Monday, April 28, 2014

Flora and Fauna

On view this spring in the atrium walkway window boxes, discover a lovely light-filled collection of cut paper flowers and charming critters handcrafted by AmeriCorps members Hannah Thompson and Sarah Schnurr.

After initial brainstorming sessions to focus their concept, the pair took on different roles in the process. Hannah cut and layered transparent colored velum to form the flowers, which Sarah noted have “almost a stained glass effect.” Sarah created bugs from beads, found materials and florist tape, adding to a display that Hannah described as “whimsical yet scientific.”

Throughout the process, “We offered each other advice and critical feedback,” said Hannah. Sarah added, “Seeing it finally come together was rewarding. It ended up working really well.”

Flora and Fauna will be on display into July, so take a look on your next visit!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Talking Back: Play Guide Bob Nickles

Bob Nickles has volunteered nearly 1,000 hours since 2011.

What’s your background?
I grew up in New Jersey and went into the Marine Corps for four years after high school.  Then I worked as a laborer, in digital electronics and as a welder and steel fitter.  I went back to school and got a degree in elementary education and taught second grade in one of the poorest districts in San Antonio for four years.  I worked as a handyman and janitor at the Children’s Museum in Pawtucket in 1991, before it moved to Providence.  I fixed exhibits and when kids saw me with the tool belt, they would come and talk to me.  Later I went back to steelwork but, when I retired a few years ago, I knew I needed something to do and came back to the Museum.  I think being involved with kids is the best job in the world for me.

How did you play as a kid?
With anything we could find!  It was a big deal when we got roller skates – the kind that you could put on your shoes – and we skated on the dead-end street in front of our apartment.  For 5 cents, you could buy a big box of chalk and we would draw giants and dinosaurs on the tar street.  It was beautiful – just like a blackboard, it was that smooth.  We’d go into the woods and play anything – we were kids of the streets.  We had a lovely growing up.  When I was 10, we moved to Long Island and lived near the beach, which was great – the beach is always different, the water is always changing, there’s always something for a kid to play.

What ways do you like to play in the Museum?
I play what [the kids] are playing, and I try to expand it in some way.  An example: I came into Water Ways and some of the smaller white pipe was in the pool with the big pipe stuff and I thought to myself, "that’s in the wrong place."  Then I realized I was thinking like an adult, but I should act like an adult and think like a kid!  So I made some structures with the smaller pipes and left them there to see what would happen.  When I came back later in the day, the structures were still there. 

I’m always playing looking for a slightly different angle.  The Water Ways pools are so curved that the waterwheels won’t sit in them.  So I stacked three of them on the floor, on top of the drain.  Two girls were right on it with watering cans, and the water flew out.  By observing kids, I can see what they might need.

What have you gotten from the experience?
I’m thinking more, I’m discovering more, I’m making little inventions at home.  Just practical things.  I’m honestly more creative.  Now when I see a problem, I think up something new, and that’s new for me.  That’s happened because I’ve been here, I’m sure of it.  It’s been an epiphany, and kids are the catalyst.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Talking Back: Play Guide Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson has volunteered nearly 900 hours over the past four years.

What’s your background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and worked in insurance for 25 years in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  I was thinking about a career change to teaching and looking for volunteer opportunities to fill my time, which led me to the Museum. 

What have you gotten out of the experience?
It’s a great opportunity to learn after not working with young children in quite some time. I’ve seen that I really have a special connection to children. It’s a great place to volunteer. I love the way the volunteers are supported, that they have training, that there are people around to ask questions. I think it’s a wonderful model for other agencies that work with a lot of volunteers.

What’s your favorite exhibit to play in?
Littlewoods.  Up to age 4, you really get to see the child’s personality develop.  But they all have something special and unique.  There have been so many changes in the time that I’ve been at the Museum – the outdoor space, Discovery Studio, ThinkSpace.  And of course the little changes like the window boxes in the ramp are so great.

What do you enjoy most?
Helping a child up the ladder in Littlewoods for the first time.  The parents hover, not sure if their child can do it, and encourage the child up the ladder.  The child gets to the top with a smile so bright, and then goes down and back up again and again.  I love to see a child so full of joy each and every time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Talking Back: Museum Play Guides

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, meet some of our remarkable play guides!

Katie Meloro, a Providence College student studying elementary and special education, began an internship last summer.

What brought you to the Museum?
I wanted an opportunity that would give me a chance to work with children without being in a traditional classroom setting.  The Museum offered me an internship that helped me work with the standards I use in all my lesson plans as well as let me engage children in fun play activities!

How might your internship benefit you as a teacher?

At first I thought that being a play guide would just be a bonus to the “real” experience I'd receive by creating a guide to align field trips to standards, but it turns out that has been the most valuable part by far!  Observing children engaging in free play has taught me a lot about how they learn and approach new experiences, which will be incredibly useful when I run my own classroom.

What are your favorite ways to play in the Museum?
I've found that visitors respond most when I engage in side-by-side play and either compare what we're doing or ask them to help me.  Children are naturally curious and so am I, so it's a great combination.

What’s one of your most memorable play moments?
A few children created an entire kingdom using the Imagination Playground blocks and other materials.  They hadn't known each other prior, but these children collaborated with their adults and with everyone who entered to create a new world.  I love that combination of resourcefulness and imagination!

Nakeecha Roberts and her children Lionel (16) and Heaven (14) have volunteered as a family since last fall.

What inspired you and your family to start volunteering at the Museum?
It’s required for Lionel’s school and I’m a single mom, had been out of work for a year, and wanted something I could do while searching for a job.  Heaven and Lionel have gone to the Children's Museum since they were very young and we’ve always enjoyed spending time there as a family.  We were so excited that this would not only show our support and love for the Museum but was a way to learn something new and have fun doing it.

What have you gotten from the experience so far?
The value of family. Whenever we greet a visiting family, it means a lot to us that we make their visit fun, safe, lively and gratifying, [and filled] with learning, creativity and bonding.

What are your favorite exhibits and ways to play in the Museum?
Our favorite exhibits are ThinkSpace, Discovery Studio and Coming to Rhode Island.  We like building with blocks to see if we can create something new.  We also love to dress up and pretend we’re princesses or pilgrims!

What else do you all like to do together as a family?
We enjoy being outdoors when it's warm and sunny. We go to the park to play basketball, badminton, ball, frisbee, and enjoy remote control planes and cars. We love going out for ice cream or out to a restaurant. We love to visit other museums out of state, like Massachusetts and DC.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Celebrating Our Playful Volunteers

April 6 to 12 is National Volunteer Week, a time for us to recognize the extraordinary individuals who play an essential role in serving the Museum’s mission to inspire and celebrate learning through active play and exploration.

The Museum simply couldn’t open its doors without the support of a dedicated, playful and diverse team of volunteers.  In 2013, over 300 committed volunteers, interns and college work-study students served more than 13,000 hours.  They engaged children and caregivers in hands-on exhibits and activities and greeted visitors at the welcome desk each day.  Behind the scenes, interns conducted research and evaluation projects and volunteers assisted with fundraising events, prepared mailings, provided office support, and cared for the Museum’s collection of children’s books.

The majority of Museum volunteers are play guides – the playful people in yellow aprons who welcome visitors in exhibits and programs and encourage positive play and learning experiences.  Play guides are adults, college and high school students, and families who expand and deepen visitor engagement by offering challenges, sharing favorite tricks, and inspiring them to consider new ways to play.  Family volunteers (usually adult/child pairs) play together, share their enthusiasm, and invite visitors to get involved, all while modeling ways to play.  Play guides get to know and build relationships with regular visitors, enabling them to encourage individual interests and spark kids’ and adults’ curiosity.

“Volunteers are an essential part of the Museum,” says Volunteer & AmeriCorps Coordinator Julie Burkhard.  “They help us extend our work with children and families and bring their amazing set of individual skills to all aspects of our work.  We have high school and college students, families and community members in our exhibits.  We have students interested in child psychology, retired teachers and even people who want to build their skill set for when they become parents.  Our volunteers not only do good work, but they help the Museum connect to the community we serve.”
Interested in volunteering?  The Museum is always looking for play guides and family volunteers.  Click here or contact Julie to learn about other current opportunities.