Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garden Reflections

A follow up to our previous post - some reflections staff have shared following their time in the garden this summer.

Cool Climber
After having seen an indoor climbing structure at another children’s museum, I reflected on Janice’s assessment of The Climber as “kid space” and realized there’s something about the design of our Climber that makes it especially powerful. I think it’s partly that it’s REALLY theirs – grown-ups are welcome but don’t often venture in – and partly that you can see all of the kids at once. It’s concentrated vertical space instead of a structure that disperses kids in a way that takes them out of view, so you can see them moving and playing as individuals and as a whole. Kids bring this intriguing work of art to life – watch for just awhile and it’s clear that it really works!
Megan Fischer, Marketing & Public Relations Manager

The Garden as Park
If children’s museums are the new ‘town square’, then our Children’s Garden is the new ‘city park’! At least that’s the feel of things now that we have installed The Climber and Underland. Recently when a preschool group was visiting, a teacher with the group remarked, “There is something for every child in this garden...most of mine can be in The Climber but five of them can’t be, so they are over in the sand, digging and playing quietly, because that’s the way they like it.”

I looked around and realized she was right and that it felt to me a bit like a park. Adults on benches, just glad to sit and feel the breeze, knowing their children, scattered about, were completely engaged and safe. Children darting in and out of Underland’s entrances, stopping only for a second to share their plan of where-to-next. Some of them ended up at the toys, picking up a hula-hoop to whip around their tummies or their arms. Some ran to The Climber for an adventure up among the treetops. “Look, I can see the city,” one cried and others darted into the tunnels creating another scheme to ‘get away and not be found!’

So, I just stood there taking it all in. Caregivers and children eating lunch underneath the birches, birds flopping in the fountain to cool their wings; toddlers sifting sand at the sand flowers. It all had the feel of a busy park, that here in the middle of the city, we were providing just what a park does: a bit of nature and a gathering place for children and their families and friends...a safe and joyful place that says, ”Come in, scamper like a squirrel, slip down a hole, encounter a worm, or better yet, climb up, up, up to the top of the world!” Found here in our Children’s Garden, a play experience for children where they have the comfort and security of knowing that adults are nearby but feel entirely on their own, away in a tunnel or on the top of their city!
Mary Hackman, Early Childhood Program Developer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scenes from the Garden

Wow, what a summer – beautiful weather, two incredible new outdoor play spaces, and thousands of families to enjoy them! Before summer is officially over, we wanted to share some of the wonderful moments staff observed in our Children’s Garden over the past few months:

I saw a mom in The Climber with her daughter – both having a blast. The daughter coached her mom on ways to stretch her body to move over and under the platforms.
Jennifer Laurelli, Development Director

• Five kids of different ages were fully engaged in a hula-hooping contest while their grown-ups watched. They were really good! One of the girls, about 7 years old, twirled four hoops at once, around her neck, waist and arms.
• During a field trip, a wave of young Head Start children joyfully scurried over The Climber, excited by their discovery.
• A mom was seated on the stone wall, practicing her ukulele while her kids climbed. I loved that she was giving them time and space to play and explore on their own!
Megan Fischer, Marketing & Public Relations Manager

Sand Diver
A little girl – about 3 – perched on the edge of the sand pit wearing the paleontologist goggles. She bobbed up and down, flexing her knees. "Ready?" she said. I said "One. Two. Three. Go!" She held her nose and jumped headfirst into the sand pit. I applauded. "Again!" she said clamoring out. "One. Two. Three..." In she dove again.

This went on for a number of sand dives. At one point her face landed pretty deep in the sand and she emerged with sand covering her nose and mouth. She wiped it off and gamely jumped again, but was more careful to keep her head up a bit after that. Clearly she was mastering beginning swimming skills and transferred her new abilities to a different medium – sand!
Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director

Stay tuned for some staff reflections on what our garden and its incredible new environments have meant, for us and for our families.

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!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Celebrating a Year of Service

We recently bid adieu to our Museum-based team of AmeriCorps members as they completed their year of service. Since last August, these 13 energetic individuals engaged children in building fountains in Water Ways, greeted toddlers in Littlewoods, and were spotted sporting capes and serving “porridge” in Coming to Rhode Island. They planned and facilitated playful programs like “Boo Bash” and “Seussational!” Their handiwork showed up in artful displays like Forest Stories in the atrium walkway and the new 9 to 5 marionette exhibit.

But this only scratches the surface – AmeriCorps members were instrumental in ensuring that the Museum served children most in need with enriching, engaging and fun learning experiences for the thirteenth year. This year’s team brought lively, hands-on science and nature activities to over 1,200 preschool children in Providence-area Head Start centers and transformed Pawtucket school classrooms into hives of after-school investigation for more than 250 kids.

They welcomed a dozen inner-city community centers and over 300 of their children to Museum Learning Clubs to play, conduct experiments and explore in the exhibits.

And they kept the Museum continually staffed with well-trained, enthusiastic volunteers. In total, the AmeriCorps team served a remarkable 22,900 hours during the 2009-10 service year.

Museum staff, friends, family and community partners gathered for a moving ceremony to celebrate the year of transformative service performed by these incredible AmeriCorps members. Upon their graduation, our sincere thanks and admiration to Annie, Cat, Erin, Gina, Jenny, Jessica, Julianne, Kate, Kelly, Kerrie, Max, Turenne and Zack.

A collage commemorating the team's service year.