Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dome Play!

I recently asked staff to share their observations of kids’ imaginative play in the dome in our Play Power exhibit. The dome is a wonderfully open-ended space for pretend play stocked with plenty of “loose parts” in the form of interlocking geometric blocks and foam noodles.
We’ve seen the dome become a giant mousetrap, a spider web, a beehive, a house under construction, a rocket ship AND…

Lindsay, Experience Coordinator:
  • A machine that can make you travel through time (but when you land in a certain time period, you have to stick the noodles out first to make sure it's safe to go out).
  • A secret fort where kids were figuring out how to arrange the noodles across the openings so that grown-ups couldn't get in!
  • A kind of fast food restaurant where you use the shapes at the bottom to send a message about what kind of food you want, and then the person at the top drops down the food you ordered.
  • A place to just hang out and watch what other kids are doing in the rest of Play Power.
Jamie, AmeriCorps Member:
I've seen kids pretend they were underwater and I was the octopus with the tentacles (noodles) trying to get them.

Merideth, Outreach Program Developer:
  • I was various sea creatures – a fish, crab, mermaid – on the main floor while two boys used the noodles in the loft area to fish for me. The game ended when I put a hexagon piece on the end of the noodle and he pulled it up and said, “Oh no, a tire!”
  • Using the hexagon pieces we built a jail under the loft.
  • One child was using the noodle in a particular way, holding it to her face and dipping the end in a hex piece on the wall, and when I asked her what she was playing, she said she was a hummingbird.
  • I’ve also seen kids create a tunnel with the noodles in free-standing hexagons and crawl under.
  • Kids and I have played limbo with the noodles!
Jennifer, Director of Development:
Someone told me that a child who had all long connectors hanging from the ceiling said, "No, it's not a cave with stalactites, it's a spaghetti factory!

Annie, AmeriCorps Member:
I play Infiltration: I try to push the noodles into the dome faster than the kids can slide them out. I think of the noodles as the space worms from Star Wars. I have no idea what the kids think, but they certainly laugh a lot.

Janice, Executive Director:
My grandkids were bees building a hive in the lower part of the dome. Kids playing in the loft were their upstairs neighbor birds poking the noodle-tubes through the slats. I called into one end of a tube to the kids in the loft and put my ear to it so they could talk to me. Then we lowered a tube so the downstairs bees and upstairs birds could talk to each other through it.

One of our Play Guides:
I was playing with a 6-year-old boy and he asked me to keep giving him the noodles. When he had collected all of them and many of the grey blocks in the top lookout, I asked him why he needed all of them. He responded, “Well, I’m a meatball and I need to be with pasta!” So we started playing cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

It just goes to show that we’re always watching and learning from our visitors about the many different ways to play – and that we get to do some playing, too!

What have YOU seen the dome become in kids' play?

Friday, February 19, 2010


The marionettes are not our only vibrant new display - we recently welcomed “Colors!” to the ramp boxes in our atrium walkway.

“Colors!” first debuted in 2006, conceived and developed by former Museum AmeriCorps member Rhiannon Lee. Her vision was to fill each box with an eclectic grouping of different items, all of the same color. The concept was reintroduced with all-new displays created by current AmeriCorps members Erin Murphy and Katie Migliaccio, who work offsite running Museum programs at the Kent County YMCA as well as facilitate play in our exhibits and programs.
Here’s what Erin and Katie had to say about their process and the end result:

Katie: “We selected different items from the Museum’s basement. That was the most fun. We found bubble wrap, beads, animals, tin foil, etc. We spent many hours down there!”

Erin: “We tried to gather items of all different sizes, shapes, and textures. Arranging the items was the best part! Our goal was to make each design look like the pages of an "I Spy" book. We wanted children to be able to stare at each scene and find all of its hidden details.”
Be sure to take a peek at “Colors!” next time you visit.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Arabian Nights

We’re very excited to have a brand new display in our marionette case, thanks to talented and resourceful artist Megan Jeffery of Seekonk - a RISD graduate with a BFA in Illustration. Megan explored the Museum’s collection of over 70 antique marionettes handcrafted by the late Betty Huestis and six of the marionettes prompted a new take on an old legend.

In Megan’s words:

Trying to come up with a new story for one thousand and one nights is a tall order! So who’s to say that Scheherazade didn’t tell these compelling tales?
  • The Air-Surfing Sheik & His Magic Carpet Surfboard
  • The Camel Who Enjoyed Wearing a Fez
  • The Belly Dancing Elephant
  • The Most “Charm”-ing of Monkeys (or How Snake Got the Last Word)”
Betty Huestis’s attention to detail in her marionettes’ fabrics and trims inspired Megan’s own embellishments to flesh out the tale, including “carpets” from an old fabric sample book and sequins from recycled dance costumes.

Visit Megan’s blog for a series of posts that provide a detailed, fascinating and funny behind-the-scenes look at her process, complete with plenty of photos:

A big thanks to Megan for creating such a magical display, and for documenting and sharing the process with us. Click here to check out the previous marionette exhibit and to learn more about Betty Huestis and her work.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Play Spaces

AmeriCorps Museum Educator Annie Blazejack contributed these observations of Play Spaces, a Museum program that encourages imaginative exploration of a variety of open-ended materials - boxes, rope, hoops, tubes, dowels, sheets and more.

One boy built a boat with his father. They used stools and pipes. He crossed the room to find me because he wanted to show me what they'd built. There was a great unveiling: he had used a half dozen sheets and as many carpet squares to cover the whole thing so that we could more or less unwrap his creation.
Three girls built an “apartment” from pvc pipes and sheets. They hung original artwork on its walls and installed an “elevator” constructed with foam hexagons and black ropes. Then they made a huge dining room table, and set it with spaghetti (different colored string and long paper scraps) and a huge layer cake (foam hexagon pieces) with candles and a cupcake on top. They sang happy birthday to the birthday girl (it wasn't really her birthday) and then gave her a present: a paper box full of confetti that rained all over the place very festively when she opened it.
A girl and her mother built a robot with black hair. Then they built a cupcake, and the robot held a sign to offer the cupcake to whoever wanted it.

Many people built forts. One boy built a prison for his dad. One girl built a garden.
A boy built a sculpture using just about every sort of material we provided: in the sculpture's center was a green foam pillar. It was surrounded with symmetrical stools and carpet squares, foam 'swordfish,' and noodles. Then all these were enclosed within two heavy half tubes and wrapped in sheets. His sculpture looked like a lot of kids' forts from the outside, but we both knew the interior was symmetrically packed. I think it could be shown in a gallery.

Click here to see what happened at a previous Play Spaces program.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talking Back - Snow Play!

In honor of the coming snow, I wanted to share that, earlier this week, Huffington Post included "Washington's "Snowmageddon" Prompts Play in Unlikely Places," an article that talks about how playing in the snow (especially lots of snow) creates community connections, challenges kids physically, and can inspire all of us to play and explore our world in new ways. A great reminder for those of us who dread the snow and cold!

This winter in our Play Power exhibit, we've asked families how they like to play in the snow. Not surprisingly, we've gotten many similar responses. But we've also gotten a lot of wonderful illustrations - from kids and adults of ALL ages. Here's a selection of some of our favorites:
A collage of snowman drawings by kids and adults (click to see a bigger version)

Please leave a comment to share how you and your family like to play in the snow.

*Happy snow day!*

Friday, February 5, 2010

PlayWatch: The Things Kids Say...

Some wonderful kid comments overheard and shared by staff:

I was in Shape Space, building a house to set up the area, when a little girl came over to play. Instead of building something of her own, she’d say, “I have an idea!” and give me something to add to mine. By the end of it, we had a house with a chimney with smoke, bushes in the front, a tree in the back, a pool, a water slide, a slide, balls, an obstacle course, beds, people, a TV, a stage, and a rainbow. She was so excited about all of her ideas, saying, “Wow, I’m having a lot of good ideas today!”
Chelsea, Play Guide
While walking through the lobby and stopped at the admissions desk, I heard a child say very loudly, “Marcus’s body parts are gross!” and a bunch of kids started laughing. I did a double take and headed over to peek around the corner and see what was going on. About 6 boys were in front of the mirrors making a pyramid 3-2-1 style and seeing how they looked at the different levels of height and distortion. Wow!
Denise, Development Associate

A 4-year-old girl walked in the front door in front of her parents. Her jaw dropped, her eyes got wide: “Wow…this place is BEAUTIFUL!”

Hannah, Experience Coordinator
A 3-year-old boy walked into Iway from the ramp and walked slowly forward, inspecting the cars, bridge, boat and pictures. He looked back at his parents, who were just catching up and said: “It’s everything I need. I guess I’ll see you later.”
Laura, Experience Coordinator

A boy (about 9) came over to the Talk Shape activity in Shape Space and said, “Hey, these are pattern blocks – I know these!” He then built a little structure and showed it to me. “Look,” he said, “I made that from my imagination!” He turned to his grandma and said, “The key is that you have to use your imagination!”

Carole Ann, Experience Coordinator

An older kid (maybe 10) was working on a long fountain project in Water Ways, trying to get the large pipe pieces to feed into the volcano tube. After he finished, he proclaimed,” I am a scientist of good art, and this is a work of art.”

Paul, Play Guide

Do you have any favorite quotable kid moments? Please share!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Where Do the Children Play? - Newport

In January, a crowd of nearly 60 parents, teachers, childcare workers and environmental educators joined us at St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport for our sixth community screening of "Where Do the Children Play?" – we’ve been doing this for a year now! We had yet another lively, fascinating discussion – one of the best yet.

The panelists responded to the film first:

Susan Cooper, Director of the Newport Recreation Department, said it was her third time seeing film. “Bottom line: play is valuable. And we have to set the example, to play too.” She talked about the Healthy Newport 2010 initiative, to encourage the community to play more and support healthy bodies, minds, imaginations.

Dr. Keivan Ettefagh, pediatrician with Aquidneck Medical Associates, evoked the image of kids climbing trees – “How many parents want padding and a helmet? We’re so safety conscious… Let kids solve their own problems. If adults solve them, they’ll never learn to do it themselves.” He spoke about the fear factor: “Who will be watching our kids play?” We have to let go, trust that they’ll be ok – and teach them safety.

David Forrest (Physical Education teacher, St. Michael's) started with a math problem: School is 8 hours, kids average 4.5 hours screen time, 9 hours of sleep, 1.5 hours dining/commuting = 23 hours (during the school year). “It doesn’t leave much time for play – kids are overstructured.” He described a fixed up park across from his house, but there aren’t kids unless there’s a coach or umpire – “they’re not on their own, and that’s where true skills come in.” Kids don’t play for the sake of playing, they have a purpose.

Mimi Carrellas (Physical Education/Science teacher at St. Michael's) spoke about getting back to basics – teaching kids to jump rope, hula hoop – and helping kids have fun with phys ed because they’re in so many organized sports. “Play is where kids develop passion.” Kids need to learn that “it’s ok to make mistakes – some are afraid to take risks. Free play helps with locomotor skills.” Museum director Janice O’Donnell commented that, “It’s funny that adults are teaching kids to play.”

Bernadette Griffin (Pre-Kindergarten teacher, St. Michael's) has seen a shift in ways kids play, to using books as laptops and pretending they’re video game characters. “Parents have to make a conscious effort to give kids unstructured time.”

Some highlights from the audience conversation:
  • A parent said it’s a problem in Newport that you don’t see kids in neighborhoods, they’re not outside
  • Dr. Ettefagh: The problem of our neighborhoods – they’re pods that don’t connect, with only one entrance
  • Mimi: “Do our kids have the memories we had as children, of play and fun?” Janice: “With no grown-ups. Those were my best memories.”
  • A father spoke about fear and the example set by parents: “We do not go out and meet our neighbors.”
  • A parent who moved to Newport from outside Cambridge because everything was too structured there said that Newport feels freer, easier. Her family changed their entire lives to come there but “you have to find the community you feel comfortable in.”
  • A speech pathologist and parent of young children noted that, “all toys talk, make noise or are from TV shows or movies. Kids have very specific ways to play with those toys and don’t use their imaginations.” (And we LOVE that she mentioned she’d read David Elkind’s The Power of Play while visiting the Museum, in our Play Power exhibit!)
  • The panelists on toys: “The ones kids like are blocks, legos, dress up – those last forever.” “Let kids use toys in unconventional ways – it’s better and requires using their imaginations.”
  • A staff person from a childcare center questioned whether the school system is part of the problem. Parents ask, “Why is my preschooler playing all day? When’s he going to learn something, get ready for kindergarten?”
  • And a parent responded that her kindergarten son complains about no time for recess.
We ended with an excited crowd with so much left to say. And the conversation about the importance of kids’ unstructured play continues on the Museum’s PlayWatch listserv, and during two upcoming film screenings/discussions:

Tuesday, March 16 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Temple Beth-El
70 Orchard Avenue
Providence, RI 02906
(click here to download a flyer)

Tuesday, March 30 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM
University of Rhode Island
Flagg Road Kingston, RI 02881

Spread the word and stay tuned for more details.


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Dragon Surprise

One of the things we hope to do more on our blog is to share the many wonderful kid creations that happen all the time in our exhibits and programs. What better way to start than with the fantastic card and dragon pictures – made especially for the Museum by 5 year old Josephine – that were dropped off at our admissions desk on Sunday.
Thank you, Josephine - you're very talented and we LOVE them!