Thursday, June 30, 2011

Discovery Studio Takes Shape

Discovery Studio opens in one week! Now for a peek at the process of putting it together...

For months, Chris Sancomb (exhibit designer) and Hillel O'Leary (exhibit technician) have been hard at work in the Museum's shop building beautiful new cabinets, shelving and other Discovery Studio components.
Chris cuts materials for the entryway signage.
Hillel carves the "smock tree."
Meanwhile, program coordinators Carly Baumann and Mary Scott Hackman have been developing activities and getting supplies in order, while Valerie Haggerty-Silva (graphic designer) has been planning and prototyping Discovery Studio signage.
Prototype of entry signage.
Then came the work to disassemble the activity room,
get it painted with vibrant new colors,
and install new cork-patterned flooring.
This week, the cabinets and shelves were moved into place and the space is just about ready to be set up and stocked with an array of fabulous materials.
Also, our Discovery Studio tortoise arrived, courtesy of Dave Marchetti of Animal Experiences! More on this adorable creature later.
Check back for a look at the finishing touches!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Conversation with Carly Baumann & Mary Scott Hackman

Meet the educators responsible for Discovery Studio and other Museum programs: Education Programs Coordinator Carly Baumann and Early Childhood Programs Coordinator Mary Scott Hackman.

What’s your background?
Carly: I first came to the Museum to be part of the 2003-04 AmeriCorps team, from a background in education, and worked with Learning Clubs developing hands-on activities and after-school programs. After my AmeriCorps year, I worked in Providence after school and taught elementary school and returned to the Museum in 2007 as a staff member.

Mary: My background is in early childhood. Prior to coming to the Museum in April 2008, I spent a year teaching Head Start teachers at Ready to Learn Providence how to weave literacy into their curriculum. Before that, I was training early childhood educators and teacher assistants in the Providence school system.

Describe your role(s) at the Museum.
M: My focus is bringing information about early child development and things that appeal to children ages 1-6 to the Museum. I plan programs, oversee the AmeriCorps team that works with Head Start (ages 3-6) children, and think about what’s best for our youngest visitors.

C: Both Mary and I help shape the learning experiences children and families have at the Museum and identify learning targets. I design programs for kindergarteners and up and mentor our AmeriCorps members working in the after-school community to develop hands-on curriculum to Museum standards and philosophy while guiding their growth as educators.

M: Carly and I have also have a responsibility to the wider community of sharing the Museum’s philosophy about the ways children learn with other educators.

C: And with other staff, too – Experience Coordinators, Play Guides, interns. Not just procedures of what we do but the why.

In general, what’s the role of Museum programs?
C: Museum exhibits are designed to be handled and experimented with by thousands of children. Programs allow us to take the same philosophy of hands-on learning and expand it to materials and tools that are messy, risky, small, delicate in ways we couldn’t do in exhibits. They allow us to be more spontaneous and try out new ideas while offering activities, challenges and support for children to be independent and creative.

What’s the goal of having a dedicated program space like Discovery Studio?
C: We are creating an environment specifically designed to be an inspiring place to hold our programs. Currently we have flexible rooms that can be anything. Flexibility has been important to maximize our space, but it means hauling materials from the basement, moving tables and stools for every program. We want the experience to be more efficient for staff while giving visitors access to more materials. It’s really a learning space. It will always there – we can put things up on the walls and keep them there, or change it over time.

M: Components of the Studio that will help all of us are opportunities to store things there, to have sand and water tables available at any time as well as manipulatives and books. We’ll have a tortoise and living plants, to give children opportunities to observe. And a nook, a place to retreat to – a quiet space for a family to read a book, with comfy pillows.

C: We’ve thought about how design works with different ages. We wanted to play with levels in Discovery Studio – higher tables for activities designed for older children, lower tables for toddlers and preschoolers. When visitors walk in the door, they’ll instinctively know what’s appropriate for them. Of course anyone is allowed to explore any area of the Studio, but it allows us to better respond to the needs of visitors.

M: We’ll also have areas in the room where children’s work is displayed so visitors can see what happens there and the types of experiences they can have.

C: We also have the opportunity to try something new, to have ongoing art or creative projects that children can continue to come back to. Another piece of our learning is giving visitors access to these experiences as long as the Museum is open. Sometimes experiences will be facilitated, but other times they will be self guided, with hints and ideas.

What inspiration did you draw on in planning the space and the programs?
C: Primarily we drew on what we’ve learned from the programs that we run, that we respond best to visitors when we offer multiple ways in, when we invite them to experience materials in different ways.

M: And when we give a longer window in which to explore – we designed the space and program time so that children can drop in and leave and come back, that there’s no pressure to complete or finish. Open-ended time is important to the child’s process. I’ve also been influenced by the words of [Reggio Emilia founder] Loris Maliguzzi, who said that rather than teaching children anything, giving them materials to interact with is the way we should be educating. Children need the time and the space to manipulate materials.

C: Immersing ourselves in other studio environments, from art studio spaces designed for children to nature labs. Each of us involved in this project has drawn on spaces where we find inspiration.

Why and how are you documenting what happens in Discovery Studio?
M: The Museum is already documenting, through the blog and collecting great stories. The visitor experience has always been elicited, via exhibit “talk-back” boards, the “show-off” shelf in Shape Space and directly from the visitor. We want to continue that in Discovery Studio by capturing a moment a child has and making it come alive.

C: We’ll have a permanent place to show children’s work, photographs, quotes and tell the story of the learning happening in the Studio. It gives us a chance to develop our own professional practice, to talk deliberately about the kinds of learning we’re supporting and how we can do better.

M: Documentation also shows children how much we value what they’re thinking, and that’s a really important message we want to give our visitors.
Documentation wall prototype.
What are you most looking forward to once Discovery Studio is open?
C: For me, seeing where the visitors take it. We can only plan up to a certain point. What’s really going to make this space magical is what children bring to it, and we can learn from them.

M: I am so excited that the room will appeal to a very wide range of development and age – to see an 11-year-old alongside a 2-year-old in the same space, each doing an activity and being industrious, and that so much of an exchange will go on because of that.

C: Learning Clubs will also be held in Discovery Studio and I’m so excited to see this space used for the hands-on activities our AmeriCorps member develop for children who have such limited access to beautiful materials in their classrooms or community centers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marvelous Mud

This article by Education Programs Coordinator Carly Baumann was originally posted on Kidoinfo.

A favorite childhood summer activity, my sisters and I used to spend hot days filling a little green plastic pool from the backyard hose to keep cool. But so much of the fun was what was happening outside the pool; we loved to splash the water straight to the ground, making muddy puddles. I remember how sun-warmed and sensational the mud felt on my bare feet, creating suction as I pulled them up and down. A Children’s Museum colleague shared an accidental mud discovery she made with a group of preschool children. Playing with a homemade slip-and-slide on a hill, children were just as drawn to the mud they made in the process, noticing the fascinating downhill rivulets being formed as the water and soil met, the kids changing the directions of the paths.

Despite its sometimes dirty reputation, mud stands strong with sand and water as an excellent open-ended play element for children to explore, allowing them to shape their environment while engaging their senses. Dirt and water can come together in endless combinations for mixing and molding, giving kids permission to dig in, experiment and make mistakes because of the endless supply. At the Museum, we’ve celebrated mucking around with mud using lots of topsoil, water and inspiring materials. Children used old kitchen pans and utensils to roll and form mud pies, each one uniquely constructed and adorned with toppings like gravel, dry beans and sprinkles of sand – some artfully arranged, others piled just for the experience of it. While most kids darted straight to the mud pit and other activities, not everyone was without hesitation. We loved how one mom pushed through her doubts, shook her head with a smile and said, “Why not go for it?”

When we asked Museum visitors to respond to the question, “What ways do you play with dirt and mud?,” they shared ideas from “make a restaurant that serves mud” to forming mud balls and muddy face paint. Mud play can be a messy, full-body outdoor experience but it’s also an art medium to explore indoors. We mix mud and sand for a gritty, spreadable texture, perfect for painting and stamping on paper with brushes with natural materials. Connecting with dirt and mud – basic elements of the earth – in different ways is wondrous, creative and just plain natural!

Celebrate International Mud Day on June 29! And dig in for some messy hands-on fun at the Museum during Mud Play programs on June 25 and 26. Also take home inspiration for outdoor play with the “Play in the Dirt!” kit in the Museum Gift Shop, packed with hands-on activities compiled by the Museum’s play specialists.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Discovery Studio is Coming SOON!

Yesterday marked the closing of our second floor activity room (next to Littlewoods) for the installation of Discovery Studio, opening July 7. What was once an unadorned room will be transformed into a vibrant new space for children's open-ended art and science exploration over the next several weeks!
The painting crew hard at work.
Although the installation just started, the work has been under way for some time – many months have gone into planning what this new program space will look like and what activities will be offered, as well as fabricating new cabinets, shelving and other components.

Here's a look at the Discovery Studio inspiration boards created by the "X-Team" – the team that plans and designs the Museum's environments – for a prototyping meeting last fall (click to enlarge).

Program coordinators Carly Baumann and Mary Scott Hackman have a meeting to plan Discovery Studio activities.

Director of Education Cathy Saunders tests out some of our new blocks.

And a gorgeous concept drawing by Graphic Designer Valerie Haggerty-Silva.

Learn more about Discovery Studio in the Museum's summer newsletter, and stay tuned for a peek at the process of bringing the space to life.

And join the Thrive Drive, a new online fundraising effort, to support the creation of Discovery Studio!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Take the Children's Garden Challenge!

Last month, we announced a new texture hunt, created by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Jackie Frole to encourage visitors to explore the Museum's great outdoors. This week brings Jackie's latest creation: The Children's Garden Challenge!

Get out and search, solve and play – try out these fun things to do all summer long!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Toddlers at Play

I watched a team of toddlers busy in The Children's Garden as they filled cups with water at the fountain and carefully carried it back to the sand pit to mix with sand. Because they were only able to bring back small amounts of water and there is a lot of sand, it didn't produce much mud, but they were intent on the task nonetheless. One small girl had another idea. She dipped an archeologists’ brush into the cup of water and used it to “paint” the stone wall.
Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director

I witnessed a great family play moment after a mom and dad followed their two young, excited daughters with these beautiful blonde curls into Littlewoods. The girls were sweet and cute, playing with the puppets, climbing the tree, and running through the cave. At one point, the parents were near the 2-year-old in the boat, while the 4-year-old put on the skunk costume. She walked over to her family, turned around, bent down, and sprayed them! They all cracked up and the parents were flabbergasted because they had no idea she knew that skunks sprayed! Then the girl just kept spraying them over and over again, and they all just laughed together. It was such a fun moment witnessing the parents learning something about their daughter and also taking part in and appreciating her play.
Cassandra Kane, AmeriCorps Museum Educator