Friday, November 28, 2014

Farewell, Janice – A Legacy of Play and Learning

Executive Director Janice O’Donnell – our fearless leader and “priestess of play” – leaves the Museum today, after 35 years of visionary leadership, unwavering passion and tireless commitment to children and families. 

Dear friends and colleagues:

For 35 years I have had the great privilege of working on behalf of children and families.  I have been so fortunate to do what I love and work toward causes I care passionately about.  The Children’s Museum is a large canvas with an encompassing mission: to inspire and celebrate learning through active play and exploration.  That has allowed us to adapt and change, to experiment, to introduce new ventures that meet the changing needs of families, and to go beyond our walls to ensure ours is truly a resource for all children.

I’m proud of the Museum’s expansion and the $3 million capital campaign that got us to Providence in 1997, and I take great satisfaction in the fact that the Museum is financially strong after so many years of struggle.  I’m proud of our Museum’s national reputation – that we’re seen as leaders in our field for our deep commitment to children and community – and that we are also known locally as collaborative and community-minded.  I love that we design and build our own exhibits using local talent and are creative and artful in our learning environments.  I’m proud that our team is so committed to high-quality learning experiences, so thoughtful in creating exhibits and programs.  And I’m proud that our team is willing to take risks, take on important issues – like our partnership with DCYF serving court-separated families and our play agenda engaging community in important discussion about children’s needs.

I’m especially proud of the Museum’s commitment to inclusion and community.  Ample free admission opportunities means that the fee is not a barrier to visiting the Museum.  All of the Museum’s labels and signage are bilingual (English and Spanish).  But it’s not enough to say Free and en EspaƱol!  A truly inclusive organization must reach out and go into communities where coming to a children’s museum is not necessarily top of mind.  That’s why we work closely with Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Y, community centers, schools, libraries, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, Providence Parks and Recreation and other city departments – so that the Museum is an integral part of the community.

I’m grateful to our partners – that network of dedicated people who share our vision of a child-friendly community where the needs of families are paramount.  I’m grateful to our generous supporters who make our work possible.  And I am deeply grateful to the skilled, resourceful, talented, smart, committed Museum staff – past and present – for creating a community resource that’s so beloved by so many.

It has truly been an honor to steer the ship that is the Children's Museum for all these years, and to work toward making the world a better place for children and families.  I know I leave the Museum in strong, capable hands.
– Janice

Janice with her grandchildren Liv and Finn, who practically grew up at the Museum.

The Museum staff is profoundly grateful to Janice for guiding, inspiring, empowering and teaching us SO much over the years. We welcome you to comment and share your favorite Janice memories and stories, appreciations and best wishes!

Tributes and well wishes have arrived from near and far!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Water Ways: The Iceberg

This post was contributed by Museum Exhibits Director Robin Meisner

Like an iceberg, Water Ways has a significant portion of its structure below the waterline. Most of what makes the exhibit work is unseen to our visitors, but is essential to the functioning of the hands-on activities.

Below the floor – which was already sloped and drained since the Museum used to be a jewelry factory and Water Ways was the plating room – is the bulk of the infrastructure. In the basement, city water comes into our building through two new giant filters to ensure the Museum’s water is high quality.

Robin shows her love of the new water filters and demonstrates their scale.

Three new distribution pumps recirculate the water in a loop from the play tanks through four filters, five holding tanks and sanitization systems (including a UV sterilizer) and back up to Water Ways. And a mist generator transforms fresh water into mist, which is blown up to the exhibit by a strong fan.

Pumps and filters and tanks, oh my!

Other bits of the “iceberg” are in the exhibit itself (though some are hidden from view), including an ice machine, ice crusher and lots and lots of piping.

So, while most people think of Water Ways as a fantastically wet place to play, it is also a feat of engineering!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Water Ways is NOW OPEN!

Our imaginative new Water Ways exhibit has opened to exuberant splashing, spirited squirting and all-out squeals of delight!

On Thursday, we invited a dozen kids, ages 1 to 12, for a sneak peek and to test things out for us. The initial response: they surged and swirled around the room in a flurry of excitement, enthusiastically trying each activity and rushing on to the next. After a while, they settled in, and kids of all ages (and some grown-ups!) were deeply immersed in interactive water play.

Water is intrinsically fascinating.  The ultimate “loose part,” it naturally invites open-ended play and exploration.  Water play is a mesmerizing sensory experience that fosters creativity, stimulates curiosity and promotes problem solving for all ages and abilities.  It offers children endless possibilities to engage with science – to notice, question, experiment and develop a sense of wonder about the world around them.

Water Ways motivates visitors of all ages to think, ‘What does water do?’ and ‘What can I do with water?’ by inviting them to splash, discover and playfully experience water in ways new and familiar while investigating its properties in different forms – liquid, ice and mist.  Some scenes from the all-new Water Ways...

Transforming the size and shape of billowing mist and water domes by turning valves that regulate the rush of water.

The mist dome is a water dome with mist pumped inside so that the surface tension of the water traps the mist. When the water surface is broken, the mist wafts out in captivating clouds.

Sending balls, boats, and other loose parts and spiraling and twisting through vortexes  – whirling "water tornadoes," as kids describe them – and figuring out how to change the way the water moves.

Connecting pipe pieces to form fountains that funnel the flow of mist and water.

Investigating, scooping and sculpting crushed ice using a variety of tools.

Painting watery designs on a large slate wall.

Building mazes and damming water cascading downstream with blocks and sandbags.

Scooping and pouring water at toddler-height troughs and squirting and squeegeeing in an expanded play area especially for the Museum’s smallest visitors.

And droplet-shaped labels offer adults prompts and ways to play, encouraging them to notice and appreciate the learning that happens as children splash and explore.

Don’t miss out on the exhibit that visitors declare is “Super duper fun,” “Wicked awesome,” and “Splashtastic!” – come experience the all-new Water Ways for yourselves!

And see the posts below for a peek at the process of creating Water Ways.

Water Ways is supported in part by The Norman & Rosalie Fain Family Foundation and June Rockwell Levy Foundation.
All photos copyright Providence Children’s Museum and may only be used with permission.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Water Ways: The Final Surge

Members of our exhibit crew have whirled around Water Ways this week in a flood of activity, putting the finishing touches on our incredible new exhibit…

Crew member James and exhibit designer Chris making final adjustments to the tanks.

Graphic designer Valerie and Chris hanging gorgeous labels – lines of water poetry and vibrant images
of kids’ inspiring water play.

Dave Marchetti – the animal guy! – reinstalling our fish tanks.

Crew members Zach and Ian completing the artful entry waves, while James and Chris ready the smock wall.

Exhibits director Robin and researcher Suzy concocting pearlescent potions to swirl inside the “portholes”…

that are part of the wall Zach finalizes to separate the ice play table from the tank area.

James installing the toddler-height squeegee wall.

Plus LOADS of colorful loose parts!

It's been nearly two years of planning, designing, prototyping, fabricating and just plain hard work by the exhibits team and our partners, and it was well worth it. Join us to celebrate the opening of the amazing new Water Ways all weekend long, beginning Saturday at 9:00 AM!