Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mind Lab: A Space for Learning About Learning

For more than a decade, developmental psychologists have conducted research at Providence Children’s Museum to explore how young children think and learn.  Researchers from Brown University and Providence College welcome visitors to participate in studies in the Museum’s Mind Lab each week.

This month, the Museum opened a prototype of a new space for Mind Lab as part of a major three-year National Science Foundation-funded project (award #1223777) in collaboration with Brown University to study how children develop scientific thinking skills and understand their own learning processes.  The Museum is examining what children, caregivers and informal educators understand about learning through play in its exhibits and how to support children’s metacognition – the ability to notice and reflect on their own thinking – and adults’ awareness of kids’ thinking and learning through play. 

Located off the Play Power exhibit, the new Mind Lab space hosts ongoing research by the Museum and its academic collaborators and will share information on child development, learning and play.  The space will be open during most Museum hours with research-based activities for children ages 2 to 5 and ages 5 to 10, accompanied by information and resources for adults about the ways children learn.  Museum activities will give children opportunities to practice scientific thinking – noticing cause and effect, testing through trial and error, experimenting with different possibilities – and will help them see themselves as learners.  Meanwhile, the space will inspire adult visitors to notice and reflect on their children’s often systematic and purposeful play and to recognize the importance of self-directed play and exploration to child development.

Intern Alicia and Museum researcher Suzy prototype a cause and effect activity
with batteries and motors.

Over the summer and fall, Museum researchers will prototype and evaluate different activities for kids and tools for adults, and visitors will have plenty of opportunities to test them out and share their feedback.

Find out more about Mind Lab and the Learning About Learning project, and check back for more project updates.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Learning About Learning: What does learning through play look like?

The Museum is collaborating with Brown University on a major National Science Foundation-funded project (award #1223777) to study how children develop scientific thinking skills and understand their own learning processes.  In particular, Museum researchers are investigating how to make kids’ learning through play visible and are prototyping research activities in the Museum’s Mind Lab this summer. Museum researcher Suzy Letourneau shared this project update, which was also posted on Kidoinfo.

Imagine that you are 3 years old, playing with an interesting new toy. A grown-up shows you that the toy has some buttons. When she pushes a red button, nothing happens. When she pushes a blue button, nothing happens. But when she pushes both at the same time, some music starts to play. Now it’s your turn. What do you do?

Researchers who study child development use simple toys like this to answer questions about how children learn. What seems like a simple choice actually involves many underlying thought processes. As a child playing with this toy, you pay attention to what the grown-up is doing, notice the connection between the buttons and the music, and remember what you saw. Then you form a theory about how the toy works and decide what to do based on everything you’ve learned. You might even try different ways of playing with the toy, testing out your ideas.

When asking questions about how children learn, researchers don’t assume that children already know something. Instead, they carefully observe children’s behavior to find out how they interpret each experience, make each choice, and incorporate what they see or hear into what they already know. As a parent, you can watch your own children play through a scientific lens, observing your child’s thinking and learning in a new way.

Imagine another scenario: you are watching a 7-year-old build a castle out of blocks. She works on each part of the structure for a long time, adding one block at a time to make walls and a tower and adjusting when they start to wobble. She looks closely at her work, talking quietly about the characters that inhabit her imaginary kingdom. She smiles proudly and announces, “Look what I did!,” showing off her completed castle.

You can observe many thinking skills in this everyday situation. In order to construct the castle, she thought about what parts it should have, drawing on memories of castles she had seen before. She strategized by carefully placing blocks and fixing wobbly ones before moving on. As she talked about what she was doing, she put words to her ideas and kept herself focused. She reflected on what she was doing by looking closely at her work, and then by sharing what she had done with pride.

Thinking and learning can look different depending on the age and activity, but everyone – from infants to adults – shows their thinking as they play. Here are some thinking behaviors you can look for in any situation:
  • Exploring materials: Kids test things out to decide what to do.
  • Watching and imitating others: Kids learn how to start or what to try.
  • Talking about what they’re doing: Kids learn to describe their thinking and stay focused on what they’re doing.
  • Telling others what to do: Kids share ideas and strategies by collaborating or even by giving orders.
  • Repeating over and over: Kids practice new skills and learn about cause and effect.
  • Using trial and error: Kids learn from mistakes, make changes and try again.
  • Focusing: Kids look serious and intense when they concentrate on something they’re interested in or challenged by.
  • Expressing frustration: Kids reach obstacles, but working through challenges can help them learn to persevere and value the process of figuring things out.
  • Sharing accomplishments and “ah-ha” moments: Kids reflect on their own learning by showing others what they’ve discovered.

Visit the Museum’s website and see previous blog posts for more information about the Learning About Learning project.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blown Glass On Display

The “geometry gallery” in ThinkSpace features changing displays of natural and man-made objects that provide strong visual representations of spatial thinking, highlighting shapes in everyday life and the designed environment. Discover the newest installation by artist Tracy Glover, who is known for her gorgeous glass lighting and decorative accessories. From Tracy’s website
“Her skill is first as expert craftsman, using time-honored Venetian glassblowing techniques. Then there is her color sense: playful, lighthearted, fresh; marrying hues in triplicate for her wonderful a cane striped patterns. She delights in the physicality of the glassmaking process, and the challenge of working with such a malleable, fragile material.”

“Spatial thinking is an intuitive understanding (a sense) of shape and space – it’s about coordinating concepts of shape, representation and reasoning, “ said Exhibits Director Robin Meisner. “The art of glassblowing involves spatial thinking throughout the process: thinking about and transforming shape, color and texture; evaluating and changing size and scale; creating patterns; and more. And the glass beads and their shadows are really lovely to look at!”

The beautiful blown glass beads by Tracy and team will be on view through the end of the year – be sure to take a close look!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monsters in Space

New in the lobby display case, a child’s imagination comes to life with make-believe monsters on an outer space adventure! Created by AmeriCorps members Faina Kostyukovsky and David Liu, the scenes incorporate a mixture of handcrafted items and objects from the Museum’s collections, including wooden dollhouse furniture.

Describing her inspiration, Faina explained, “I really liked the idea of mixing monsters, Where the Wild Things Are, a kid dreaming… I wanted to bring to life a kid’s dreams and inspiration and show important a child’s imagination is.”

About the left portion of the case, she added, “I wanted a stuffy, tacky Victorian room with a lot of patterns.”

David was the primary fabricator of the non-collections props, including monsters and musical instruments made from recycled materials. “Kids are getting excited, making up stories about what the monsters are doing,” he said. “It invites visitors to the Museum in a playful way."

Take a peek and discover all of the charming details on your next visit!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


New this summer, invent creative contraptions with Rigamajig, an exciting large-scale building kit featuring wooden planks, wheels and pulleys plus rope, nuts and bolts. Conceived by RISD Industrial Design professor Cas Holman (a great friend of the Museum!), Rigamajig inspires kids’ imaginative hands-on play, encourages exploration of engineering, and cultivates collaborative construction.

We’ve seen kids tinker and build with Rigamajig with some wonderful results, including a mobile movie projector, lawnmower and sled, an elaborate home/doghouse, and plenty of inspired creations that defy definition!

See some great examples in this video of Rigamajig, filmed in part at the Museum:

Join us to explore Rigamajig most Wednesdays, July through mid-August, from 2:00 - 4:00 PM, and at the Museum’s summer Play at the Park events.

Learn more about Rigamajig: (featuring photos taken at the Museum!)

Rigamajig and other Museum spatial thinking activities are supported by National Grid.