Saturday, December 31, 2011


Wishing you an inspiring new year 
full of FUN and plenty of PLAY! 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Talking Back: School's Out!

Recently, on the Talk Back board in Play Power, we asked visitors "How do your kids play before or after school?"  Here's what some of them – and their children! – had to say:

(We especially love this one!)

How do your kids like to play when they're not in school?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shape Shifting

Last week brought some updates to our Shape Space environment that will help us test ideas for a new exhibit on geometry and spatial thinking to open late next year.

Look for these changes next time you visit the Museum:
  • A new geoboard activity table featuring three different boards – each with a unique distribution of pegs – and a variety of sizes of colorful rubber bands. School-age kids stretch the rubber bands around the pegs to create shapes, patterns and designs.
  • A new magnet wall and vibrant magnetic shapes. Use the four different shapes to make tessellating patterns and more.
  • And an expanded block building area.
Here are some images of the process and results:

RISD intern Kirsten cut out stacks of magnetic shapes.
Exhibit Designer Chris and Exhibit Technician Hillel installed the magnet wall
and then tested it out by making some amazing designs!
The geoboards in place.

Up next, watch for new labels with a geometry/spatial thinking focus that give parents and caregivers prompts and questions to encourage them to notice, appreciate and enhance their kids' play – similar to labels in Play Power and Water Ways – as well as more books, including some about the power of block building.

Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Telling the Story of Play

This article by Early Childhood Programs Coordinator Mary Scott Hackman was also posted on Kidoinfo.

At Providence Children’s Museum, we know that the child at play is often the child at work. And for some time now, we have been documenting children’s play, trying to capture that “aha” moment when, after interacting with materials and experimenting in different ways, he or she suddenly understands something new. In this process, which belongs entirely to the child, he or she is learning.

We call capturing these learning moments “documentation.” At the Museum, we have videotaped children as they learn, described their process on the Museum's blog, and displayed work children have left behind. And now, in Discovery Studio, we are noting the stories of these moments on a documentation board, depicted in photos and words. In these displays, we share how a child’s learning is self-directed, focused, intentional.

One day a Museum educator noticed a 2-year-old girl playing with stones in Discovery Studio. There were several books on the shelf right at her height. Slowly, she turned the pages of one of the books, holding a stone in her hand. Watching the child, it was clear to the educator that she was looking for her stone. She was, in fact, doing research. The educator photographed the child and spoke with her about her process; the pictures and words went up on the documentation board. For a long time, the child returned to the Museum to see her photo and to revisit the story we had documented.

Because we are inspired by these moments, we want to share them with our visitors, both children and adults. We think they will be inspired, too! Further, we believe that when we notice what children are doing as they play, they feel validated and become more competent as learners.

A few years ago, when I directed a childcare center, we documented children’s process in a similar way. It soon became apparent that our premise was correct: if a child feels his work is important, he will be eager to present it to you. One morning as I entered one of the classrooms, a child took my hand and led me across the room, saying “Mary, don’t you want to see what I’m working on at the easel?” And of course, I did.

We want to show the world, one story at a time, that play is as vital to the health of our children as food and sunlight. We invite you to join us in building a society of confident learners. Be a witness to your children, notice and appreciate their play. Know that they have a process and that doing something over and over again to gain understanding is the stuff of play – the serious work of childhood.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fan Mail

Every so often, the Museum gets letters, drawings and thank you notes from children who have visited – we love this kind of mail!

Just today we received some great artwork from a group of 14 preschoolers who visited recently from the Jewish Community Center. The children shared their favorite Museum play spaces and their interpretations are wonderful. Here's a selection – click to enlarge:

Thanks for sharing, JCC!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toy Stories

To prepare for The Power to Play: From Trash to Treasure – a display of toys handmade by children from around the world – we collected stories of toy making from our friends, staff and members of our international community.

Here are the ones chosen to accompany the toys, and to inspire visitors to share their own stories:

What toys do you and your family like to make? Leave us a comment, and stay tuned to find out what our visitors have to say about toys they've made and what they like to make toys from.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Risky Business

This article by Education Programs Coordinator Carly Baumann was also posted on Kidoinfo.
“In the real world, life is filled with risks… and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.”
                   – Dr. Joe Frost
At Providence Children’s Museum, we witness wonderful moments of learning through play all around us, every day: from discovering how to use a popsicle stick as a clay cutting tool to learning that Pilgrim children didn’t use forks, and that engineering a giant fountain with two friends is much easier than constructing alone.  But some of the most inspiring learning moments, often the most intense and real, involve taking a risk.  When children (and grown-ups) take risks or, as Tim Gill said, “actively seek out uncertainty,” they explore their own limits and learn about the world.  Risk is the ingredient that keeps us engaged and it helps make play more meaningful.

Making opportunities for risk-taking in Museum exhibits and programs is a responsibility we care deeply about.  Because we encourage open-ended experiences, there are not a lot of rules or instructions.  We believe in managing risk rather than seeking to eliminate it, so we embrace a philosophy of designing environments and experiences to be as safe as necessary but not as safe as possible.  In our outdoor Climber, a safe and challenging structure, kids experience a sensation of taking risks as they stretch, wiggle and climb two stories high.  Pushing through fears and internalizing one’s own sense of success doesn’t require a life-or-death situation; the perceived risk is just as valuable.  Children take risks in open-ended physical play, but also when they handle real tools, messy materials and live animals.  They take risks when trying challenges they might not succeed at on the first try, or the tenth.

It’s not only our responsibility to provide opportunities for risk-taking, but to communicate the value of risk to caregivers – the most vital supporters of their children’s learning.  In the parent resource area of our Play Power exhibit, video clips show children playing intensely throughout the Museum.  As a boy crawls across his own wobbly arch bridge and two builders witness the toppling of the intricate block tower they teamed up to construct, the narration reads, “When they are free to take risks and try new things, kids learn about their abilities.  And they learn how to bounce back when things go wrong.”


In a time when the media message is that growing up is not safe, children need support to take risks from the caring adults in their lives.  By taking risks ourselves when we are challenged, we model that risk is a part of life.  Watching families when they hesitantly handle worms from the Museum’s worm compost bin illustrates how risk can bring us together in intense social experiences.  Peers and parents can bring a sense of security that eases children from uncertainty to the exhilaration of overcoming a fear.  In The Climber, children get social support from other kids who help coach them down a steep step, or from parents watching below, still far enough away that the child negotiates his own way down.

Let’s remember that, as Fred Rogers said, “Play is the work of childhood.”  Risk is an essential element of children’s work and play and they need grown-ups who model, support and celebrate that.

The Museum recently hosted an energetic and thought-provoking discussion about the benefits of risk-taking to kids’ healthy development.  See conversation highlights and download the Kids, Play and Risk resource sheet – our compilation of great articles, books and more.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mind Lab at the Museum

This post was contributed by Museum Exhibits Director Robin Meisner.

At Providence Children’s Museum we’ve teamed up with developmental psychologists at Brown University and Providence College to create Mind Lab, a research partnership exploring how children learn – what our young visitors know and how their understanding develops and changes as they grow.

We’ve been hosting researchers at the Museum for almost a decade and are pleased to work with such active and engaged scientists.  To celebrate her first anniversary with Mind Lab, Dr. Jennifer Van Reet, assistant professor of psychology at Providence College, shared the results of one of her studies.
"Every week, my students and I look forward to our time in the Mind Lab. With the generous help of Museum visitors, we have been exploring the development of pretend play in preschoolers.  One project we recently completed had some really intriguing results!

All of my research is focused on discovering how people are able to pretend and figuring out in what ways pretending is beneficial. One way I do this is to find what other important abilities are related to pretending. In this project, I looked at an ability called inhibitory control, which we all use to control our minds and bodies. And we use it all the time! Every time you stop yourself from saying something you know you shouldn’t, or wait until after dinner to eat dessert, you are using your inhibitory control.

After measuring the inhibitory control and pretending abilities in a lot of different ways, I discovered that 3- and 4-year-olds who have the most inhibitory control are also the best pretenders. I also found that playing a particular type of game – games just like “Simon Says” – caused better pretending!  This type of game is special because it requires a certain kind of inhibitory control that helps you switch back and forth between two different rules (like when Simon says to do something versus when he doesn’t).  Other types of games, like waiting games or follow-the-leader games, did not have the same effect.
This project revealed quite a bit about pretend play that we did not know before. Now we know how important inhibitory control is for children’s pretend play, and we know that exercising children’s inhibitory control can help them to be better pretenders. This new information can now be used by people who work with children – like the staff at Providence Children’s Museum."
Dr. Van Reet models an activity from one of her studies.

Working with scientists gives the Museum an opportunity to learn about current research and create more meaningful, developmentally appropriate child- and adult-focused learning experiences, including hands-on activities for children, workshops for caregivers, and exhibits and environments for all visitors.

From Jennifer’s study we might consider…
  • Incorporating an appropriate inhibitory control game into our greeting for groups visiting the Museum;
  • Including such a game in take-home materials that compliment our programs; or
  • Designing an exhibit component that encourages the use of children’s inhibitory control skills.
Further conversations with Jennifer also suggest that there’s good reason to think that the inhibitory control/pretend play connection works both ways – that good pretend play has a hand in the development of strong inhibitory control skills.  And, like anything else, many children need practice at pretend play to become “good” at it.

Visitors to the Museum have lots of opportunities to engage in and practice pretend play.  All of our exhibits have components specifically designed to foster such play – for example, the bridge and crane in Iway, the underground kitchen in Underland and, perhaps less obviously, the casts in Bone Zone or blocks in Shape Space.  Museum Play Guides are trained to spark, seed and join children’s play – to help create richer, deeper play.  From the Museum’s perspective, an interesting future research study might investigate whether such play experience do indeed contribute to building a child’s inhibitory control skills.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Talking Back: Outdoor Play

Recently, on the Talk Back board in Play Power, we asked visitors how they like to play outdoors.  Here's what some of them – kids and grown-ups – had to say:

How do you and your family like to play outdoors?