Friday, March 30, 2012

PlayWatch: Play Spaces

These observations of creative, collaborative play in the Museum’s Play Spaces program – which encourages kids to build with an array of interesting, everyday materials – were shared by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Stacy Greenberg.

While many children sought to create the tallest structures they could, a group of 5-year-olds found building long, twisty paths was much more entertaining. These “magic roads” were full of tricks because each material had its own “super power” – for example, foam was a skip-only zone. I’m not sure whether they had more fun meticulously building their obstacle course or watching one another skip over foam, crawl through hula-hoop tunnels, balance on noodles, or bust a move in the dance party room!

One adventurer draped a snakeskin-printed cloth over chairs and tables to create a jungle. Though his parents were spectators at first, he eventually coaxed his dad in by telling him the floor was quicksand, and together they navigated a swamp of giant plushy noodles and trees. The adventure quickly became a pretend play crusade, with dad inventing challenges, too: “There’s a tiger over there! What do we do?” By the time lunch rolled around, the dynamic duo had battled wild beasts and survived a cliff jump, then rode elephants back home.

An avid hula hooper was determined to incorporate hoops into her creation. She arranged chairs into a star, using them to prop up two large plush noodles, and taped pipe circles on top. She draped two shiny sheets over the pipes, carefully positioning them so they wouldn’t slide. Her mom was involved and supportive. She was engaged in her daughter’s play, helping her think about what to do next and challenging her with questions like, “How will you get it to stay?” and “What can you do next?”

Two siblings warily entered the program and just wanted to watch at first. After a little while, they began experimenting with materials. The boy, age 5, tried to attach a dowel to a cardboard box, but it accidentally poked through. Inspired, he pushed the dowel through the other side and affixed giant foam shapes to either end. Suddenly, the creation had wings! He added a third foam piece for the head and decided it was a bird. His sister joined in on coloring, sharing that it is a red bird with yellow and orange feathers. As they colored, they developed a story of who the bird is and how he came to the Museum.

Inspired by other creations, another set of siblings chose to build a house. It had a pointed top, made with poles and draped fabric. To make it even homier, the boy (age 7) decorated the inside with things that reminded him of home – his favorite books, his toys, and animals he likes. Meanwhile, his 5-year-old sister added a second room for herself. The boy was eager to help and excited for his sister to “move in.” With added flourishes like windows, decorations and a crumpled newspaper doorknob the house quickly became a beloved home.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Word Play

Children’s Museum visitors will also discover Word Play, another exciting new display in the atrium walkway window boxes. Created by artist Lee Singer of Wakefield, RI, charming clay critters in clever scenes convey funny puns and idioms. Families delight in finding a bowling fish (“fishbowl”), a bathing pig (“hogwash”), a spelling bee and more.

The exhibit unites two hobbies Singer has enjoyed since the age of 9: word play and clay play. She crafted an array of creatures from polymer clay, a material she has worked with for 25 years, and selected the most visual options for display – the ones she thought would be the most fun for kids and adults to decipher together.

To create environments for her creatures, Singer relied on a variety of techniques. Some scenes include polymer miniatures, some are hand drawn or use handmade papers, and many incorporate recycled materials from her collection of scraps and leftovers. Singer’s partner – woodworker Adam Levinson – also fabricated some of the tiny props.

Describing her inspiration for the critters and scenes, Singer cited author and illustrator Edward Gorey and her 4th grade teacher, who encouraged her to figure out and draw plays on words.

Singer’s favorite scene is kitty litter – some very messy cats surrounded by their garbage!

Singer, an ER/trauma nurse at South County hospital, crafts a number of other items from polymer clay, including jewelry, beads, ornaments and knitting needle finials. She has displayed her work at various craft shows but this is her first museum exhibit.

Check out Word Play, on view through mid-June, and see if you can puzzle out the puns!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Monkey Business

There’s some Monkey Business in the jungle scene that has sprouted up in our lobby display case, which features stuffed, wooden and twine monkeys and apes swinging from vines.

AmeriCorps Museum Educators Abbey Jones and Ann Kerrin wanted to create a display that would engage kids as soon as they walk through the door and decided on the theme after discovering the monkeys, which were donated to the Museum.

In describing their process, Ann and Abbey said they created a series of sketches first, to determine where to place the trees, how big they should be, which monkeys to choose, and how to group them.

They worked with some of the many interesting materials found in the Museum’s basement, selecting items in earthy shades of green and brown and a range of different textures.

Their favorite monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

We’ve had a great response from our visitors so far – turns out that kids LOVE monkeys. The display will be up for awhile, so come monkey around with us!