Saturday, August 29, 2009

Endings & Beginnings

We've had quite a mix of fond farewells and exciting new beginnings lately. Last Wednesday, our 2008-09 AmeriCorps team graduated with a creative and fun send-off. How does the Children's Museum celebrate 16 incredible individuals who have collectively contributed more than 20,100 hours of service? With festive food and decor, collages and costumes, skits and songs, of course!
We're really going to miss this thoughtful, playful team, who brightened the Museum's exhibits, programs (and our offices!) with their laughter, creativity, and enthusiasm. Through their work with Greater Providence Head Start, Pawtucket Child Opportunity Zone, inner-city community centers and Museum visitors they've truly made a difference in the lives of thousands of children, families and educators over the last year.Thank you Camille, Kate, Katie, Kelly, Liz, Melissa, Miranda, Molly, Paul and Whitney
and to our part-time members Cat, Dan, Jennifer, Katherine, Nicole and Zuleyma.

But just because they've graduated doesn't mean their good work won't carry on! We usually have a month gap between AmeriCorps teams, but thanks to funding from the Economic Recovery Act, we’ve already begun working with one of the TWO new teams who will join us this year. A few weeks ago, 12 MuseumCorps Outreach Educators arrived to help us expand our reach to after-school and summer programs in greater Providence. We are thrilled to welcome Andrew, Eric, Erin, Ian, Jamie, Katie, Kellyn, Kevin, Meagan, Sarah, Shannon and Yetunde and look forward to a remarkable, playful year.
Our other new team begins in a month – stay tuned!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Puppet Masters!

Last week, we were thrilled to debut another vibrant new display, created by Camille Cordeiro and Liz Leahey – more of our talented AmeriCorps Museum Educators.

Over the past several weeks, Camille and Liz donned white gloves and delved into the Museum’s collection of Betty Huestis marionettes to design “At the Opera,” an eclectic gathering of puppets involved with a production of Hansel and Gretel.Providence resident Elizabeth "Betty" Huestis was a renowned puppeteer, teacher, story teller and artist who, from 1929 until her retirement in 1970, shared her love of puppetry with children and adults at programs and events up and down the East Coast – including war relief efforts during World War II. She handcrafted each of her marionettes, designed and created the sets and props for her performances, and wrote or adapted her own scripts. Her artful puppets portray a wide array of colorfully adorned and richly dressed characters, each with their own unique personality.

Huestis donated her collection of nearly 100 marionettes, props and memorabilia to the Children’s Museum shortly before her death in 1984. We display them on a rotating basis in Strings Attached, along with fellow Rhode Island puppeteer Dan Butterworth’s beautifully animated and hand-carved marionettes – which kids can actually manipulate to make them move and dance.

It was fun to see Camille and Liz sort through and select the puppets they wanted to be part of their display, as well as tackle the challenging task of stringing them up and positioning them in just the right way.

Here’s how Camille described the scene:

“It’s a night at the opera, and marionettes are both performing in and watching Hansel and Gretel. In the show, a Dutch boy and girl arrive at a candy cottage, only to be confronted by a scary witch. The sight of her terrifies many audience members; a mouse scurries behind a wooden sign and a monkey covers his eyes as the green man looks on, intrigued. The gypsy woman, who is rudely shaking her tambourine at a crucial point in the play, preoccupies Uncle Sam. In the back row, the Victorian woman peers at the sleeping spotted horse, who is snoring conspicuously. Behind the stage, a curious fairy watches over the entire scene.”
Visitors will certainly notice the expressive and playful finished product. Be sure to take a peek next time you stop by!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Community Conversation Survey

Last month, Providence Children's Museum launched a new community discussion listserv - PlayWatch: Connecting the Community to Promote Children's Play.

We've been thrilled by the enthusiastic response to the listserv and would like to offer a series of community conversations this fall, based on topics that have come up on the list. Please take just a few minutes to tell us which topics are of the most interest to you.

Please respond by next Wednesday, August 26. Thank you very much for your time and stay tuned for more information!

Monday, August 17, 2009

2 new articles about play

Your Baby is Smarter Than you Think, an op-ed piece in Saturday's NY Times, reviews some recent research about how babies and young children explore, learn and play. The closing paragraph:

"But what children observe most closely, explore most obsessively and imagine most vividly are the people around them. There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with
them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play."

And last weekend: Children can learn valuable lessons from time spent at play. In the third column in her series about play, ProJo education columnist Julia Steiny goes to the zoo to learn from the animals (and their humans!) about the importance of play.

I love that the need for play is getting both national and local attention!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Joining the Museum Circus

Wow, so many cool things are happening at the Museum lately! Just yesterday morning, we debuted an amazing new display under the “Big Top” at the admissions desk. The exhibit was designed by AmeriCorps Museum Educators Melissa Kline and Miranda Elliott Rader, using a selection of antique tin toys from the Museum’s collection.
The toys were donated by Dr. Vincent Pattavina of Braintree, MA in 2007. Although we’re referring to them as “tin toys” (their collectors’ category), they’re actually a combination of metal (some cloth covered), felt and cardboard – and many of them are wind-up toys and move in interesting ways. Most were manufactured in Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s – some of them are actually labeled as “US Zone Germany” – and others were made in “Occupied Japan,” so clearly there’s a lot of history here.

Melissa and Miranda decided on a creative circus theme, with a musical parade of clowns and creatures headed down from the mountains to join the circus. They’re mostly mammals, including several mice doing acrobatic tricks – and you’ll have to bend down to kid height to see some of the surprises they have in store! There’s also a colorful snail preparing to jump through a flaming hoop, a beautiful boat carousel, seals balancing balls on their noses, and “Happy the Violinist,” a favorite of our two designers.
The whole display is breathtakingly beautiful – colorful, textured, playful, and clearly done with much attention to detail. It’s been really fun to watch Melissa and Miranda work on this for the past several weeks:

combing through the collection to select the toys and figure out their arrangement
painting the mountain backdrop
sewing silky circus curtains
and spending hours installing the case Wednesday night, including hanging the trapeze-artist mice with fishing wire – a delicate procedure!

It is truly fantastic – be sure to get down and really check it out next time you visit the Museum!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Talking Back: Outdoor Play (part 2)

More insight from Museum visitors about how they like to play outdoors, recently left on the talk back board in Play Power:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Play Spaces

I stopped by the Museum on Saturday and walked by the Assembly Space, where Play Spaces - the day's program - was taking place. I was drawn into the room by some crazy, colorful creations and have just one word to describe what I saw: AWESOME! So of course I had to go grab the camera.

We tried out Play Spaces for the first time last summer and now run it semi-regularly. The big idea is to encourage open-ended exploration using cool materials - boxes, rope, hoops, tubes, dowels, sheets and more - much like the idea of building living room forts from blankets, chairs and couch cushions, as my sister and I did constantly when we were kids.

Miranda and Katie, the play guides facilitating the program on Saturday, told me the play spaces were the work of both parents and kids - sometimes with more involvement from parents, although sometimes the parents stepped away and the kids disappeared into their work - and that they saw a lot of intense inter-family and cross-family collaboration. While I was there, the children I saw were deeply involved in their play. Take a look at some of the results:

There are so many things I love about this program - the cool yet simple materials, the creativity, the sense of ownership the kids feel - but I especially love how the space is reinvented over and over again in such a short time, and that it becomes a collaborative effort.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Animals in August

Check out The Call of the Wild, an article about the importance of giving kids experiences with live animals, written by Mary Hackman, the Museum's early childhood program developer.

And if you want to have close encounters with some incredible creatures - and learn fascinating facts about them from the animal experts - visit the Museum on the next few Tuesdays:

August 11 • Pony Parade! • 1:00 - 3:00 PM
Children pet ponies from Ross Farm and learn how to groom, saddle, mount and ride them in the Museum’s
Children’s Garden.

August 18 • Awesome Animals • 1:00 & 2:00 PM
Kids get close to a chinchilla, a tree frog, lots of lizards, and snakes of all sizes with Dave Marchetti of Animal Experiences.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Playing Attention

Yesterday in The Providence Journal, education columnist Julia Steiny discussed the importance of open-ended play and Providence Children's Museum's role in providing creative play spaces and encouraging greater understanding of the benefits of unstructured play. We're absolutely thrilled! Check it out.

And there has been active & fascinating discussion on the new PlayWatch listserv in the last few weeks. People are clearly passionate about play and have A LOT to say about it, and the listserv has been a great way to facilitate an open exchange of ideas and information. Sign up for the list using the link above if you'd like to join the conversation!