Monday, February 28, 2011

Scenes from Vacation Week

Last week was an extra-eventful school vacation week! Museum staff and volunteers shared some great moments seen and heard as families played, explored and discovered together:

As I was walking to the Admissions Desk, I spied a fabulous threesome walking through the parking lot. One princess, one superhero and one adult starlet entered the Museum for a day of decked-out fun. Turns out the princess and her entourage were visiting for her birthday. It was so wonderful to see ALL of the family celebrating in a fun and special way!
–Liz Leahey, Experience Coordinator
A woman told me how much she loved one of the engineering programs, and that it was a wonderful way to introduce her young daughters to opportunities in science. She really appreciated that the program captured their interest and that it gave them ideas for what they might do when they grew up.
–Bonnie Platzer, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

A girl wanted to play in Water Ways but all of the aprons were being used. She took her dad by the hand and led him to the coatroom. She came back wearing her raincoat! She said, “Wasn’t that a smart idea?” Yes it was!
–Cynthia Calabro, Experience Coordinator
In Iway, three boys and one girl were playing with the big purple and yellow blocks. I showed them how to build an arch bridge and then the young boy asked, “Can I show you how I build my bridge?” The older boy then pointed to the collage of bridge pictures from around the world and proclaimed, “Yeah, there are all kinds of different bridges!” A few other kids joined in too, showing me so proudly all of their innovative ways – each one completely different – to build a bridge!

–Cassandra Kane, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

I saw two boys wearing the construction vest and hardhats from Iway, so I asked them how the construction was going. It took them a moment to catch on but then they said it was going very well and that the bridge would be done in a few weeks. I told them that I was very relieved and let them know that there was some construction that needed to happen immediately on the ship because I was setting sail that evening. They quickly went "back to work" on the ship – especially after I told them that I would pay them $100/hour!
–Rachel Schwartz, AmeriCorps Museum Educator
While greeting visitors at the Admissions Desk, I watched a little girl and her grandma get ready to leave. I bent down and asked her, “Did you have fun?” She looked at me and said,“YES!,” then put her hand close to her mouth as if she was going to tell me a secret. She whispered, “Next time I’m bringing my grandpa, too. He’s going to have a blast!”
–Carolina Roberts, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Free Friday Reflections

This post was contributed by Lyndsey Ursillo, AmeriCorps Museum Educator. Lyndsey is part of a team of 13 dynamic and diverse individuals who have dedicated a year to working with underserved children and families. AmeriCorps members design and implement enriching activities for Head Start; create and conduct after-school Learning Clubs at local community centers; recruit and coordinate Museum volunteers; and receive training in museum education, learning theory and public service.

I worked during Free Friday last week and had a really great night that reaffirmed my belief in kids and play and the Museum in general. Over the winter, I was losing some of the enthusiasm I had when I first started at the Museum and found myself watching kids instead of really engaging with them.

At Free Friday, however, I was completely surprised at how new and exciting the Museum could become for me and the kids I was interacting with! The night started off with a local marching band coming through the Museum and playing for everyone, which reminded me that there is so much creative energy in this city that is not shared enough. It really pumped me up for the night and I think it did the same for the visitors. I led the program "Stack ‘Em Up” – building towers from paper cups – and I was amazed at how much fun it was to build a large tower and then knock it down with kids. It also brought to light a fact that I already knew but hadn't really acknowledged: kids love to play with simple every day items, they do not need fancy technological toys all the time. The program lasted two hours but the time flew and I was sad to see it end.
At the end of the night I helped a few parents coax their children out of the Museum by promising to show them Nori the dragon's tail outside, which I have never done before. And it worked! Kids actually wanted to go outside and see the tail. As I was racing a little girl down the ramp to go outside I thought to myself, "We forget as adults how wonderful it is to be a kid and I'm glad I can be around kids for my job!"

Click here to learn more about the Museum's AmeriCorps program. Click here for more information on the Museum's free MetLife Family Fridays, sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kids are Engineers!

This article by Program Developer Carly Baumann and was originally posted on Kidoinfo.

A favorite Children’s Museum activity, Puff Mobiles are made by constructing simple wheeled cars with paper sails, designed to catch the stream of air a child blows through a straw. I’ve seen kids innovate with many creative constructions over the years: wide sails, double sails, weighted bases.I observed Puff Mobiles in an after-school Learning Club and noticed a child who appeared to be disengaged. Instead of huffing and puffing on her vehicle, she rested it on the floor while her eyes wandered the room. Overturning a Styrofoam tray of paper, she fanned the tray in her face, blinking in the wind. Then she waved it rapidly at her sail, sending the vehicle steadily forward. Just as I began to tell her how excited I was and that I had never seen anyone try that technique before, she picked up a carpet square and flapped it at the Puff Mobile, launching it halfway across the room!

This 8-year-old girl was an engineer – applying imagination and analytical thinking to solve a problem, pulling herself so far out of the box she transcended the problem of the sail and changed the air itself! In our day-to-day lives, we overcome challenges by thinking like engineers all the time: assessing the situation, testing and re-testing solutions to make the best of the resources we have available to us. The more practice children (and all of us!) have stretching our problem-solving muscles, the more flexible and creative our thinking becomes.

2011 marks the 60th anniversary of National Engineers Week, February 20-26. Volunteers from the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers will lead engineering activities with Children’s Museum visitors this month. I asked several of the engineers what types of play they were drawn to as kids, and how the adults in their lives supported their interests. Not surprisingly, fort building and creating cities and bridges with blocks and other open-ended construction toys was echoed by each of the engineers. But I was also struck by the common theme of having time and space to figure things out on their own and bring their imaginations to their play.

  • Jen DiStefano benefited from a balance of sports, which helped her get comfortable with her position in a team dynamic, and child-driven, unplugged play – “finding ways to occupy our time… outside from early morning to sunset.”
  • According to Chad Morrison, “Any sort of toy that involved building and understanding how the parts go together really appealed to me.” (Chad is now designing stairs for the LEGO facility in Enfield, CT!)
  • “I would keep all my LEGOs in one huge bin and then just start building an idea and figure out what I needed to do to get there,” Doug Martin remembered.
  • “We constantly designed stadiums and houses,” said Matt Pitta. “My parents were supportive and positive, even when supplying constructive criticism on the designs.”

Kids are engineering whenever they dig a moat for their sandcastle or arrange a fort of sofa cushions – special supplies aren’t required. Ideas for engineering challenges using every day materials, like designing catapults or animation toys, are a fun and interactive way to shake up play routines at home. Some great resources the Museum uses are from the PBS shows “FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman,” “Design Squad Nation” for 9-12 year olds, and the now-cancelled “ZOOM”; also Things to Make and Do from the Exploratorium, an incredible San Francisco museum of science, art and perception.

Have fun scratching your heads and discovering “Eureka!” moments as engineers at home!

Join Providence Children’s Museum to celebrate National Engineers Week AND February school vacation! Be An Engineer and experiment with electrical conductivity and oobleck on February 19. Block Builders tackle construction challenges on February 23 & 25. And Young Engineers learn how civil engineers plan buildings and bridges on February 26. Visit the Museum’s website for details.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Carousel is BACK!

Longtime friends of the Museum will remember our colorful carousel, which has been out of commission for a while because, like all well-loved Children’s Museum components, sometimes they need a little extra care! Young children especially have always been drawn to the cheerful music as the carousel rotates to reveal some unexpected creatures. So we’re thrilled to have it back and in its new location, right in the lobby, where we know it will once again get a lot of attention.

In honor of the carousel’s reappearance, here’s a blast from the past: an article announcing the carousel’s arrival in the Museum’s January/February 2000 newsletter!

Local Group Carves Out New Exhibit
Gnomes, bears, birds and clowns abound as the Museum host
s a fascinating exhibit of wood carvings done by a local circle of friends who call themselves “The Splinter Group.” The nine men in the group meet every week in a Bristol basement to carve intricate and charming figures from wood. The best examples of these carvings have been brought together and are on display at the Museum.

One of the most whimsical creations in the exhibit is a colorful carousel that six members of the Splinter Group made and donated to the Museum [in summer 1999]. The working carousel is accurate down to the last detail: it has tiny horses that move up and down, a popcorn stand with real popcorn and a brightly striped cloth canopy on top. “Even the music that plays as the carousel rotates is a recording of the Looff Carousel in East Providence,” explained Dan Elkins, Splinter Group secretary and long-standing member...
Hand-carved animals and exotic animals prance around the
Museum’s model carousel, a gift of the Splinter Group.

Check out more of Dan Elkins’s carvings in the circus case in the stairwell. And look for more information about the many artists whose work is featured in the Museum in future posts. What artist or artwork do YOU most want to know about?
Related posts:
The Story of Estrella
Puppet Masters!
(About our marionette collection - look for a new display coming next month!)