Friday, January 21, 2011

Junk Music!

Last weekend, RISD junior Max Frieder brought an incredible infusion of creative experiences to the Museum’s Paint Play program. Visitors made some joyful noise as they grabbed drumsticks and explored the sounds of Max’s colorful “Foundstrument Soundstrument,” an interactive percussive sculpture created from a motley mixture of found materials and reclaimed junk.

A project developed over a series of four RISD courses, Max describes the Foundstrument as a wonderful interactive teaching tool that “makes sounds of all kinds, from bops of plastic pipes, to chimes of casted glass, to the bing of reverbarating metal. The different scales have different tones, and there are objects on it of all different kinds of mediums.”

As children explored the beat, Max also led them in a collaborative mural-making activity, while Museum play guides facilitated a printing activity with a vibrant array of paints. Check it out:

Museum staff and AmeriCorps members shared some of their observations and impressions of the program’s magical sights and playful sounds:

To the soundtrack of banging, binging and tapping filling the air, a mom and her son's faces both lit up with smiles – he engaged in painting the background of the mural with an array of colors and moving with his whole body across the floor, she engaged in watching him. I loved what she said to me: “I feel so stimulated right now!”

A group of older boys were painting, playing music, and hanging out with Max, learning more about the making of the Foundstrument. Max told that them that, as an art student, THIS was his homework. Four pairs of eyes widened and the boys said in unison, “Awesome!”

On Sunday, Max invited a friend of his who works with ¡CityArts! – a musician and experiences percussionist – to play on the Foundstrument with visitors. It brought a new dimension to the music to have her sustain an inspiring bold beat while kids and grown-ups began adding their own rhythms, fleshing out the sound and morphing it. It was like a junk drum circle, but you weren't limited to one “drum,” you could change the instrument as you went along. And two of Max's Big Nazo friends came as their creature alter-egos!

–Carly, Program Developer
Kids were shocked when they were handed a stick and told to go at it and then Mom or Dad joined in, too! “This one makes a cool sound,” said a 10-year-old girl as we banged and made rhythms on a tin kettle, wooden cylinders, and old plastic toys that were drilled into a wheel barrel. Experimenting with different sounds and trying to join in the beat with the artists was my favorite part. I felt that I was making something with children that was purely original that would never be repeated or heard again.
–Kerrie, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

The thing that really stuck with me was the kids’ faces when they saw the Foundstrument – it was a look of wonderment and shock. Some kids weren't sure if they could really hit everything with the drumsticks and others just jumped right in and encouraged the shy kids. It was great! The painting activity went along with it really well because it was two very creative, unstructured experiences in the same place.
–Lyndsey, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

Two children made the biggest impression on me. One young artist, about 7 years old, was playing in front of the funhouse mirrors – she and her mom with their hands full of her beautiful paintings. It was clear how hard she had worked as she told me the paintings’ descriptive names and about her inspiration. And 6-year-old Ethan explored the Foundstrument so seriously, testing all of the parts and sounds, moving to the beat, and breaking out into infectious laughter as he discovered some of its funny details – like a set of plastic teacups and a pair of roller skates. Next, Ethan moved to the painting activities, focusing intently as his bold patterns emerged. It was truly inspiring to see children – and Max! – so engaged in various forms of creative expression, and that the Museum was the setting for this multisensory adventure.
–Megan, Communications Director

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Celebrating MLK

Each year, the Museum presents a day of special programming to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Storytellers and actors Rochel Coleman and Valerie Tutson bring history to life through songs and stories in compelling performances of “M.L.K.: Amazing Grace” as they portray well-known Civil Rights activists and ordinary Americans who changed the world.
Families also explore an exhibit of photographs, words and books describing Dr. King's life and work and can choose to participate in an interactive anti-discrimination activity, during which they wear a red or green tag and encounter “red only” and “green only” labels throughout the Museum – on lunchroom tables, bathroom doors, water fountains and more. The activity and performance inspire reflection and thought-provoking conversations.

Monday day’s program was full of powerful moments and provocative comments, shared by Museum staff and AmeriCorps members:

  • I overheard a mom say to her daughter – wearing green, approaching a red fountain – “Don’t you use that, it’s red!” Girl: “But where’s a green one?” Mom: “I don’t know, maybe there isn’t one, how would that feel?” She stuck her tongue out and gave an exasperated look, “Blaahh!” I told her there is one somewhere in the Museum. She said, “It’s confusing being green.”
  • Three children who came to the Museum together all chose red signs. When asked why they chose that color one of the children said, “So we can be together.” Another child remarked, “Also we wanted to be able to drink from the water fountain upstairs and it has a RED ONLY sign.”
  • “I’m lucky enough that my friend is also green.”
  • How does discrimination feel? “Not so fun. Not fair because if people have family members that have a different color, they can’t sit together. Not fair because I can’t sit next to my little brother.”
  • A grandmother and her two grandkids. Boy, age 7: “In CCD my teacher told me the blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and the whites in the front.” Girl, age 10: “I think that he was right to stand up for all of the blacks and he was brave.” Grandmother: “She wants to do a dance performance of cultures with her dance teacher to fight racial discrimination.”
  • Conversation with a mother: She said her son is a minority in his school even though he is white and she thought it was important to teach kids acceptance at an early age. She thought it was great the Museum does this type of activity.
  • Another mom commented that it’s a spectacular event – she and her child plan ahead and have come for the last three years.
  • A boy, age 6: “MLK helped people with black skin and with white skin go to school together. I’m glad this happened.”
  • A girl, age 6, and I were looking at and talking about a book about MLK. She put her hand next to mine, looked at me and said, “Are we white? ‘Cause I really think I’m more…tan.” I replied, “Skin’s not really white or black – and what does it matter anyway?”
  • A mom shared that her 6-year-old daughter “has been feeling really sad since she learned about MLK in school. She keeps asking why someone would kill someone who only wanted to do good in the world. The performance today at the Children's Museum put it all in context. So exciting to see her mind absorbing the world...”
And some wonderful responses left on our Talk Back board, to the question, “What will you do to fight racial discrimination?”:

And what will YOU do?
Thanks to Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and Herman H. Rose for their support of this event.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Mistakes ­are the Portals of Discovery"

This article by Director of Education Cathy Saunders and was originally posted on Kidoinfo.

When I started working at the Children’s Museum five years ago, I quickly realized that no matter how neat my hair was or how smart my outfit, it all became irrelevant when I walked past the Museum’s “fun-house” mirrors. It was pretty hard to take myself too seriously when I saw short rounded legs and an elongated neck reflected back to me.

Adults and children can get caught up in doing things right, fitting in, being super student or super parent. There are pressures to get the homework done, have the right toys, and be as good at everything as your peers. It’s easy to forget the fun-house-mirror view of the world – that the irregularities and mistakes can be joyful opportunities.

Think about our evolution from birth into adulthood for a moment. An infant doesn’t know what a mistake is. There are no “shoulds” in his world; everything is an open-ended exploration. A toddler will topple over, and unfazed, get right back up and continue on to her destination. By nature, preschoolers interpret the world creatively. A pencil is so much more than something to scribble with; to them it is a drumstick, a magic wand, a stick to dig in the dirt with, or perhaps a wriggling snake.

Too often though, as we get older, we lose this aptitude for divergent thinking. We start seeing a stick as a stick, not as an invitation into imaginative inquiry. But this kind of creativity is at the heart of the skills that experts agree are needed for the 21st century and there is much concern that we are raising a generation of children who are not adequately prepared to meet the complex challenges the future holds. (This has been a hot topic of discussion recently, and for those of you who want to check some of it out, I suggest Daniel Pink’s 2005’s bestseller “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future“; YouTube videos of creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson’s lectures about divergent thinking and the education system; and Newsweek’s recent article “The Creativity Crisis”).

I think our discomfort with mistakes is one of the key elements to this crisis of creative thinking. We have been so trained to look for the right answer that we’re afraid to see any other choices. I see it in children who tell me what they think I, the instructor, want to hear rather than interpreting their own discoveries. I find it in myself, too, as I fret over buying a birthday present or planning a workshop schedule (or writing a blog post!).

In the heat of trying to be superhuman, I can forget the wise words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I was able to embrace this attitude of welcoming mistakes with new relish recently when I discovered “Beautiful Oops!“ In this clever and artistic pop-up book, Barney Saltzberg encourages us to see a stain or a rip as starting point for creativity and inspires the imaginations of both children and adults.

So I ask of us parents, educators and citizens of the world: Can we teach our children – and ourselves – to find the meaning in our mishaps? To laugh and say, “What are we going to try next?” when things don’t go according to plan? I certainly hope so because it is much more fun than feeling defeated!

James Joyce is credited with the quote used for the title.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy 2011!

This weekend, we invited Museum visitors to share their wishes for the coming year and add them to our New Year's tree. Here's what some of them – both kids and grown-ups – had to say:

Best wishes for a 2011 full of FUN and packed with PLAY!