Friday, December 30, 2016

Fostering Empathy Through Pretend Play

By Suzy Letourneau (Research & Evaluation Specialist) and Robin Meisner (Director of Exhibits)

The Museum’s recently reinvented Coming to Rhode Island exhibit explores history through four story galleries – an English colonist’s farmhouse (1640), the new Fort Adams worksite (1835), a Cape Verdean packet ship (1892) and a Dominican bodega (1961). The exhibit uses these stories to build empathy and foster respect for the diversity of individuals who make up the world. Empathy is the ability to sense, understand and share other people’s emotions, and it allows individuals to take others’ perspectives, communicate and collaborate.

Children develop social and emotional skills like empathy as they begin to understand their own identities and appreciate differences between themselves and others, and research shows that pretending is a natural avenue for this development. In Coming to Rhode Island, children engage with each story through pretend play, allowing them to practice social and emotional skills in developmentally meaningful ways.

Toddlers (and even infants) start to notice and react to others’ emotions, a foundation of empathy. They also start pretending in simple ways and playing in parallel with other children, setting the stage for social skills and later forms of pretending. In the exhibit, a toddler might offer fake food to someone who says they are hungry or share with another child while playing side by side.

Children ages 3 to 5 begin to engage in more complex forms of pretend play, from wearing a costume or using props to creating stories with different roles. Children in Coming to Rhode Island might pretend to cook in a kitchen, build a fort or sail a ship. When pretending together, they talk about their ideas and decide how a story should unfold. In the process, kids learn that other people might not think and feel the same things they do, and they practice seeing other’s points of view and learn to work through conflicts.

Children ages 5 to 7 start to understand similarities and differences between themselves and others, and can take many different perspectives. When playing together, they create elaborate stories and practice empathy by imagining what others might feel in different situations. In the exhibit, kids might take on roles that are very different from their own lives. They might think about what life was like for the people whose stories appear in the galleries, and they recognize differences between their own lives and those who lived in the past.

Children ages 7 to 11 begin to recognize that different people might have different interpretations of the same situation, and that multiple perspectives can be equally valid. They also start to understand that people’s feelings are influenced by what others think and how others act towards them, helping them develop deeper empathy for others. In Coming to Rhode Island, older kids might reflect on how other’s previous experiences shaped the decisions they made and their perceptions of the world.

While children begin developing empathy and perspective-taking very early on, these skills continue to grow throughout their entire lives. In Coming to Rhode Island, older children and adults might question stereotypes and challenge assumptions, and appreciate the diversity represented in our community.

Click here to learn more about Coming to Rhode Island and get a peek at the process of creating the exhibit.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Coming to Rhode Island Art

One of the Museum's core values and defining features is the quality and beauty of its learning environments. To enrich visitors’ experience and inspire creative exploration, the new Coming to Rhode Island spaces incorporate the work of these additional outside artists:

  • The photographs on the walls of the Story Center at the end of the time tunnel are by Brown University graduate Lucas Foglia, who lives in San Francisco and whose work has been widely exhibited in the United States, Europe and Asia. All of the photographs were taken in Rhode Island, many at Southside Community Land Trust’s gardens, and strikingly showcase the state’s diversity.

  • The intriguing interactive installation in the Story Center resulted from a collaboration with Pawtucket-based French artist Philippe Lejeune. The sculpture’s reflective surfaces challenge perception and encourage exploration of how something looks from a different and unexpected perspective – a fundamental skill for understanding and engaging with people from different cultures. The installation is part of a larger body of Philippe’s work, called The Glass Project, a group of pieces which are “experiments in transforming the way we see.”
  • The illustrations of John Quigley’s descendant and his brother and him leaving Ireland were drawn by illustrator and former Museum AmeriCorps member Maris Wicks, whose work can be seen in each of the Coming to Rhode Island galleries. To create the illustrations, Maris worked from photographs of John Quigley’s fourth great granddaughter, Margo, and historic images of his hometown in County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Click here to learn about other Museum art works.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Making the Coming to RI Murals

One of the Museum's core values and defining features is the quality and beauty of its learning environments. Throughout its history, the Museum has made a strong commitment to art, commissioning or accepting donations of work from artists – many of them local – to include in exhibits and public spaces. To enrich visitors’ experience and inspire creative exploration, the new Coming to Rhode Island spaces incorporate the work of several outside artists.

The murals and historic figure in the new Fort Adams gallery were painted by Rhode Island artist Harley Bartlett, who is influenced by the late 19th and early 20th century American realist painters and whose work can also be seen in the Coming to Rhode Island Dominican gallery, Fefa’s Market.

Commissioned to depict the people, landscape and seascape at Fort Adams in the early 1800s, the murals extend many of the exhibit’s physical elements to show the Fort’s scale and surroundings. To create the murals, Harley…
  • Visited Fort Adams with the Museum’s exhibits team and Fort staff to select appropriate views to depict in his paintings. 
  • Blended photographs and historic images to create period appropriate concept drawings, and projected these images onto the walls of the Museum’s Fort to figure out scale and placement of objects. 
  • Painted the murals on large pieces of canvas in his studio in Cranston, RI.
  • Installed the murals onto the Museum’s walls, making adjustments and adding finishing touches once the murals were in place.

Projecting a concept image based on historic images onto the gallery's walls.
One of Harley's projected concept drawings, paired with the subsequent mural in progress.
Mural installation!

The murals add vibrancy and depth to the Fort and surrounding environment, helping to create an immersive space that inspires visitors' imaginative pretend play.