Friday, February 22, 2013

Raising Spatial Thinkers

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

I recently had the privilege of watching my granddaughter, at 9 months, negotiate the positioning of her body.  I could see the wheels turning as she tried to move into a sitting position, thinking “if I do this, this might happen…”  As she pulled herself up into what I refer to as the ‘majestic triangle,’ she brought her hands together celebrating the growing sense of herself in space.  She was really thinking spatially – developing an intuitive understanding of shape and space, a skill that is necessary to navigate the world around us on a daily basis.

Spatial thinking begins in infancy and develops over a lifetime.  As infants reach and grasp for things, they are increasing the number of neurons in their developing brains.  When a baby crawls under a small table and ducks his head, he is developing spatial sense.  As a preschooler unpacks and repacks a toy bin, she is thinking spatially.  Puzzle making, navigating an obstacle course, packing a backpack, all require thinking in this specific way.

Research shows that if we are not naturally gifted at thinking spatially, we can improve our skills with practice.  And we, as parents and educators, can help our children improve their spatial thinking abilities by giving them challenges and opportunities.  Here are a few tips and ideas:
  • One of the most important ways you can begin the process is by using spatial language and gestures with your youngsters – big and small, up and down, near and far, rotate, turn.
  • Take a walk through your office and pick up a stapler, a pencil cup, a ruler and a paper clip.  Position these objects on a large sheet of paper and trace around them.  The next time your 4-year-old is looking for an activity, roll out the paper and put the objects in a basket, inviting her to match the items to their outlines.
  •  Gather a large plastic container and many small items, like ping-pong or golf balls.  Ask your kindergartener to predict how many balls will fit in the container.  Try the challenge again with other objects of different shapes and sizes.
  •  Save your cardboard jewelry boxes.  When you have a critical mass, line a shoebox with them in a way that 10-12 boxes fit perfectly.  Dump out the jewelry boxes and present your 5- or 6-year-old with the challenge of finding the way to fit them into the shoebox.
  •  The next time you go on a trip, invite your 6-year-old to pack his own suitcase.  (This is not only good for spatial thinking, it’s great for his sense of self!)
  •  When your 8-year-old accompanies you to the grocery store, ask the clerk if she can do your bagging.
  •  On a hike, discuss navigation and have your child practice using a compass and a map.
This hands-on experience is important to raising a successful spatial thinker.  Your child will thank you years later when the GPS dies and she knows how to read a road map!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Nina's House!

One year ago today, Families Together – the Museum's renowned program for court-separated families – celebrated the opening of Nina’s House, a healing, homelike environment where families can rebuild relationships while practicing everyday skills.

While families in need of special guidance continue to play and learn together at the Museum, Nina's House enables Families Together to expand its reach to serve more families, assess their strengths and challenges, and better help them with their specific needs – including parenting skill development for families with very young children and those with mental health and cognitive issues.

In addition to opening Nina’s House, Families Together achieved these 2012 milestones:
  • Celebrated its 20th anniversary!
  • Served a record 609 children and parents in 233 families 
  • Welcomed 466 family visits to Nina’s House (a combination of visits guided by Families Together clinicians and visits facilitated by social workers from RI’s Department of Children, Youth and Families)
  • Was included in the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth’s Nationwide Listening Tour examining innovative child welfare practices
  • Completed work on a three-year federal grant to establish permanent homes for foster children by drawing on extended family support networks, as part of a coalition of RI social service agencies 
What an amazing year – congratulations to program director Heidi Brinig and the incredibly hard working Families Together team!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Learning About Playwork

We're thrilled to be hosting workshops by two British playworkers this year. The first, with Marc Armitage, will be held at the Museum in March:
Play For Its Own Sake: a playworking approach
Friday, March 22 | 1:00-2:30 PM
Playwork is a profession wholly dedicated to supporting children's freely chosen, self-directed play in a variety of settings.  Playwork approaches are used with children aged 0-19, and reframe such issues as challenging behavior and children's rights in unique and powerful ways.  With its professional bodies, training structures and educational and theoretical frameworks firmly established in the UK, Germany, Japan and elsewhere, playwork is still "emerging" in the United States.  This is an unusual opportunity to hear a widely recognized and experienced playworker and playwork trainer speak on such topics as: what playwork offers, some of the key names and theories, and how playwork approaches can be combined with other ways of working as well as delving into deeper topics like risk assessments and challenging behavior.
Tickets are $40 and space is limited; to register, visit:  To learn more about Marc Armitage, visit

Friday, February 8, 2013

Talking Back: Snow Day!

This post is inspired by the coming storm! Here are some ways Museum visitors told us they like to play in the winter, shared recently on the Talk Back board in Play Power:

Click here for more wonderful illustrations of how visitors like to play in the snow.

And here are lots of playful ideas for getting outside all winter long – whether it's chilly or mild, snowy or dry – from KaBOOM! and Kids Outdoors:

Let us know how YOU like to play outside in the winter. 
Happy snow day!