Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play With Your Kids!

This article by Executive Director Janice O'Donnell was also posted on Kidoinfo.

The big idea behind Providence Children’s Museum is that the best kind of learning happens through play. Kids learn all kinds of important things when they follow their own interests, make choices, try things out, solve their own problems, create their own characters and situations – by playing. As an educator, I am a true believer in this approach.

As a parent and grandparent and a friend of parents, grandparents and kids, I am also convinced that play serves an important role in family dynamics. I advocate for playing with your kids – not interfering in their independent play, but taking a playful attitude to parenting whenever you can.

A simple example of what I’m talking about: a few days ago, in the midst of the get up, eat your breakfast, get dressed, we’re going to be late routine, I said to 9-year-old Finn, “Brush your tooth.”
“My tooth?” he said, “Brush my tooth?” and headed off to the bathroom chuckling instead of complaining. It was just a moment of silliness but it softened the nag element. His giggles made me happy and my impatience dissipated. A playful attitude can change everything!

I highly recommend play as a hedge against irritation. You know those recurring trouble spots – fussing about going to bed, picky eating, sibling scuffles – that really frustrate you. Fend them off by getting playful before you get annoyed. Maybe your kid is pokey about getting dressed in the morning. Challenge her to a getting-dressed race and be really goofy about it. Act as if you are hurrying as fast as you can but make silly mistakes (like putting on your jacket inside out) that slow you down so that she wins. When you’re both laughing, it’s really hard to be angry at each other. Let’s face it, the only way you can win a battle of wills with a child is by not engaging in one.

Beyond keeping the peace, playing with your kids lets them know you’re paying attention to them. From their point of view, it can seem that your attention centers on keeping them safe and making sure they wash their hands and do their homework. When you play with them, you let them know you enjoy them and that feels really good – to the kids and to the grown-ups, too.

Parents are busy, but playing with your kids really doesn’t need to take a lot of time. You can fit it in with things you’re doing anyway. A car ride, for example, is the perfect time for singing together. My grandkids and I like songs that let the singers make up verses as they sing. “Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow” is a good one. The kids sing, “Did you ever see a giraffe…” and I rhyme it with something funny, “in a bubble bath!” They lead and I respond to them. We’re as silly as we can be and have a lot of fun.

Kids play all the time, so it’s easy to join them. Say you’re making dinner and your child comes in and roars. “Yikes! A lion!,” you say and, to prevent a lion attack, you give her a green bean. Or you’re sitting in a waiting room and he’s playing with his little cars. Take one and join his game. Vrooom! You can set a place at the table for her imaginary friend and include the figment in the conversation.

Why not play with your kids as often as possible? It makes life easier, it makes everyone happier, it’s good for them, it’s good for you – and it’s FUN!

For more playful tips, check out “Play With Your Kids! A How-To, Why-To Guide for Parents” by Providence Children’s Museum. The booklet was created to inspire families to play and learn together and is available in English and Spanish; click here to learn more about the guide.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Toy Boxes

This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Cassandra Kane.

Museum visitors – get ready to feel nostalgic!

In the new ramp box display Toy Boxes, co-worker Kirsten Thomsen and I showcase favorite toys children have played with throughout history. From wooden alphabet blocks to Beanie Babies®, the exhibit features toys we gathered from Museum staff and friends or found in the Museum’s collections. The display works like a timeline, progressing by date from the bottom of the ramp to the top, and labels in each box show the year the toys were created.

To determine which toys to include, we consulted resources like the Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame and other toy history websites. Our project supervisors, Carly Baumann and Robin Meisner, provided wonderful insight and support as well.
We acquired some vintage toys, like a NERF® ball with its original box (courtesy of Director of Education Cathy Saunders) and a variety of colorful Silly Putty® eggs. For ones like Raggedy Ann™ and Mr. Potato Head®, we used “newer” toys to represent the originals.
We enjoyed unearthing interesting stories about how some of the toys were created. For instance, did you know Silly Putty® was a wartime invention gone wrong, and LEGO® derives from the Danish phrase “leg godt,” meaning “play well”?

My favorite part of the project was rooting through the collection of toys the Museum has amassed over the years. Slipping on white gloves to look closely at tin toys with labels reading “Made in Western Germany” and to hold a 200-year-old chalkboard evoked feelings of wonder and appreciation for the role toys have played and continue to play in childhood.
Although we ended up not including those toys among the 17 in our exhibit, the experience reaffirmed our goal in creating the display – that everyone has a special toy in their lives. We hope that as caregivers walk up and down the ramp, they pause to reminisce about the playthings in their own toy boxes growing up and then strike up a conversation with their children about what toys mean to them. We look forward to overhearing those exchanges over the next three months.
An interactive talk-back board allows visitors to share their favorite playthings so during your next visit, be sure to post a memorable toy from your childhood or a toy that your child adores!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tea Party!

Last week, a delightful new tea party scene arrived in our marionette case, courtesy of AmeriCorps Museum Educators Rachel Schwartz and Lyndsey Ursillo. They described their inspiration as they worked with the Museum’s collection of Huestis marionettes:

“After first looking at all of the marionettes, amazed by their detail and beauty, we decided that our theme needed to be whimsical and fantastical.

We loved the animals, especially the monkey, and we also knew that we wanted to have a very lively and child-friendly scene. That is when we came up with the tea party idea because where else can you have a camel, a monkey, a bear and a giraffe sipping tea while a ballerina dances along a fence?

It was a pleasure playing with this idea and bringing Betty Huestis’s marionettes to life in a magical way!”

Stop by for a sip of tea next time you’re at the Museum! Click here to learn about our previous marionette displays.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Static Play!

This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Jackie Frole, who works with kids in the Learning Club program.

On a blustery 20-degree day, after pulling my winter hat off my head and watching my hair fly up like the Bride of Frankenstein, I realized that cold weather is good for something…static! Static (cling and shock) occurs because of the build up of electric charge on objects. Lucky for us, static works best when the weather is dry, like during the cold winter months.

I could go on and on about the phenomena of electrons, but instead, here are a few fun indoor static experiments to try at home. These activities have been tested and approved by kids in Learning Clubs, the Museum’s after-school outreach program that leads hands-on science activities for elementary school-age children. These last days of winter are perfect for science exploration while staying indoors and out of the fickle March cold!
Bending Water
Turn a sink faucet on so that it has a light but steady stream of water. Rub a balloon against a piece of wool or on your hair. Hold the balloon close to the stream of water and watch as it bends towards the balloon!

Can Racing
Use tape to create start and finish lines on the floor. Line up empty soda cans on their sides at the start line. Each racer gets a balloon and rubs it on a piece of wool or their hair. Hold the balloon in front of the soda can (no touching!) and watch it roll toward the balloon See how fast you can get your can to roll, or experiment with different size balloons and cans.
Static Sparks
For this experiment you need a small Styrofoam tray and a small aluminum tray (a pie tray or tin foil both work). Rub the Styrofoam tray with a piece of wool or on your hair and place it down on the ground. Pick up the aluminum tray and drop it on top of the Styrofoam tray. Turn off the lights, slowly bring your finger close to the aluminum tray, and watch a small spark jump from the tray to your hand!

Electrified Powder
Gather different types of powders (flour, detergent, salt, pepper, rice, sprinkles, etc.) and lay them out individually. Charge a balloon by rubbing it against a piece of wool or your hair. Then hold the charged part of the balloon an inch above the powders and watch as they fly up and stick to the balloon. Test out other powders and see what works best.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

PlayWatch: Block Builders

This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Cassandra Kane.

My favorite part about working with children is that I’m constantly in awe of their creative powers and imaginative play.

I was recently struck by one girl’s ability to transform a pile of ordinary blocks into an inventive “royal palace” scene during the Museum’s Block Builders program, which invites children to build with a variety of blocks and interesting materials. I watched as 7-year-old Cassie wandered the room, inspected each kind of block, and meticulously selected supplies for her project. She picked a spot to build and let her imagination run wild as she created an elaborate castle, block by block.Wood blocks stacked two or three high served as the outer frame, and a pyramid of additional wood blocks towered in the back, topped with a wood rectangle featuring a spinning flower “because princesses like picking pretty flowers,” according to Cassie.

She turned pink, green, and yellow plastic cylinders into soaring towers on the left and right sides of her castle. Blue and red tinted blocks instantly transformed into the vigilant and stern “guarders” John and Austin, who kept close watch on movement by the witch’s army from the “evil place,” another structure Cassie built a few feet from the castle’s grounds. There, a “mean old witch” trapped princesses in a red plastic cylinder covered with a large hardwood tray.
Cassie also used wood blocks to build items outside her castle, including a moat, a tree house, a refrigerator, and a table – created by placing a purple circular block on top of four Lincoln logs.

Inside the elaborate edifice, two princesses (pink and purple tinted blocks) named Cassie and Haylee ate a nourishing lunch consisting of their favorite foods and drink: donuts, ice cream, and chocolate milk. (Haylee is Cassie’s 6-year-old friend, who focused her attention nearby on balancing colorful acrobats on top of each other’s shoulders).

After her caregiver suggested it was time to move on to another area of the Museum, Cassie exclaimed, “I want to stay here and play!”

They left a few minutes later, though, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the tale would have continued and what else Cassie’s creative mind would have conjured up!