Friday, September 10, 2010

Raising Museum (Grand)Kids

This post was contributed by Museum Executive Director Janice O’Donnell.

I am so lucky. I’m the grandmother with a children’s museum. Beat that!

My grandkids – Liv, 13, and Finn, 8 – have grown up at the Museum. When they were infants, there was a crib in my office and a bouncy seat hanging in the doorway for their frequent visits. Liv likes to tell people she was the first baby in the Littlewoods baby nest. I remember her fifth birthday – her last day in Littlewoods (which is reserved for age 4 and younger). Since she was born at 4 in the afternoon, she was a legal Littlewoods denizen until that time. With an eye on the clock, she hurried to do all of her favorite things one last time – climbed up the ladder, slid down the slide, scurried through the cave, hopped over the stream, and hugged every single teddy bear before passing through the gate and entering the world of the big kids’ museum.

I love seeing the Museum through their eyes as they grow and their interests change. After Littlewoods, for years Liv loved pretending in the different environments in Coming to Rhode Island. At first the colonial house was some sort of prairie dwelling and the packet boat was a pirate ship. But after awhile she got interested in the people represented in the galleries and their real stories. She learned all about Elizabeth Mott and Antonio Coelho and drew connections with their stories and her own family history. Finn could always play for hours in Water Ways. When he was little he liked to just splash and watch the balls roll through the “toddler tank.” Now he builds intricate dams and fountains.

For the past few years, Shape Space has been a big favorite with both of them. They’re experts at the Shape Talk game and love to use the “secret language of shapes” to figure out what to call the crazy structures they create with the Jovos. And is anyone ever too old for unit blocks? They challenge themselves and each other to build block towers taller than they are.

Naturally, as “Museum kids” they are the testers as we develop new environments and activities and feel a proprietary interest whenever we roll out something new. Play Power was the first one that Finn was in on from inception so he’s helped us figure out what gets stuck in the air tubes and what flows gracefully through them.

They were so excited for The Climber and Underland to open in the garden this summer, checking out progress on the carved Underland furniture and sculpted animals for months and asking again and again exactly how high The Climber was going to be. They weren’t disappointed, I’m happy to say.

As school neared, Liv had some summer reading to finish up. She arrived at the Museum one morning at the end of August with a book and a plan. “I’m going to read in the top of The Climber.” From baby in the baby’s nest to teenager reading in The Climber’s highest platform, I love that the Museum has served those kids so well for so long.

Grandmother and grandchildren hard at play!

1 comment:

Carly Baumann said...

Thank you Liv and Finn! I remember when I first started working at the Museum meeting six-year-old Liv, proudly displaying her staff nametag. She still has a nametag, but now she is a wonderful teen play guide, sharing the great playful tricks she's discovered through her years growing up here.