Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mechanical Menagerie

Mechanical Menagerie, the newest exhibit in the Museum’s 17 “ramp boxes,” showcases an eye-popping array of intricate creatures – lizards, goats, birds, bugs, an antelope, a frog and more – created from disassembled computers, discarded cell phones and other mangled machines and trashy treasures.

The incredible collection is the creation of Providence artist Ann P. Smith, who received a BFA in Illustration from RISD in 2003 and has since exhibited her work across in shows and galleries across the country – most recently at The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and the Ohio Craft Museum.

Ann refers to her creatures as “robots,” and her inspiration came from a 2002 RISD assignment to create a technology illustration. She had recently begun working in 3-D and was stumped about how to make the connection until she saw a heap of junk outside her apartment, topped by a broken telephone. “I could do something with this!” she thought and ended up making a horse that won her rave reviews and a prestigious scholarship.
She realized she was onto something and continued to collect trashed gadgets. At first, she had to walk the streets to look for junk, but no more – now people give her plenty of broken things to disassemble! Ann’s process starts with sorting the salvaged scraps by shapes or colors. Sometimes she approaches the junk with a vision of her next creation but other times the pieces themselves inspire animal parts. Then she makes a sketch, which turns into a drawing, which turns into the finished piece – after lots of refining along the way.
Ann came in last week to install the exhibit, with the help of long-time friend and former Museum AmeriCorps member Maris Wicks! It was exciting to watch as each creature was revealed and put in its place.
I’ve seen Ann’s work many times before, but I’m always amazed by her creative choice of materials and the intricacy and personality of each sculpture. The use of flashlight bulbs makes her owl charmingly wide eyed, while a computer mouse makes a perfectly streamlined sea turtle body and tangled telephone cords and wires are spectacular jellyfish tentacles.

I also love the little touches, like the inventive use of keyboard letters to spell out the name of each creature. The brightly colored backgrounds really make her creatures pop, and the use of natural materials to create simple environments is a wonderful contrast to the electronic parts.
Museum staff are SO excited that these captivating creations will be on display through January 31. Next time you’re here, take a peek at the creatures as you pass by and see what parts you can identify!
And this weekend – October 3 and 4 – families can check out the exhibit and drop into the Creature Laboratory from 1:00 – 4:00 PM to invent some curious critters of their own!

Visit Ann’s website to learn more about her work, which is also available at the risd/works store.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Planting Seeds of Wonder

This article by Mary Scott Hackman, the Museum's early childhood program developer, was originally posted on Kidoinfo.It’s a typical Friday morning at Providence Children’s Museum and Preschool Friday is underway. I gather the children to read “Mouse Paint” while their parents look on, and then welcome them all to the color laboratory. The children watch with rapt attention as I dip an eyedropper into blue food coloring and – plop! – into a jar of water. The children are completely engaged as the blue liquid cascades down, creating inky swirls. Before I repeat with red coloring, I ask for their predictions: “What color will we see if we mix blue with red?” “I know…purple!,” shouts Emily. “Do you agree Jack?” Jack nods his head. I add red and it mixes and swirls with the blue until the children all gasp, “Purple! It made PURPLE!”

As the Museum’s early childhood program developer, I feel it is my responsibility to provide experiences that whet the appetite of young learners. Each week, I welcome children ages 3 to 5 and their adults to 30-minute classroom sessions as part of our Preschool Friday series. I offer a panoply of developmentally-appropriate activities that take into consideration the shorter attention span of the preschooler, including opportunities for each child to create a craft with the materials and tools of his or her choice or activity stations where children can play independently.
During a spring series, we learned about life cycles by watching as butterfly larvae grew into caterpillars. One caterpillar spun itself into a chrysalis and eventually hatched a gently moving butterfly. At each stage, children drew their observations in their own butterfly journals, which we had decorated during the first session. We also planted butterfly gardens, dressed up in butterfly wings made from paper bags, and wove beautiful butterfly bracelets.
Parents often see Preschool Friday as a springboard to preschool. It’s an environment where children can develop skills they need as they step out into the world – listening, turn taking and socialization, to name a few. While it is sometimes tempting for parents and caregivers to direct their children’s work, I often ask them to wait and watch, to allow the child to make the project his or her own. I invite them to observe the child’s process.
The beauty of having adults in the room with their children is that they have a shared learning experience, and discussions related to Preschool Friday often occur between weekly sessions. When we were exploring patterns, a child found a beautiful snakeskin in his yard and brought it in to share the next week. The child was proud, his mom was pleased that he was motivated to share his discovery with his Museum friends, and I was delighted that we had started a conversation in our classroom that was of such consequence that it continued from one week to the next.

Learning is an exchange and the power of Preschool Friday is that a learning seed is planted, the seed takes hold, and seeds of ideas and experiences are shared from week to week. Join us for the next Preschool Friday series, beginning October 2, and together we’ll embark upon an exploration of the colors and science of fall!
There's still time to register for the next five-week Preschool Friday series, which begins on Friday and runs through October 30. Program fee is $8 per class; 20 percent discount for pre-registering for the full series. Click here for a schedule of activities and information on registration.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Glass Xylophones

On Wednesday, Sandor Bodo from the Providence Journal made this fabulous video of our Glass Xylophones program - one of the many hands-on science activities that we offer in the FETCH! Lab. Check it out and see how much fun can be had with just a little water and some drinking glasses - it shows the value of giving kids simple materials and room to explore, and how easy it is to try similar things at home!

"The value of open-ended and creative play is that it enables children to explore a variety of creative uses of common materials and environments, challenges conventional ways to use materials, and gives children a sense of power, control, and mastery of their own learning." -Francis Wardle, PhD

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome MuseumCorps!

We experienced a little déjà vu last Thursday when we welcomed the 13 members of our newest AmeriCorps team – the second team to join us this year! They join an outreach team of 12 for the 2009-10 service year – the 13th year of the Museum’s AmeriCorps program – and have spent the last week getting an in depth introduction to the exhibits, learning about child development, experimenting with techniques for facilitating play, and much more (including an all-staff lunch with funny hats!)
The 25 members combined will make it possible for us to extend our reach in Providence, Pawtucket, West Warwick, and Cranston. Nine members will be based at the Museum, working with inner-city children from Head Start centers and after-school programs across Providence, as well as recruiting and supporting Museum volunteers. The other 16 members will work in teams to serve children at the Boys and Girls Club of Providence, Cranston Community Learning Centers, Kent County YMCA, and Pawtucket Child Opportunity Zone. And you’ll see all of the members playing with visitors in our exhibits and facilitating public programs.

Please help us welcome new members Annie, Erin, Gina, Jenny, Jess, Julianne, Kelly, Kerrie, Max, Turenne, and Zack – and welcome back Cat and Kate, who are continuing their AmeriCorps service with us. Here’s to a playful, powerful year!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Scenes from the Garden

To commemorate that summer is officially drawing to a close next week (did we really even have summer?), here are some wonderful moments that staff observed in our Children’s Garden over the past few months:
  • A group of preschoolers played in the fountain on a sunny afternoon, getting totally and joyfully wet. I loved seeing the children's free exploration of the wonderful ways of water – and I especially loved that their moms sat nearby, keeping a gentle watch but not discouraging the kids' water play at all. Kids and clothes dry out, after all. Go, moms!
  • “Hey, circus performers, try this!” A mom engaged her kids with the balance boards and was impressed by their skill, then played with them on the twister toy.
  • A 7-year-old boy challenged himself by maneuvering a balance board to create a ramp so he could climb the rock wall above the cave.
  • Three-year-old Oscar fully explored the newly updated JunkMusic station – testing and comparing every sound, climbing all over it, repositioning himself to get the best effect.
  • A boy of about 4 climbed, barefoot, on the rock wall and into the fountain. He perched at the top to let water trickle over his feet, then inserted the drumsticks into the water spouts and made water shoot everywhere! Three other children gathered a pile of toys and drumsticks at the base of the fountain and observed how the water splashed over them. It was wonderful to watch them experiment and explore.
  • Four families watched intently as a baby bird learned to fly. The bird seemed somewhat startled by all of the noise and activity, especially the ongoing beat of the music station. Suddenly, the bird took flight and landed on a boy of about 8 – a surprising moment for everyone! The next wave of kids used some of the garden toys to build a barricade, in a safe spot by the rock wall, to keep the bird from getting underfoot.
  • A team of master gardeners from URI visited in August – armed with tools, energy and expertise – to begin getting our native garden under control in preparation for next year’s new exhibits. They weeded, pruned and talked about where to move plants and what to add. They’ll be back again soon, to transplant shrubs, build up soil, and much more to add to the aesthetic of our fabulous green space – stay tuned.
  • Two girls climbed a tree with jump ropes, swinging from branches and hanging upside down. Their moms encouraged them!
  • On a free Friday in July, Kate led an active drum circle, inviting kids to create their own instruments, make music and dance to the beat with colorful streamers. It was such a joyful, energetic evening!
  • So many other wonderful outdoor programs. Kids blew giant bubbles, flew kites, learned circus tricks, wove with natural materials, and met ponies and bunnies. They also engineered funnels and foam tubes to build channels that moved water all around the garden – including up and down walls and railings and into the trees!
  • Two picnics – one family on a blanket spread across the grass, another with a grandmother and kids at a table covered with a red and white checked cloth, complete with cooler, plates, utensils – a very festive set up.
  • A family – parents, grandmother and young child – hula hooping to their heart’s content! Parents spun the hoops around their waists, necks, arms. Tried tossing them, horseshoe style. Used the jump ropes, big feet, ALL of the toys while Grandma danced to the beat of the music station. They were so playful, so involved, tried absolutely everything and were really fun to watch!
It’s been amazing to observe children exploring every aspect of the garden – splashing and playing, using all of the toys, doing cartwheels, wandering barefoot, experiencing the whole environment. Just wait until next summer, when we have two fabulous new play spaces to navigate, too!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Play a part to help build two new exhibits!

You can play a part!
Help us build two exciting new
play and learning environments.

With the success of our $1.5 million Play Works Campaign for Kids, the Children's Museum will increase capacity to serve record numbers of visitors by opening two exciting new play and learning environments in The Children's Garden in June.

The Climber
A safe and challenging 22-foot climbing
adventure and a dramatic work of public art
that prompts kids to go outside and play!


An imaginative underground environment where subterranean explorers discover roots, tunnels and critters' burrows and learn about the natural world.

We've achieved more than half of our campaign goal and now we need YOU to Play a part! to help raise the rest - and secure a $150,000
Kresge Challenge grant by March 31.

Click here to learn more.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Play & Back to School

Yesterday's New York Times included Let the Children Play (Some More) - an op/ed piece by Stuart Brown, the founder & president of the National Institute for Play. He expresses his concern that back to school means stepping away from the carefree, active, unstructured play that kids enjoy during the summer months. Lots of comments so far - this is clearly a hot topic!

Please leave us a comment to share your thoughts about how to make sure kids have plenty of playtime, even during the school year!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Keeping It Clean

Cleaning is a constant activity at the Children’s Museum. We strive to keep each space and surface as clean as possible and make sure that all staff and volunteers are playing their part.

Keeping clean begins with exhibit design and development. In designing exhibits, we take into account how the material will be used – for climbing, pulling, sitting on, etc. – and then choose materials that we know will be safe and easy to clean. Once a material is chosen and an exhibit installed, the designer (Chris) informs our cleaning crews about the appropriate cleaning procedures and a regular cleaning schedule is established.

Our staff keep the Museum clean and tidy throughout the day. Our housekeeper (Delida) cleans and sanitizes the bathrooms, lunchrooms and a host of exhibit components on a rotating basis. Staff wipe surfaces as needed and we launder exhibit costumes, stuffed animals and other washable components – including the bedding in the ship and Estrella’s gloves.

Our woodland friends take a spin in the dryer!

Littlewoods staff wipe down the Baby’s Nest after each child plays there, ensuring that the space is clean and ready for the next infant. Toys that are mouthed by infants and toddlers are also cleaned immediately or put aside to be washed later in the dishwasher.

The water in the
Water Ways tanks is cleaned throughout the day. Water goes to large pools in the basement, where it is filtered with a peroxide solution and pumped back up to the tanks. Staff test the water each morning to ensure its cleanliness – it’s cleaner than most pools! – and adjust the cleaning solution as needed.
We encourage visitors to wash their hands with soap and water in the bathrooms and in our lunch and activity rooms. Hand sanitizer is also available in locations where a sink is not as accessible. (Click here to learn more about what you can do to keep clean and stay healthy.)

Of course some things can’t be cleaned while visitors are busy playing. An evening crew does a full cleaning each night – vacuuming, dusting, and sanitizing – leaving the Museum spotless and ready for the next day.
A few times a year the Museum also hosts a volunteer event called “Team Sparkle” where volunteers and staff meet after the Museum closes to listen to music, clean and touch up exhibit components. Everyone loves working together to make the Museum sparkle. We think that cleanliness is next to playfulness!

This post contributed by Visitor Services & Volunteer Manager Kelly Fenton – the queen of clean!