Monday, August 13, 2012

A Warm Welcome

This post about the Museum’s inclusion initiative was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Abbey Jones.

At Providence Children's Museum, we strive to create an inclusive community for all visitors while sharing the power of play.  When developing the Play for All initiative in 2010, the Museum considered how to best ensure that each child and family member feels comfortable here. 

An inclusion initiative must be as multifaceted and diverse as the individuals it serves – encompassing visitors’ social, emotional or physical needs.  The best way to practice what we preach is by creating a culture of inclusion among Museum staff and volunteers.  Partnering with several organizations including the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and the Autism Project, staff and volunteers attended trainings about the experiences and needs of children with disabilities and their caregivers when visiting the Children's Museum, which prepared them to serve diverse visitors on a day-to-day basis and during special Welcome Events.

In cooperation with Children's Friend Early Intervention and The Rhode Island Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Museum hosted Welcome Events during regular hours, so that their families could play for free with an organization they already felt connected to, and connect with each other.  Specialists and parents knelt together practicing colors and shapes with their children.  Two boys, initially strangers, left the registration room holding hands with one leading the other through the Museum.  One mother was delighted to be at the Museum while there were other families playing in exhibits using American Sign Language.

These events also introduced many first-time visitors to the Museum.  A mother sat and watched as her two children shared scarves with another boy in Play Power.  “This is my first time coming.  They're having so much fun,” she said.  “I love it!”  She shared with an Early Intervention specialist how easy it was for her to access the Museum by public transportation.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by families of children on the autism spectrum when visiting during regular hours, the Museum partnered with the Autism Project to host an after-hours Welcome Event for their members.  Families were able to play and have fun without the pressures of a typical Museum visit.  Children formed sand and clay in Discovery Studio, engaging their senses and getting lost in a quiet moment.  Families also tested out visual aids of exhibits and countdown timers to help plan and navigate a trip to the Museum.

“He had so much fun trying all the different activities – and no one judged him or looked at him or anything,” said one parent.  “It was great for all of us!”

Inclusion trainings and Welcome Events in 2012 were made possible with generous support from CVS Caremark and Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities.

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