Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Play in the Dirt!

Things have gotten pretty messy at the Museum lately, in a most wonderful way. We see kids digging and playing and poking and crawling out in our Children’s Garden. They’ve built and painted with sticks, stones and other natural materials. And a few weeks ago, during a special weekend Dig In! program, they sifted through soil in search of buried treasures, made mud paintings, and cooked up some magnificent mud pies – several of which were so intricately decorated that they hardly look like mud!

And recently, on our Talk Back board in Play Power, visitors have shared some creative ways they like to “muck around”:
Families can also take home some delightfully messy hands-on fun from the Museum Gift Shop. Our play specialists developed “Play in the Dirt!” kits, full of imaginative ways to dig in the dirt and mess around with mud, plus look for fossil and mineral excavation kits; tools to help you build your own worm or ant farm; and gear that will enhance any bug safari or outdoor exploration. Also check our calendar for more upcoming fun!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Making a Mural

This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Kerrie Hoban, a member of a team serving in the greater Providence Head Start centers operated by Children's Friend.

Providence Children’s Museum does educational outreach to low-income children and families through its AmeriCorps program and our AmeriCorps members also have the opportunity to do their own independent outreach projects.

For my independent project, I recently painted a mural on the bottom floor of Cianci Head Start preschool. The opportunity came at a point in the year when I was thinking a lot about how important art making is to children in encouraging them to feel like strong individuals.

Noticing that some of the walls of Cianci Head Start center were more notably decorated than others, I brought my ideas about painting a mural to Kim Pettaway (head teacher). She loved the drawings I showed her, inspired by the children’s book “I Am An Artist” by Pat Lowery Collins, and we talked a lot about community and how important that is to the families at Head Start. When I shared my idea for the theme of the mural, which is to encourage children and families to feel powerful when they are a part of the world (their community), she immediately told me to get to work!
Excited and armed with a brush and some drawings, I began painting the blank walls. The staff at the center was very supportive and excited and brought me water and materials when I didn’t even ask. The teachers seemed happy to have a new face in the building doing something for the children and families, even for a short while. Ultimately the best moments were the kids’ reactions of awe and surprise as they saw the wall come to life with each passing day. As groups of 3 and 4 year olds passed through the hallways to go to the playground they used their hands to mimic the image they saw, traced letters on the wall, and made observations like “that looks like me”!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nature Art!

This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Gina Sparacino.

“This looks like a tree. And this is a tree!”
“Hey look—I can write my name with a stick!”
“Can I make another one? ‘Cause this is fun!
“Know what I made? Let me tell you. It’s a dragon!”

These are just a few of the exuberant sound bites heard at last week’s program “Painting with Natural Things.” The activity was the latest installment in the summer Nature Art series taking place every Friday in July and August from 10:00 AM - Noon.

The series, inspired by our new outdoor exhibits in The Children’s Garden, was designed by Early Childhood Program Developer Mary Scott Hackman and AmeriCorps member Kerrie Hoban. Together, they revisited some tried-and-true past programs, explored nature activity books, and gained inspiration from the great outdoors to come up with a fun curriculum of creative nature projects.

Week one was devoted to “Painting with Natural Dyes.” Radishes, beets, tea, turmeric, cabbages and blueberries were heated in water in to create beautiful, brilliant hues for children to explore artistically. Kids were instantly drawn to the vibrant colors and surprised to learn how their “paint” had been made. “A lot of kids didn’t know what a beet or a radish was,” shared Kerrie. “It was cool to show them new foods. It made the food more powerful for them to use in the art, which was neat.”

Many visitors saw the activity as both an artistic and scientific endeavor. One child in particular stayed for a large portion of the program, continually altering his canvas by layering food dyes and making observations about the subsequent color changes that occurred. Overall, the event was a hit!
Equally successful was the recent “Printing with Natural Items” program. In week one, the tools (sponge brushes) were synthetic and the medium was natural. For the second week, this idea was turned on its head—children produced artwork using regular black paint (with a healthy helping of dish soap added for easier clean-up!) in combination with “paintbrushes” found in nature.
Visitors experimented with different strokes and texture possibilities using pinecones, feathers, twigs and bark strips. A father took care creating an intricate tree design while his enthusiastic daughter completed four original paintings. A camp group had a ball making all kinds of art—and especially appreciated the chance to get a little messy! Our youngest visitors enjoyed the tactile sensation of the natural items. One three-year-old little girl sat for about 45 minutes using every tool we offered to cover her entire piece of paper with thick, black paint. Her mother commented that she had never seen her daughter sit that long doing one activity. Amazingly, the secret for engaging toddlers and children of all ages doesn’t have to involve a great deal of money or labor—just a short stroll outside and a little imagination!
Be sure to check out future Nature Art programs each Friday morning through August – click here for details. And afterwards, maybe you’ll be inspired to try these activities at home!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

PlayWatch: Kids Take Over the Garden

This post was contributed by Museum Executive Director Janice O’Donnell.

One of the best things about the new additions to The Children's Garden is how much intense child-directed play we see there. And when kids are in charge, their play isn't always exactly what we had in mind.

A fluid group of five or six kids – oldest ones about 8 or 9 with a couple of 4-year-olds doing their best to keep up – were chasing each other through the tunnels in Underland, popping out of different openings and diving back in and making a lot of joyful noise. I noticed the older boys were pointing wooden utensils at each other, accompanied by sound effects: “Bang! Bang! Bang!” We made those gracefully carved wood pieces for pretend cooking and stirring, not lethal weapons, but I've mellowed over the years. I know that kids will pretend sticks – or almost anything else – are guns and still turn out just fine.

An older child crawled out of the tunnel, followed closely by a little one. He handed her the stick (gun) and said, very seriously, “Cover me,” and sprinted to The Climber. The other kids emerged into the sunlight, conversing intently in a language I couldn't begin to identify. It sounded like something out of “Star Wars” and was spoken in robot-type voices. Whatever it was, they understood each other perfectly and apparently devised a plan because suddenly they fanned out. They ran in every direction, jumped off the stone walls and took cover behind bushes, until one spotted their prey. She shouted (in that strange language of theirs) and pointed toward The Climber.

Photo by Susan Sancomb

And, like a wave, they streamed up The Climber, which became the site of a scrambling, shouting, sliding chase. There were grown-ups around but the kids seemed oblivious to us and no one interfered with their play. It was such good play ­– that deep, intense play where catching or eluding feel like life and death. And it was all theirs, even if it was inspired by a movie or TV program. They were embodying their characters and inventing the twists and turns of plot.

I am so pleased that we – the designers and developers of the new spaces – decided early on that additions to the garden had to be open-ended. We set out to create environments to inspire and encourage play, but where play would be directed by the kids. Kids would make the stories, determine the possibilities, push the limits, invent new uses for whatever we provided. And they do. To me, that means total success.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Discovery Studio is NOW OPEN!

The verdict is in: kids – and grown-ups – LOVE Discovery Studio! We welcomed our first group of 11 children, ages 2 to 13, into this vibrant new art and science exploration space and they were all deeply engaged in imaginative play for a full hour, plus created pieces to help us decorate the Studio.

Some scenes from Discovery Studio:

Come see Discovery Studio for yourselves, and please leave us a comment to let us know what you think! Also enter the contest to name our tortoise – submit your suggestions here or on our Facebook page.

This Summer in Discovery Studio
Discovery Studio is open for self-guided exploration each Thursday through Monday, with some facilitated activities. Explore a different theme each week, with activities appropriate for a wide range of ages and abilities.
July 7 - 11 • Opening Celebration! Sample a selection of imaginative activities that will be offered in Discovery Studio. August 4 - 8 • Animal Adventures
Create critters, craft wild habitats and encounter live animals.
July 14 - 18 • Nature Investigators
Create with and examine objects from the natural world.
August 11 - 15 • Light and Color
Experiment with the art and science of color mixing.
July 21 - 25 • Block Builders
Tackle engineering challenges with an assortment of interesting blocks.
August 18 - 24 • Texture Trace
Experience sensory explorations from mild to messy.
July 28 - August 1 • Earth and Water
Investigate the movement of water, scoop sand and sculpt clay.
August 25 - 31 • Re-Constructors
Sculpt and build with an artful array of recycled materials.

Click here to learn about the inspiration for and process of creating Discovery Studio. And thank you to everyone who supported the Thrive Drive for helping to make this new space a reality!

Friday, July 2, 2010

SO Much Summer Fun!

Yes, we have two fabulous new outdoor play spaces, but there's a bunch of other summer fun to be had at the Museum, including these exciting summer series:

Wheels at Work
Wednesdays in July & August
10:00 AM - Noon

Kids get behind the wheel when fascinating vehicles roll up to the Museum during this special summer series. Climb aboard a fire truck, sit atop a giant digger, examine the equipment in an ambulance and meet the drivers who operate them. Explore a different vehicle each week!

July 7: Kids learn how a digger truck does its digging from a Narragansett Bay Commission operator.

July 14: Explore an ambulance and learn how technicians from Rhode Island Emergency Services for Children help injured kids.

July 21: Climb aboard a giant tow truck from Coletta's Towing and learn how it rescues broken cars.

July 28: Meet a Providence Police officer and explore a police cruiser.

August 4: Inspect a fire truck! Providence Fire Department firefighters teach kids how the vehicle helps put out fires.

August 11: Check out the giant digging bucket of a Cardi Corporation backhoe loader.

August 18: See WPRI-12’s Pinpoint Weather Mobile and learn how it helps meteorologists track the weather.

August 25: Get behind the wheel of the city’s biggest truck, the Providence Department of Public Works' 10-wheeler.

Eco Explorers
Tuesdays in July & August
1:00 - 3:00 PM
Kids create from natural materials, blow enormous bubbles and meet live animals. Get out and play in The Children's Garden and try different activities exploring the wonder of science and nature each week. Ages 3 - 11

July 6 & August 3: Meet a Worm
July 13: Mud Play
July 20: Animal Trackers
July 27 & August 17: Bubble Blast
August 10: Underground Critters

NaturescapesNature Art
Fridays in July & August
10:00 AM - Noon
Kids print with natural materials like pinecones and mushrooms and paint with natural dyes. Drop in for a different activity each week; check our calendar for details. Ages 3 - 8