Saturday, April 21, 2012

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Today marks the end of National Volunteer Week, and Museum staff showed their appreciation with a special volunteer recognition board, ice cream social, and festive dress-up days, planned by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Ann Kerrin.

The Museum simply could not open its doors without the support of a committed team of incredible volunteers.

Did you know? 
  • In 2011, 247 dedicated volunteers served more than 12,000 hours. 
  • Museum volunteers include families, students, interns and community members. 
  • The Museum currently has 71 regular volunteers, who range in age from 2 to 70 years old!

“I volunteer here because I love working with kids. It’s fun to watch as they explore and learn new things, because all of them learn differently”
Max Ribbans, Play Guide

“Whether they are playing a game, reading a story, or talking with other staff and volunteers, their smiles and their love for the Museum are contagious. I appreciate the joy volunteers bring to visitors and staff.”
Julie Burkhard, Volunteer & AmeriCorps Coordinator

“The Museum couldn’t possibly do all it does without the willing hands and giving hearts of our volunteers.”
Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director

If you'd like to volunteer at the Museum, there are many ways to get involved! Click here to learn more about the Museum’s volunteer program.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Scenes from Imagination Playground

There’s one word to describe kids in Imagination Playground: BUSY! Well, there are plenty of words, but that’s a first impression – a beehive of activity. Children buzz around doing some serious stacking and positioning to create artful sculptures, forts, cities, tentacled creatures and more.

The blocks naturally inspire collaboration and it’s remarkable to see how easily and fluidly kids of all ages join one another's play, building, reshaping and starting over. Some favorites of the many wonderful moments I've observed:

Siblings, 12 years old and younger, spent an hour building an intricate sculpture with an array of blocks plus fabric, plastic hoops, jump ropes, wooden figures. They carefully placed each piece and continued to add on, welcoming other kids to the play, and their creation ultimately evolved into an elaborate "houseboat."

A young boy building with ramps and tracks – testing, readjusting, trying again. When he finally got everything lined up just right to direct rolling balls where he wanted them, the whole room broke out into applause!

Two older girls used many of the square and rectangular blocks to build a fort with their younger foster siblings. The smaller children gathered parts while their older sisters put them in place. Over time the fort developed into a house, complete with wall-to-wall carpet squares and furniture made of curved and spool-shaped blocks. Then they knocked it all down and used the pieces to create artful seesaws that continued to grow more elaborate, and the older kids gave the younger ones rides.

Credit: Jeff Wager, The Herald News
A girl, about 8 years old, lined up a long row of rectangular blocks – narrow side up – to create a balance beam. She followed its path quickly and confidently, adding more blocks to lengthen the track following each journey. After watching her for a few moments, younger children began to join in, carefully practicing their steps and keeping their balance.

Using many of the other loose parts – plastic tubes, cardboard cones, wooden figures – a boy of about 7 laid out a Boston cityscape, complete with skyscrapers, pedestrians and T stops! He took his engineering and architecture very seriously, careful to replicate his parents’ commute to the city as closely as possible.

Another young architect spent a long, focused period building what he described as an art museum, carefully and deliberately searching for just the right part. He said that he didn’t approach his design with a plan, but it was clear to the observer that he knew the piece he needed when he saw it, and that he had an eye for symmetry and aesthetics.

A gang of four kids – three boys and a girl, ages 9, 10 and 12 – worked on their own creations in close proximity, also with a thoughtful choice of pieces and much time spent. Each was different – one very tall with a mix of angles and curves, one very low – an “amusement park” built from tracks and twisting tubes – and one a pyramid-like stack of squares and rectangles that began to grow a tail of curving blocks. Together, the finished structures looked like the whimsical skyline of an imaginary land – a landscape of sculptures. And then the oldest boy became King Kong and knocked everything down!

– Megan Fischer, Director of Communications

PlayWatch: Engineering Imagination Playground

I noticed a younger boy – Charlie, 6 years old – in the beginning stages of an experiment involving an elevated track he had constructed to send balls down. Starting at a stack four blocks high, he first tried to simply get the ball to reach the end. As the ball periodically sped down the track in a straight line, without veering off, Charlie noticed that there were “no obstacles” preventing the ball from reaching its goal.

Not good enough for this young engineer, Charlie then added a jump, long cylindrical shapes, and block with a hole at the bottom for the ball to fall into. Charlie was determined and had several solutions to his own design. He explained to me that cars oftentimes go through tunnels “to avoid obstacles,” and proceeded to make a tunnel for his ball to pass through in a problem spot. Charlie also explained that if the end of the track had a backboard, like in basketball, the ball could bounce back into the hole with more frequency if it were to overshoot. “At least that is one possibility,” he noted.

What started as a simple experiment to harness gravity and momentum evolved into an exercise of engineering and problem solving, and the atmosphere of Imagination Playground invited Charlie to use his great knowledge of real world solutions to problems that mirrored his own construction problems in Imagination Playground here at the Museum.

– John Rossi, AmeriCorps Museum Educator

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imagination Playground Impressions

We invited a group of 12 kids, ages 4 to 11, for a sneak preview of Imagination Playground before the grand opening and Museum staff shared their first impressions.

Cathy Saunders, Director of Education: 
After the children were first introduced to the blocks, I was struck by the silence in the room. Silent except for the soft sounds of blocks sliding on the floor or thumping as they were stacked on top of each other. There was an intense focus as the children explored the new materials – turning them, stacking them, seeing which ones fit together and connected. After about 10 minutes, conversations and collaborations started happening.

Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director: 
It only took seconds for the kids to start piling the blocks, seeing what attached to what, forming new structures, engineering complex ramps for balls, negotiating for the shapes they needed to complete their vision. Some snippets of their conversations:

"Lets make stairs. Can I have those to make stairs?"
"Yeah! Stairs!" "We need one more block."
"It's a little wobbly"
"We need to support it."
"Try this one."
"This side is not stable. We don't want someone to step there."
"This works. Hey look - this works fine."

"The bad thing is it's foam so when you put weight on it, it goes down and the wheels come off."
"Can these hold the wheels on?"
"Maybe. Let's try it."

"We're going to do a test. Stand back. Let's test it."
"See what I mean? It interferes with the ball."
"Yeah, it's super slow now."
"Wait! I have an idea. Use this!"
"Oh yeah. That solves it. Whoa!"

Mary Scott Hackman, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator:
A very impressive builder (whose father is a city planner, his mother a mathematician) said he wanted to create a roller coaster and was very specific about the type of blocks he wanted more of, saying, "I need one like this but the curve needs to go in the absolute opposite direction."

On the first public day, the age span at one point was from 2 to 12. The 12 year old was a girl who was involved for nearly an hour. One mother said, "My boy is 9 and when he saw the blocks, his eyes lit up like I have not seen in a while."

Carly Baumann, Education Programs Coordinator: 
Introducing additional loose parts inspired new possibilities with the blocks. Some were used as tools – one boy discovered the ends of noodles fit perfectly snug inside cardboard tubes, which allowed him to extend the noodles in the design of an arch, and also attach either end of a noodle into a circle. Two other children invented their own carnival games – a plastic ring, rope and tubes became a ring toss, with the blocks used to bolster the tube.

Of course the children who were collaborating used language to make plans: "Let's try and make a track!" But I also noticed how much they worked in a flow that didn't need words. The roller coaster took on a life of its own and the children negotiated seamlessly in non-verbal ways that adults don't seem to access as easily with one another.

A child who built a sculpture on his own asked to borrow his mother's phone to document his creation. He took photos from many perspectives – at a distance, high, low, close-ups. What an interesting window into how he saw his own process.

When fabric was introduced, two girls began creating a space they could climb inside together. They began with fabric draped over blocks at four corners, and got inside, heads supporting the fabric: "It's hot in here, actually." They reshaped their tent in three more configurations, each time to create more space for themselves and with a more complex design. They used noodles as crossbars, first set up apart from one another and then strengthened them by intersecting the noodles much like real tent poles.

Staff at Play

Museum staff had a great time exploring Imagination Playground before it opened to the public!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Coming Soon! Imagination Playground

Imagine dozens of excited kids turned loose in a room filled with giant blue foam blocks of all shapes and sizes. Using oversized cogs, wheels, spools and tubes, they create whimsical sculptures, construct castles and forts, and design vibrant vehicles that move. Joining curvy blocks with grooves, they create elaborate ramps and tracks and send balls rolling through. They stack, connect, design, configure and play – the possibilities are endless!
Credit Blandon Belushin © 2010
During April school vacation, Providence Children’s Museum debuts Imagination Playground, a breakthrough playspace concept designed by renowned architect David Rockwell to encourage child-directed, unstructured play – the kind of free play that experts say is critical to children’s healthy development, and that the Museum advocates for and promotes in its interactive play and learning environments.
Credit KaBOOM! © 2010
With a focus on “loose parts” – an assortment of open-ended, movable objects – Imagination Playground stimulates kids’ creativity and inspires them to invent their own ways to play. Children can move props around, shape their environment, make up their own rules and games, and work together to create imaginative structures.
Credit: Seth Nenstiel
Join a week-long block party to explore Imagination Playground all day from Monday, April 16 to Sunday, April 22!