Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Murder and Mayhem at the Museum?

A recent exchange regarding the alleged "killer starfish" in Tank #1:

"Those of us who work on Sunday are wondering what goes on in that tank on Saturday nights. Last Sunday we had half an eel in the starfish and half that we gave a final resting place... We don't know if the starfish has super starfish speed and is catching the fish or if it is just tidying up after the fish/eels die of natural causes... Who knows what unforeseen havoc that 5 legged wonder has in store for next weekend."

Erin Kenny, Experience Coordinator (and aquaria observer extraordinaire)

"Starfish and crabs are opportunistic scavengers. If they are eating a fish it is because the fish was dying. (Anyone who has watched Spongebob would know Patrick and others of his kinds are not blessed with super starfish speed.)"

Dave Marchetti of Animal Experiences (aka "The Fish Guy")

Sounds like we don't have to worry about any further fish-icide!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Preparing for Play Fest

Get ready for some serious playing! Next Sunday, November 23, the entire Museum will be overtaken by Play Fest from 1 to 4 PM. Play Fest? Doesn't play happen here all over, all the time? Well, yes, but this is a special celebration of play, an extension of the opening festivities of Play Power. We'll have imaginative activity stations scattered throughout the Museum that encourage and incorporate many different kinds of play.

Play Fest was planned by Museum education staff, primarily our newest team of 11 AmeriCorps members. They've dreamed up a day of fabulous fun, and last week I observed them working – and playing! – hard to prepare.

The Blue Crew (Kate, Liz, Miranda and Whitney) will engage visitors in a series of creative movement and music workshops, including tap dancing, sound effect and instrument-making, and even beatboxing!

With the Red Crew (Katie, Kelly and Paul), kids and adults will explore the visual arts as they make colorful masks and collages, weave giant patterns, build big with boxes and indulge their senses with an investigation of different textures.

And the Green Crew (Camille, Jennifer, Melissa and Molly) will facilitate an outdoor experience inside as families touch squishy & slimy things in The Swamp and let loose in the Big Woods play structure, where they'll even encounter Mortimer the Moose!

It's going to be great fun – don't miss it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Play Power Under the Microscope

Yesterday, the Museum hosted a group of museum professionals, mostly from other children's museums, as part of a NEMA (New England Museums Association) conference session. Members of our exhibit team (the X-team) presented a session called "Putting Play First," which shared the process of developing and creating Play Power, followed by a response from a panel and the audience.

Carly & Janice kicked things off by leading participants in an exercise revisiting their childhood memories of play, then Valerie and Chris joined them to talk about the exhibit.

Janet Rice Elman, executive director of the Association of Children's Museums, moderated a panel as they shared their positive and critical responses to the exhibit. They all said that they were impressed by the beauty of the environment and its components, and also by the Play Power video, which shows children at play throughout the Museum. But some questioned the goal & effectiveness of the exhibit labels and the role adults were intended to take, and mentioned different museum & play research studies.

“You accomplished creating a space for people to play in different ways,” Suzanne Olson, executive director of the Children's Museum of Maine, told the X-team. Dr. Robin Meisner, former Providence Children's Museum exhibit developer, said the new exhibit "will help change the perception of why play is important." Responding from the audience, Neil Gordon of Boston Children's Museum said he'd like to see us "put more questions out to parents to find out what they're taking away."

All in all, a thought-provoking session that will give the X-team much to consider as they continue their evaluation of our newest exhibit. Participants also had plenty of time to play as they were thinking about our exhibit. It was fun seeing so many "big kids" in Play Power!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Talking Back

The Museum has several Talk Back boards for kids and grown-ups to respond (or not respond, as the case may be!) to various prompts. Here are some words – thoughtful, funny, imaginative and heartfelt – that children have recently shared on the board in the Story Center, which asks: "The United States is made up of people from many different places, of a variety of races, who have many different religions and beliefs – and we are all Americans. Who are you?"

And some thoughts from yesterday, an incredibly busy school vacation day – 1,400 visitors! – including an ode to pie:


Friday, November 7, 2008


Thursday evening the Museum held the fabulously festive grand opening celebration of our newest exhibit, Play Power. More than 200 people – families, Museum staff and board members, and other interested folks from the community – came to play and party!

The colorful creature columns were a big hit as kids spun the intricately sculpted cubes to form critters like this:Executive Director Janice O'Donnell, Board President Carol Peterson, Exhibit Designer Chris Sancomb and Exhibit Developer Carly Loeper spoke about the Museum's exciting changes and new exhibit – and what it took to get here. Carly shared a number of amazing anecdotes from her observations in Play Power over the past week, including the following:
• We’ve heard both kids and grown-ups as they’re building tracks to race balls through mazes ask themselves, “what if we try THIS?” One parent shared, “my inner engineer is having so much fun!

• I saw a Grandpa sitting off to the side, nodding off a bit. He tapped me and leaned in, pointing to the children stacking and balancing blocks on the floor. “They really are all little scientists, aren’t they?”

• How delightful children are when they’re sending balls and scarves through the air tubes! A mom pointed out to me today that there’s a universal sound that you make when something flies out, whether you're 3 or 46: “WHOA!”

And Janice also shared this wonderful thought, which just says it all:
"The most effective kind of education is that a child
play amongst lovely things."
- Plato

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Banner Day

Museum staff have been working pretty hard recently, including Graphic Designer extraordinaire Valerie Haggerty-Silva.

Here's a look at some of her recent creations, which Chris, James and crew got ready for display yesterday:

These photos don't do justice to the beautiful graphics she created to wrap around the exterior of our newly renovated building, so everyone should take a closer look next time you're at the Museum!