have for nonprofit vs. for profit organizations – that we’re essentially expected to operate by different rulebooks in terms of staff compensation, marketing and revenue development. “The nonprofit sector is in extreme disadvantage to for profits on every level…We need to get back to our wildest dreams and the courage to pursue them and put THAT out to the public.”

• Martha Erickson from the Children & Nature Network spoke about how “Children’s museums are in a position of power to influence policy makers, other informal educators and parents” – something that resonated since it’s what we’re trying to do. She also talked about how children have an innate attraction to natural things and we need to nurture it, something I hope will happen with all of the natural materials in our new Underland exhibit.

Minnesota Children’s Museum presented about expanding community engagement and their Reggio-inspired approach to documentation – using photos of kids’ processes to generate new questions and to involve parents. It’s something we’ve been talking about and experimenting with lately, too – more on that later.

Cathy Saunders, director of education:
• Keynote speaker Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, reminded us of the important role that children's museums play in promoting and modeling diversity and inclusion.

• I watched videos of families playing at two museums - Science Museum of Minnesota and Boston Children's Museum. Researchers are using these videos to better understand shared learning between children and adults and to learn how to design better exhibits. I love that there is a growing body of evidence of the learning that happens in informal settings like museums!

• I worked at the Science Museum of Minnesota for eight years and it was a lot of fun to visit again and catch up with my old colleagues. They even helped me out with one of the sessions I presented at - one co-presented with me and another provided us with fun materials like magnets and pattern blocks to play with. All the folks from the exhibits department were very excited to hear that we will be opening a climber designed by the Luckeys. The museum field is very supportive.

Museum adventures!
Megan: Carly and I visited both the Science Museum of Minnesota and Minnesota Children’s Museum. I loved the children’s museum from the moment we walked through the door – open space with lots of light and I appreciated the beauty of their environments and their attention to detail. We especially liked an art studio room with tabletop areas for exploring materials of different textures.

Carly: Crawling through the multi-level system of ant tunnels was a total transformation of environment - I felt like an ant! It was fun to experience a startle when I turned a corner on my hands and knees face-to-face with a giant ant protecting her larvae babies behind her.

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