Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Powerful MLK Day

Each year, the Museum presents a day of special programming to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Storytellers and actors Rochel Coleman and Valerie Tutson bring history to life through songs and stories as they portray Civil Rights activists Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy and more in their powerful performance “M.L.K.: Amazing Grace.”(Click here for a Providence Journal video of last year’s performance.)

Families also explore an exhibit of photographs, words and books describing Dr. King's life and work and can choose to participate in an interactive exploration of the negative power of discrimination, during which they wear a red or green tag and encounter “red only” and “green only” labels throughout the Museum – on lunchroom tables, bathroom doors, water fountains and more. The activity and performance inspire reflection and compelling conversations.
Yesterday’s program was full of thought-provoking moments and powerful stories, shared by Museum staff and AmeriCorps members:

  • A mom wasn’t able to drink from the upstairs bubbler with her two boys. One boy said, “Just drink here, mom.” The mother replied, “I can’t. It’s against the law.”
  • A very angry child came up to me while I was in Bone Zone. He was upset because he was “very thirsty” and he couldn’t drink out of the water fountain because it said RED ONLY. He said that it wasn’t fair that he had to go downstairs to get some water.
  • A family was eating in the lunchroom and they were wearing different tags, so they took a sign from another table so they had both a red sign and a green sign and all could sit together.
  • A mom: “I think I’ll switch to red. It’s hard to be different colors when you’re a family.”
  • Another girl asked about having two necklaces, one red, one green. “Interesting idea. But can a person have two different skin colors?” I asked. “If they’re magical. And I’m magical,” said the girl.
And some wonderful responses left on our Talk Back board, to the question “What will you do to fight racial discrimination?”:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Scouting Around

This article by Carly Loeper, the Museum's exhibit and program developer, was originally posted on Kidoinfo.

Learning to tie a square knot; making a blade of grass whistle; building with a hammer, nails and scrap wood; experimenting to find the best solution for shining pennies; singing a silly song without a shred of self-consciousness. We can all recall those childhood activities that are like special rites of passage – timeless, open-ended and magical in the journey, not the end result. Scouting supports school-age children's self-discovery and connections with others through activities like these. I grew up as a venturesome young Scout and now, as a program developer at Providence Children's Museum, I plan playful evening programs for a new generation of Scouts.
I moved to a new neighborhood as a shy second-grader. Navigating the social rules in a different place was a challenge, but being a Scout helped me learn more about myself and what I liked doing. I discovered how much I enjoyed sharing ideas for skits and songs with my fellow Scouts. I will always remember trying to control the hysterical laughter when my friends and I performed a Scout song at camp by turning our heads upside down and drawing eyes on our chins. Similarly, a parent at a Girl Scout Overnight Adventure at the Children’s Museum remarked how delighted and shocked she was to see her quiet daughter deliver the punch line of a short group-written play. Scout programs support skills and challenges that stretch children to try different things and learn what they're good at.
Through shared experiences, Scouts find common ground with children they might not ordinarily be friends with. I asked nine-year-old Korinne what she enjoyed about being a Junior Girl Scout. "We do service projects and play a lot of games, but it's not just about doing stuff – we get to know people we didn't know at all." During a recent Cub Scout evening at the Museum, small groups of Scouts were challenged to design a structure that could stand on its own using only dowels and rubber bands. I noticed two boys working independently next to one another. One child was supporting his building-in-progress with both hands and legs until his neighbor slid his construction closer and suggested, "You want to add yours to mine?" Together, they devised new strategies and were soon able to create a stick house they could both stand inside.
Scout evenings and overnights at Providence Children's Museum provide a series of fun hands-on activities that encourage Scouts to explore their interests, expand their skills and develop friendships – with the added adventure of being at the Museum after-hours!

FETCHThis winter, the Museum is presenting "Go FETCH!," an action-packed line-up of Friday evening and overnight adventures for Cub Scouts and Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, inspired by PBS's "FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman.™"

Special offer:
Register by February 1 and get one FREE registration! Click here for information on programs and fees. Click here for a registration form.
TM/© 2007 WGBH Educational Foundation.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Many Hats

This post was contributed by Museum Board president Jessica Holden Sherwood.

My children went to Providence Children’s Museum for about a year before I ever did, which might sound odd coming from the president of the board of directors.

But back when I was Mommy to a 3-year-old and 1-year-old, their outings – with Dad or another relative – to the Children’s Museum were a blissful “staycation” at home for me. My husband always returned raving about what a great place it was. I eventually learned it myself, and checked the “interested in volunteering” box when renewing our membership.

Nowadays when I visit the Museum, it is with two proverbial hats.

I am a member of the Museum because it’s a great place to bring my two energetic children: an active, engrossing, commercial-free, educational great place. We virtually never spend an entire day at home. (This might reflect more on the parents than the children, but I digress.) On a foul-weather day, the Museum is the best of all possible destinations – most other options involve spending lots of money, often including on video games and junk food. Of course, the Museum is a great destination in any weather. As a member, I look forward to sitting in the sunshine this summer while my children explore the new exhibits in the Children’s Garden.
On the other hat, I am a supporter of the Museum through donations and service on the board of directors. If the Museum were just a great family destination, this wouldn’t be so – I’m not a supporter of FantasyLand or United Skates of America, though we’ve been known to visit.

I support the Museum because of its social services and its commitment to all children. These are not always visible to visitors.
  • Did you know that of every 100 visitors, about 35 are there at no charge? All families who receive RIte Care (low-income health care) or have children participating in the Museum's Head Start program receive admission to the Museum.
  • Did you know that Meeting Street brings its students, with disabilities of various kinds, to the Museum regularly? They can play and explore, practicing social interactions and fine and gross motor skills – just like all Museum visitors do.
  • Did you know that social workers at the Museum supervise visits between children in foster care and their separated parents? (See this post from one staffer.) Visits like these sometimes take place in government offices, or in fast-food restaurants, or at the Museum! That makes an enormous difference to both the children and the parents. This program received an award Innovations in American Government Award and has become a national model.
My kids, now ages 7 and 5, have joined me in supporting the Museum, holding an occasional lemonade stand with all proceeds going toward the Play Works capital campaign. Our whole family will feel proud at the grand opening of those two new exhibits. I hope to see you there!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Where Do the Children Play?

The Museum is presenting another free public screening of "Where Do the Children Play?," this time in partnership with St. Michael's Country Day School in Newport. This provocative documentary examines an issue of growing concern among pediatricians, mental health experts, educators and environmentalists: more and more children are growing up with few opportunities for unstructured play, especially outdoors.

Following the screening, a panel including Newport Director of Recreation Susan Cooper; Aquidneck Medical Associates pediatrician Keivan Ettefagh; Children’s Museum director Janice O’Donnell; and St. Michael's Country Day School faculty members Mimi Carrellas, Bernadette Griffin and David Forrest will lead an audience discussion about the issues – some disturbing, some inspiring – explored in the film.

The film will be shown
Thursday, January 14
7:00 - 9:00 PM
St. Michael's Country Day School

180 Rhode Island Avenue
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-5970
Snow date: Wednesday, January 20

Please join us! Click here to download a flyer. Click here to learn about the lively discussion at our previous screenings. For more information, contact Megan Fischer at fischer@childrenmuseum.org.

ALSO mark your calendars for the next screening, Tuesday, March 16, 7:00 - 9:00 PM at Temple Beth-El in Providence. Stay tuned for more details. Interested in hosting a screening in your community or at your organization? Please let us know by emailing the address above - we'd be happy to help you organize it!

The conversations about the importance of play continue on the Museum's listserv,
"PlayWatch: Connecting the Community to Promote Children's Play."
To read the PlayWatch archives or to join the list, visit www.playwatch.org.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Safe Place

Families Together is the Museum’s therapeutic visitation program, providing a safe space for parents and children who have been separated by the Family Court due to abuse or neglect. Program clinician Amanda Grandchamp shared this story of one family’s growth.
As a clinician for the Museum’s Families Together program, I facilitate a series of visits between parents and their children who have been legally separated by the Family Court due to abuse or neglect. I observe and assess parent/child relationships and skills as well as provide case management, feedback and support. Almost forgot to mention one thing…I get to PLAY!

This is a story – one story – of a family’s growth during their time at the Museum.

In the beginning there was CHAOS. Two young girls ran around the Museum in opposite directions, laughing as their mother chased after them. I went one way, Mom the other. We rounded them up. A few minutes later the scenario repeated itself. This wasn’t the last time either. RULES. Together Mom and I set expectations for the girls. Stay together and follow Mom’s directions. Over time they were able to recite them. Following them, another story. Testing the limit, absolutely.

TEARS. The bond this family shares is incredible. There is no way to count the number of times they tell one another “I love you” during a visit. Or how many times the girls refer to their mother as “my best Mom.” It is many. Their emotions may OVERWHELM them, become exhausting or paralyzing. Situations are INTENSE. A time-out may involve crying, screaming, hitting, kicking, biting, throwing things. When that time-out is finished, there is a possibility another will follow shortly. MORE TEARS. SADNESS. SMILES…SMILES?

POSITIVE DISCIPLINE. Mom and I had a number of conversations about redirecting behavior. We also discussed “1, 2, 3 Magic,” a technique for giving consequences like time-outs. With repeated effort, practice and consistency, Mom’s effectiveness blossomed. Effectiveness led to a boost in self-esteem and positive experiences. Mom works hard. The girls respond well.

SAFETY. When you’ve endured traumatic experiences, everything is about being safe. Descending a ladder. Sitting in a chair. Playing safely. Staying with Mom. Feeling safe with Mom. Mom and I taught the girls about being safe. Now they remind other children in the Museum to be safe, too.

LAUGHING. SILLINESS. MORE LAUGHING. LOVE. Mom becomes more comfortable working with me and with the atmosphere of the Museum. She is content being silly. In the ship in Coming to Rhode Island, when the girls least expect it, Mom suddenly makes the sound of a caged rooster. They all howl with laughter. In Littlewoods, the girls become wild skunks, spraying Mom and me, shrieking with laughter. In Water Ways, the girls become excited when water shoots and sprays everywhere, including in Mom’s face and mine. But that doesn’t matter, water soon dries. And in Play Power, not even using the exhibit! Enjoying their special time together, Mom trails the girls, saying she is hungry, pretending to eat them. I am sure their laughter echoed throughout the Museum. It is nice to see the girls and their Mom smile. They must notice I am smiling as well.

PLAY. For 90 minutes, this family plays together amidst the magic of the Museum. There are sad times, there are happy times, there are difficult times, all as expected. Their journey does not end here. All families are unique, but it's families like this we don’t forget and families like this it hurts to remember.