Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vacation Anticipation!

School vacation week is fast approaching, so we asked our staff, “Why should families be excited about vacation week? What are YOU most looking forward to?” Here’s the scoop:

"Puppets! If there's anything I've learned from our visitor surveys, it's that people LOVE puppets - and there's a plethora of puppet fun over vacation week, with Toe Jam Puppet Band and two days of different performances by Sparky's Puppets. I'm also really excited that the Museum is once again a venue for Bright Night, that we're able to support Providence's vibrant, important arts and family-focused New Year’s Eve celebration!"
Megan, Marketing & Public Relations Manager

"Starting off the week with snow-stormin', toe-tappin' Toe Jam Puppet Band will provide the usual giggle-gush. And yes, I am also looking forward to Sparky’s Puppets, but we have two new groups to enjoy: Rick Morin with his Rhythm Room percussive workshops for one. I envision a rocking room with kids banging on all sorts of percussive instruments AND of course I am looking forward to seeing our own Kate Jones in Rock-a-Baby! They should bring in the new year in the sweetest, most peaceful way."
Mary, Early Childhood Program Developer
"I am looking forward to all of the awesome performers that will be sharing their talent with us over vacation week! They are always amazingly entertaining!

And while I am zooming through the Museum, I look forward to catching all those little pieces of conversation between families – "Check this out!" "Come see what I made!" "This is soooo cool!" – that remind me everyday why I love my job!"

Liz, Experience Coordinator

"I am looking forward to sharing the fun by bringing family and friends to play and enjoy what I get to see everyday."
Shannon, Families Together Visitation Specialist
"I'm looking forward to helping out when it gets really busy… to putting on an apron and PLAYING in Water Ways and Littlewoods for an hour here and there - and reminding myself how fun this place really is and how sweet little kids are."
Denise, Development Associate

"Like Denise, I'm looking forward to the joyful noise and busy fun of the Museum full of happy families and to having a good excuse for getting out of my office and playing with them! And also to old friends knocking on my office window as, home for the holidays, they've brought their children and grandchildren to play at the Museum."
Janice, Executive Director
Learn more about vacation week here. What are YOU excited about?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Interview with Jessica Holden Sherwood

Meet Jessica Holden Sherwood – a Museum member since 2004 who joined the Board of Directors in 2007 and became Board president in 2009.
How and why did you get involved with the Museum?
My children, now ages 6 and 8, went to the Museum for about a year before I ever did. My husband always returned raving about what a great place it was. I eventually learned it myself and checked the “interested in volunteering” box. I am a member of the Museum because it’s a great place to bring my children: an active, engrossing, commercial-free, educational great place. I am a supporter of the Museum because of its social services and its commitment to all children.

How has the Museum changed since you first became a member?
The obvious answer is the three new exhibits. Less obvious: small changes virtually every time we visit – under the admission desk, the window boxes of the ramp, toys on the floor with the blocks. Also, the environments are so rich, it can seem changed with each visit even if it isn't – you notice or focus someplace you never had before. Even less obvious: have successfully completed a $1.5 million capital campaign and we're deep in the black!

You’ve been part of the Museum’s long-range planning. What do you hope for its future?
That the Museum continues to serve families who can't afford to come, expands service to kids in Head Start and after-school programs and changes exhibits. That everyone in Rhode Island respects the Museum as a resource and advocate for children's well being.

How do you spend your time when you’re not busy with your Board duties?
Work as a sociologist, for URI and for Sociologists for Women in Society, an international association of a thousand feminist sociologists.

As a sociologist, what’s your perspective on the Museum’s work?

I am sensitive to the many ways in which inequalities get reproduced – or sometimes interrupted. I'm really pleased that the Museum is an "interrupter" rather than a "reproducer." On class, the Museum is available to poor and near-poor families, not just those who can afford the admission fee. On race: 1) the Museum teaches about our history of immigration, and 2) it's one of the few places that kids from all different backgrounds and neighborhoods mix it up together. On gender, the Museum is a welcome respite from the sexism that infuses way too much of children's recreation and even their education.

What about the work around play?
I think that American parents are typically anxious these days, about their children's futures. Let's not dismiss this as a sort of group neurosis. It makes perfect sense, given the socioeconomic insecurity that Americans confront. With fewer social supports than most other developed countries, in America much more (e.g. health care dependent on current job) is riding on individual achievement. The stakes are high.

So, parents feel they are serving their kids' best interest by scheduling almost all of their time. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, this can be to keep kids safe from threats. In affluent neighborhoods, this can be Рconsciously or unconsciously Рthe start of a lifetime of resum̩-building, to get into a good college, in order to have a successful adulthood.

The message of the American Academy of Pediatrics and of the Museum is that unscheduled time serves the kids' interest, too. The Museum is helping play to get the respect it deserves! This message is healthy for both children and adults.

What is your kids’ favorite exhibit and why?
I don't think my kids have a favorite exhibit, although when they were younger it was Water Ways. Like I said, we find ourselves focusing on different places on different visits. This works best, of course, when I follow rather than try to lead – I stop myself from directing them. One day Abigail spent almost an hour sitting at the table of interlocking plastic shapes, working diligently until she had made a … dodecahedron, I think.

What’s yours?
I don't have a favorite exhibit, I have a favorite element: grown-up seating in each exhibit. Sometimes – especially in the most exhausted years of early parenthood – I just want to sit there and do nothing, comfortable knowing that the children don't need vigilant supervision while they're in the Museum.

I like how the Museum welcomes grown-up involvement in kids' play but doesn't require it. I was at a children's museum once where a sign instructed parents to put away their cell phones and play with their children. I understand the motivation for that message, but at the same time, I appreciate that Providence Children's Museum is also a guilt-free zone.
Thanks, Jessica! What do YOU think about Jessica's sociological perspective? About growing parental anxiety and overscheduling?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Give the Gift of Play

The Gift of Play!
During this season of giving, please help Providence Children's Museum give the gift of inspiring, joy-filled play and learning to children and families who need it most.

Why do we need YOUR help? Did you know that each year ...
  • 40 percent of the Museum's operating budget goes toward serving children and families in need.
  • 36 percent of visitors come free, including 1,250 Head Start children and caregivers offered free year-long admission passes.
  • 500 kids from inner-city community centers participate in engaging out-of-school time activities, facilitated by the Museum's AmeriCorps members.
  • 170 court-separated families come together for therapeutic visits with the Museum's team of family therapists.
Your donation of any amount helps us continue to provide these important services to children and families who truly need them.

And if you're not able to make a financial contribution, we're also collecting toys for the children served by Families Together
the Museum's visitation program for court-separated families. Look for the collection box in our Gift Shop.

In whatever way you can, please play a part!

Thank you for your support, and we wish you a joyful, playFULL holiday season!

To learn more about Providence Children's Museum
and our work serving children and families in need,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Talking Back - Play Spaces

Our most recent question on the Talk Back board in Play Power has encouraged a flurry of responses – and we're excited to see that includes many kids (and grown-ups!) commenting on their favorite Museum play spaces.

Here's a sampling of what they have to say:

Where is/was YOUR favorite place to play – at the Museum or otherwise?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Drawing Conclusions

This post is by Megan Fischer, Marketing & Public Relations Manager.

Lately I’ve seen a barrage of commercials for the new Wii drawing tablet and am astounded. The concept: kids use a stylus to “draw” on a tablet connected to their television and the images they create appear on the screen. It comes with a game of Pictionary the family can play together.

Really?!? Why?

What about drawing with REAL paper and pencils, crayons or markers?

What happened to families sitting around a table playing board games together?

What about the fact that our kids are already oversaturated with screen time? (According to the Alliance for Childhood, children in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 18 now spend over 7 hours per day in front of screens with very little time spent outdoors.)

I’ve written before about the importance of kids having authentic experiences with real things, and that certainly applies here. It’s not just about the motor skills and hand-eye coordination children develop when they move pen over paper, learning how to hold and manipulate tools. And it’s not just about the acquisition of artistic skills.
I believe there’s also something incredibly important about the physical process of creation and of having authentic creative experiences. Approaching a blank page with nothing to structure the experience besides one’s imagination. The feeling of markers on paper, paint on fingers. The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils. The sense of accomplishment in seeing something you’ve created, that flowed from your hands to your canvas. Doodling, dipping into paint, digging into clay, building with blocks, maybe even making messes…all in the act of creating.
For all of us, drawing and other forms of creative expression can provide a way to perceive and think about the world around us and communicate our ideas – especially important for kids. Plus the process of creation requires active engagement and can inspire imagination as well as concentration and persistence.

I know there are arguments about the need for children to acquire skills applicable to new technologies, about technical or digital literacy. But as I see it, many kids today are practically saturated with electronics and have plenty of opportunities to develop these proficiencies. The digital divide is no longer an issue. Instead, helping kids manage the onslaught of technology and digital media is a growing concern.
I’m reminded of a recent screening of "Library of the Early Mind," a wonderful documentary in which 40 renowned children’s book authors and illustrators reflect on their childhood memories and inspiration. Many of them speak about creating their own worlds as children and about the powerful impact of their early creative experiences on their work and process. It’s interesting to think about what might have been if they weren’t allowed opportunities to create, explore and discover as children. (Also consider what the children’s literature landscape would look like if given over to the electronic book. Imagine story time with a screen, not giving a child the physical experience of turning the pages, of engaging with the story and the artwork.)
Our world is changing rapidly. Being immersed in digital communications for the Museum, I’m faced with that everyday. I’m not arguing that we should turn our backs on technology – there’s a time and place for it, and it’s certainly not going away. And there are many great examples of ways kids and families are using technology in creative, even physical ways – to go geocaching or design their own games.

But we need to think carefully about what we’re at risk of losing and stand up for what’s important. To make sure our children have opportunities for active, authentic creative experiences and not give everything meaningful over to screens and electronics.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing and, if so, please comment. But I’d really like to hear YOUR thoughts about navigating the incredible changes we’re faced with and what we – and our kids – might be losing in the process.
This article was subsequently posted on and there were A LOT of interesting comments. Check out the conversation here.