Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Talking Back: Cole, Age 3 (and 4!)

It's been quite some time since we've shared the musings of Cole, one of our most prolific and pensive young visitors, who is now older and even wiser. Here are some of his collected thoughts from the year past, left in response to queries on our talk back boards:

How does your family play together in winter?

How do your kids play before or after school?

What are your favorite places to visit in Rhode Island?
How do you encourage creative play?

Thank you, Cole (and Cole's dad), for keeping up your correspondence. As always, we enthusiastically await your next communiqu̩ Рthough we do challenge you to broaden your motifs beyond the recurring hot coffee (and other calming beverages). We expect that you'll more than rise to the occasion.

(PS – A belated happy birthday to Cole!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

PlayWatch: Stories of Creative Play

The only two other people in Water Ways were a man and his son, who was approximately 3 years old and completely engrossed in throwing balls into the vortex. I began painting a flower on the slate wall and, within 30 seconds, I heard a small voice. "Can I paint with you?” The little boy had wandered over to investigate what I was doing. "Absolutely! What would you like to paint?" Without hesitating, he answered, "Let's paint a police chase! And the truck is faster than the police cars! And they have sirens and are going fast!"

I was uncertain how to paint sirens with water, but the two of us gave it a shot. We painted two police cars, a pickup truck and a very winding road on which the chase was taking place. As the water began to evaporate from the slate board, we would touch up certain spots and add details like flat tires on the police cars. Once the picture was done, the little boy admired it for a second before he ran off to find his dad. As I looked at the painting, I could see the remnants of my flower. I was grateful the boy and his imagination had come along because the picture we made together was much more exciting!
Maggie Dawson, Experience Coordinator

A little girl, about 3, was in Play Power with her father. Dad was playing with the creature columns, and I was about to say 'hello' to the girl when I noticed she had a very determined look on her face. I watched as she slowly started taking staggered steps, like you'd see in a western movie stand off. "Red light," she said, and stopped. "Green light.” I was confused until I realized she was playing "red light, green light" with her reflection in the dome mirror!
Megan Beauregard, Experience Coordinator

Monday, November 30, 2015

Support Recess for Rhode Island

The Museum is proud to be a founding collaborator of Recess for Rhode Island, a coalition of organizations and individuals advocating for a statewide recess policy that:

  • Recognizes that children’s self-directed free play is essential to their cognitive, physical, social and emotional health and well-being.
  • Provides at least 20 minutes of recess – optimally 30-40 minutes – every day for all elementary school students (active outdoor play as often as possible).
  • Allows children to freely engage with each other and determine their own play, within reasonable boundaries, during well-supervised recess.
  • Stipulates that physical education class and mandated participation in adult-led sports and games, while also beneficial, shall not replace recess.
  • Prohibits denying recess to an individual student or a class as a disciplinary measure. 
  • Requires accommodations during recess for children with mental and physical disabilities.
  • Recognizes that for some children a supervised school setting is the only safe place self-directed play is available.
Visit to sign on to support a statewide recess policy that promotes time for play, and find resources and research about the importance of recess.

Also follow Recess for Rhode Island on Facebook for the latest recess news and updates.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Serving Up a New AmeriCorps Team

The Museum was excited to welcome a new AmeriCorps team – our 20th! – in September to begin a year of playful, powerful service.  The team extends the Museum's reach by inspiring inner-city children with after-school math and science programs at the Boys & Girls Club and Highlander Charter School, facilitating play-based problem-solving activities for Children’s Friend Head Start preschoolers, engaging Museum visitors in play and exploration, and recruiting and supporting Museum volunteers.

The 11 MuseumCorps members bring with them a wide range of skills and experience.  Cara was a mentor at New Urban Arts in Providence, and Elizabeth interned as an aquarist at Save the Bay.  Jillian has been at the Museum for year already as a work-study student.  Leigh was captain of her swim team at Brown University, and Meg has a degree in Geology.  Taylor is experienced in the Japanese practice of gyotaku, or fish printing, and Filipa is an aspiring cartoonist/animator.  Hayley taught English to children in France, and Monica is majoring in Spanish.  Rachel was an AmeriCorps member with City Year Boston, and Anna spent a year of service at a homeless shelter in New Jersey. 

Each team member is passionate about inspiring children’s lifetime love of learning.  “More than anything,” says Rachel, “I'm excited to be in a program that encourages kids to find the fun in learning!”  The team is also focused on giving back to the community through national service.  Leigh has heard many stories about the positive impact AmeriCorps has had on communities and she says, “I am excited that I now get to be a part of it through Providence Children's Museum!”

The new AmeriCorps team planned a frightfully fun Boo Bash celebration.

Welcome, team!

The Museum’s AmeriCorps program is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Serve Rhode Island, with support from additional sponsors for the Head Start and Learning Club programs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Puppets on Parade!

New this fall, see a festive puppet procession past storefronts and spectators, created by Exhibit Developer Jessica Neuwirth, Exhibits Director Robin Meisner and Experience Coordinator Mandy Roach and featuring the Museum’s collection of historic Betty Huestis marionettes.

Jessica shared her inspiration for the display: “I look after our collections – I’ve gone through all of the boxes and documentation and checked the condition of all of the puppets – so I know the range of puppets we have, but the same ones are so often used.  I wanted everyone else to come out so I thought, what story could we tell?”

To showcase the lesser-seen marionettes, Jessica conceptualized and sketched a spirited parade of puppets, which Mandy interpreted to create a lively and colorful backdrop.  During the installation process, they played off the backdrop to determine what other props were needed.

“I’m really happy with it,” said Jessica.  “I’ve seen kids and families taking great pleasure in seeing something new.”

The display will be on view through the spring so see it for yourself and join the parade!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mother Goose in ThinkSpace

The “geometry gallery” in ThinkSpace features changing displays of natural and handcrafted objects that provide strong visual representations of spatial thinking, highlighting shapes in everyday life and the designed environment. Discover the newest installation: scenes from favorite Mother Goose rhymes hand-carved from blocks of wood, complemented by colorful images from picture book illustrations.

The pieces are selections from Hey Diddle Diddle!, a larger display created by Dan Elkins and George Alexandre and previously exhibited in the Museum’s atrium walkway and lobby. Elkins and Alexandre were members of The Splinter Group, a local association of retired craftspeople who were active woodcarvers; Dan Elkins also created the circus carvings in the Museum’s stairwell.

“These wood carvings are a great example of spatial thinking because they involve working from 2-D images or illustrations of nursery rhymes and creating 3-D representations,” said Exhibits Director Robin Meisner. “And carving itself involves taking a simple block of wood, envisioning the final product and using a variety of tools to transform that block into a sculpted piece.”

The carvings will be on display for the next few months – take a peek to see Jack jump over a candlestick, a cow jump over the moon, and more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE LAND: A Film and Conversation About Risk and Adventure Play

Providence Children’s Museum and Providence Children’s Film Festival proudly partner to present the Providence premiere of “The Land” – a powerful 2015 documentary short film about the nature of play and risk – at the Museum on Thursday, October 22 from 6:30 - 8:00 PM.

The film is set in The Land, a Welsh adventure playground where children climb trees, light fires and use hammers and nails.  It’s a playspace rooted in the belief that kids are empowered and understand their own capabilities and limits when they learn to manage risks on their own.  The film has attracted national attention after being featured in a number of recent articles including “The Overprotected Kid” a provocative piece in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin that provides a look at adventure playgrounds and how “a preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery – without making it safer.”

Credit Hanna Rosin
Following the screening, join a lively conversation about the film, adventure play and the benefits of risk to kids’ physical and emotional development.  Discuss ways to foster healthy risk-taking in kids’ play, and how to provide kids with opportunities for adventure play with panelists Erin Davis, “The Land” filmmaker; Michele Meek, filmmaker and educator; and Janice O’Donnell, Providence PlayCorps director and former Children's Museum director.

The screening and conversation are part of the Museum’s commitment to advocate for and raise awareness about the critical importance of self-directed play for children’s healthy growth and development.

The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited – click here to RSVP.

See the trailer, and click here to learn more about the film:

Also check out these recent articles about adventure play and the importance of risk to children's development:
  • Where The Wild Things Play  Adventure playgrounds may look like junk piles but offer kids tremendous opportunities for free, unstructured play. (NPR)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cardboard Challenge!

For the third year, the Museum is participating in the Global Cardboard Challenge , an annual worldwide celebration of child creativity and the role of communities in fostering imaginative play, inspired by the incredible story and film Caine's Arcade .

Beginning this weekend – Saturday and Sunday, October 3 & 4 – and continuing Tuesday, October 6 through Monday, October 12, kids and families will design and build original creations using cardboard, recycled materials and their imaginations. Collaborate to invent and construct games, gadgets, robots, rocket ships and much more!

In honor of Cardboard Challenge, we're reposting a favorite story of creative cardboard construction from a past year's event – sort of like our very own Caine's Arcarde!
A mom, dad and their seven kids all busied themselves with their own projects, individually or in teams. Parents and 11-year-old Alvin got to work building a drive-up coffee shop – a tall structure that required dad’s help to attach the roof and stabilize the building. They added a box to serve as the drive-through window and then mom illustrated the storefront. Alvin labored over food preparation, creating delicious donuts and M&M cookies from colorful foam shapes, which he served with coffee in small cardboard cylinders. And “Alvin's Coffee Shop” was born!

After offering free samples to rave reviews, Alvin created a menu to post by the window, took his station, and provided stellar service in a structure that mom was amazed to realized they'd spent over an hour and a half building. Watching this wonderful moment unfold, I was impressed by how Alvin’s parents followed his lead and worked seamlessly together to realize his creative vision.

Megan Fischer, Interim Executive Director

Friday, September 11, 2015

Little Rhody

New at the Museum: peek into the atrium walkway window boxes to take a tiny tour of Little Rhody.   Follow a quahog on a playful journey to some of the greatest hits and highlights of the Ocean State – sampling frozen lemonade, strolling through WaterFire, taking a spin on a Looff Carousel, and more!

The imaginative excursion was created by AmeriCorps members Mary Burke and Ali Sandler with support from other members of the their team and exhibits department staff Robin Meisner and Jessica Neuwirth.

Mary spoke about the concept and process:
“We wanted to do something that would appeal to visitors and be fun for both kids and grown-ups and the idea of Rhode Island emerged.

The hardest part was figuring out what scenes they would be. We generated a list of ideas, then divided them up, drew sketches and gathered materials that would make good miniatures – though we didn’t always know what they were looking for!

Once we began assembling the scenes, it became clear what was needed and how to use materials – the process prompted me to look at materials in new ways and wonder, what could it be?

I’m curious to know which boxes will be visitor favorites. I hope they say, “Remember when we went there?” or “We should go there!” – that the boxes are a real conversation starter.”

Little Rhody will be on view through the fall so make a point to do some sightseeing on your next visit!

Mary's favorite scenes include the Rustic Drive-In, Del's Lemonade truck and Point Judith Lighthouse.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Power of Problem Solving

This article, by Museum Education Director Cathy Saunders, was also posted on Kidoinfo.  

As summer winds down and parents think about preparing for the school year, it’s easy to get caught up.

At the Children’s Museum, we’ve been thinking about problem solving a lot lately. We’ve looked at
the obvious connections between the playful learning experiences we try to foster and some of the formal educational standards. Problem solving is a foundational skill that appears in the RI Early Learning Development Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards and is something that we have a lot of fun with.


How do you know when your child is exercising problem-solving skills? There are times that seem obvious – she completes a complicated puzzle or negotiates taking turns with a friend. But sometimes it can be easy to miss moments where a child is building his problem-solving toolkit.

Here are some of the things we look for and celebrate:
  • Asking questions can indicate thinking process. Questions and wondering signify curiosity and interest. A “What happens if…?” shows planning for investigation.
  • When a child uses descriptive language she is using observation skills and trying to connect meaning between vocabulary and her observations. This is true of a toddler discovering that a ball is “round” and “big” or a 9-year-old describing the same ball as “a sphere” and “the size of my hand.”
  • Seeking peer support is evidence of a child trying to figure something out; she is looking for assistance and negotiating a social relationship.
  • Stick-to-itiveness. It takes persistence to find solutions through trial and error. Each time he tries he is gaining new information about what works and what doesn’t.
And these are some ways we like to spur children’s problem solving:
  • Ask open-ended questions – you know, those questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer and that need to be answered with descriptive language.
  • Offer just enough support – give a hint or stabilize a wobbly piece.
  • Invite children to problem solve with you. Ask them for their ideas and solutions when puzzling something out.
  • Problem solve out loud. How are children going to know how much problem solving we do on a minute-by-minute basis unless we clue them in? They need to hear us reason things out and think things through.
Problem-solving opportunities occur throughout the day – when getting ready for school, making a meal, playing… Seize the opportunity in those small moments to notice and encourage your child’s innate ability to use logical thinking to reason things out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Heart Gallery Returns

Every year, hundreds of Rhode Island children are in state care, awaiting permanent families. The children are generally between the ages of 5 and 17 and many have emotional, intellectual and/or physical disabilities. Nearly all have suffered abuse or neglect. Some have been waiting for several years and have had multiple placements, resulting in numerous losses and separations.

Sixteen of these children are featured in the 10th annual Rhode Island Heart Gallery, an exhibit of professional portraits by local photographers on view in the Museum’s atrium walkway through September. A project sponsored by Adoption Rhode Island, the Heart Gallery has helped increase awareness of the need for loving adoptive homes for children in foster care since 2005.

The Museum also exhibited Heart Gallery photographs in 2007 and 2013, and staff felt – then and now – a powerful connection to the striking portraits and accompanying booklet, which features the heartfelt stories, hopes and dreams of the children pictured.

“I would love to be part of a large family with a mom and a dad and
siblings. I can be the oldest or youngest or in the middle, it really doesn’t matter,
I just want a family who wants me.”

It’s particularly compelling to have the display at the Museum because our Families Together program – a collaboration with the Department of Children, Youth & Families – works on behalf of children in foster care every day, providing therapeutic visitation to help court-separated families rebuild relationships.

All children need the love and support of a family, and adoption is only one of the ways that people can help.

Museum visitors can meet representatives from Adoption Rhode Island and learn more about adoption on Friday, August 21 from 5:00 - 7:30 PM; admission is free from 5:00 - 8:00 PM, sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

Friday, August 7, 2015

All Aboard the Fantasy Flyer!

Climb aboard this train traveling adventure through a new fantasy land located in our lobby display case.  Created by AmeriCorps members Elizabeth Boyer and Mary Rocha, the scenes incorporate a mixture of natural materials, handcrafted items and objects from the Museum's collections, in addition to a train kindly donated by Norman Meisner, father of Exhibits Director Robin Meisner.

“We put so much of ourselves into this piece, said Elizabeth. “It is the perfect mixture of our personalities and love of playfulness.  The world is such a marvelous place through the eyes of a child and we wanted to incorporate a hint of magic and fantasy in a seemingly realistic setting.”

The display features two wildly whimsical scenes, connected by a superhero-led train ride.  Trek through a feline-filled desert or visit the very friendly Yeti and his happy penguin friends.

“We wanted our display to instantly spark the imagination while inviting visitors to tell their own story based on what they see,” said Mary.  “Our goal was to not only get them to take a moment and look, but to feel inspired and creative.”

Make sure to check out this delightful display on your next visit to the Museum!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Game On!

This spring and summer, Museum visitors have taken a peek at Playful Pastimes in the atrium walkway window boxes – an assortment of silly scenes inspired by familiar games, from Go Fish to Twister, that invite visitors to think about their favorite ways to play. Created by AmeriCorps members Lucia Carroll and Savannah McMullen with guidance from Exhibits Director Robin Meisner and Exhibits Developer Jessica Neuwirth, the boxes are a mix of clever plays on names and visually appealing interpretations of popular games.

Savannah and Lucia's work in progress

On their process… 

Savannah: "Coming up with the games themselves wasn’t hard, it was more about what we could do with each game. We had a couple of misses where we ran into problems – we were planning on doing Candyland for a long time but we couldn’t get the textures right to make it look like candy."

Lucia: "Or even not just being able to think of an idea we felt was as successful or did the other boxes justice. We tried to be strategic about the games that we picked."

Savannah: "It took a lot of sketches to plan out the tiny space. We had to think spatially – how the whole box could be filled, front to back and top to bottom, without being too crowded. We did brainstorms on games and then sketches, and then different sketches and more brainstorms!"

Lucia: "For me, they were consistently in process, always being edited, until the due date. There’s always something more you can add to them, but I had to figure out what was feasible and go from there."

On materials…

Savannah: "It was mostly about what would work to make the game miniature – using astroturf for grass, wine toppers for tiny chairs, benches and thrones made out of popsicle sticks… We were really open to everything and the potential of materials."

Lucia: "I feel pretty proud that we made most of the stuff in the boxes – we made a concerted effort to make our miniatures and use found items."

“It’s fun to see parents and kids looking at them together,” Savannah concluded. “We wanted to make them straightforward enough to figure out but also enjoyable for everyone – something for the kids to look at that also amuse the parents as much as possible.”

They most certainly are – play along over the next few weeks and see many games you can figure out!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Museum Videos

Check out two new videos illustrating the Museum's impact and service and the work of our nationally recognized Families Together program!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Museum Debuts Interactive Sound Sculpture

By Megan Fischer and Robin Meisner

Providence Children’s Museum has designed a vibrant, interactive sound sculpture for Harriet & Sayles Park in South Providence as part of PopUp Providence – an innovative urban place-making program funded by Providence’s Department of Planning + Development that supports temporary and inexpensive artistic and cultural interventions to enliven neighborhoods across the city.  Installed at the park now through August, the sculpture invites kids and adults to explore rhythm and make music on a variety of inventive percussion instruments.

Exhibit Designer Chris Sancomb observes the first kids to test the sculpture.

Children inherently respond to banging on drums and ringing bells – they love making and sharing music.  The Museum-created sound sculpture invites kids of all abilities to play with instruments in their own ways and to create meaningful interactions with music and with each other.  Making music together promotes confidence and social skills, as well as the development of language, mathematical and spatial thinking – and it's just good fun!  By incorporating a variety of intriguing reclaimed objects and new materials, the sculpture offers kids the opportunity to play both usual and unusual instruments.  We hope to inspire children and their caregivers to explore ways that everyday items can be repurposed into something playful, and to encourage kids to explore their interests and express themselves freely.

While some sculpture components were repurposed, others were laser cut or handmade from steel and welded together.

Many people don’t know that we make our own exhibits at Providence Children’s Museum.  One of the defining features of our environments is that they are original creations made by the Museum's professional staff along with additional educators, scholars and artists, which means that most of what you see at the Museum was developed, designed and fabricated in house.  We were excited to go beyond our walls to create the sound sculpture for Harriet & Sayles Park because we have a deep commitment to bringing high-quality play and learning experiences to low-income families across Providence – particularly to the South Providence neighborhood close to the Museum.  Most of our outreach takes the form of programs and activities, and the sound sculpture allows us to offer something new.

Stop by Harriet & Sayles to make some joyful noise this summer!  And if you arrive on a weekday from 11 AM - 2 PM, you’ll also see unstructured, creative play activities guided by Providence PlayCorps, in conjunction with the free federal summer meals program.

See more photos of the music sculpture installation on Facebook.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Play at the Park!

For a fourth summer, the Children’s Museum is bringing playful hands-on activities to neighborhood parks across Providence, building on our efforts to advocate for and raise awareness of the critical importance of children’s play, and our commitment to provide opportunities for unstructured, child-directed play throughout the community.

Join us to build forts, blow bubbles, and discover other open-ended fun with loose parts, in conjunction with the "Celebrate Providence!" Neighborhood Performing Arts Series evening concerts.

with Providence Children's Museum!
All events from 5:00 - 8:00 PM

Tuesday, July 7
Fargnoli Park | Smith and Jastram Streets
Music by Sidy Maiga + band (West African drumming) from 6:00 - 8:00 PM

Wednesday, July 15
Brown Street Park | Brown and Creighton Streets
Music by Roz and the Rice Cakes from 5:30 - 7:00 PM

Thursday, July 23
Dexter Training Grounds | Dexter and Parade Streets
Music by Sally Rogers and the Last Time String Band from 5:30 - 7:00 PM

Thursday, August 6
Harriet and Sayles Park | Harriet and Sayles Streets
Neighborhood Block Party starting at 5:30 PM

Thursday, August 13
Harriet and Sayles Park | Harriet and Sayles Streets
Neighborhood Block Party starting at 5:30 PM

Tuesday, August 18
Roger Williams Park | Broad Street entrance
Performance by ECAS Theater (spoken word, theater and music) starting at 4:00 PM

RSVP on Facebook for event updates.

Children’s Museum activities at the parks are free and open to the public and are part of our participation in Playful Providence 2015 – a citywide celebration of play commemorating Providence’s fourth consecutive recognition by KaBOOM! as a Playful City USA, and presented in collaboration with the Partnership for Providence Parks and the city’s Departments of Parks + Recreation and Art, Culture + Tourism.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Providence PlayCorps Returns!

After a successful pilot in 2014, Providence PlayCorps expands this summer!  An innovative collaboration between Providence Children's Museum, the Partnership for Providence Parks and the City of Providence’s Healthy Communities Office and Department of Parks + Recreation, PlayCorps activates low-income neighborhood parks across the city with free play, art and creative exploration in conjunction with the free federal summer meals program.

Teams of trained play facilitators are a consistent presence at neighborhood parks throughout Providence.  They provide activities and materials to engage neighborhood children in physically active play, improving the overall safety of the parks while encouraging more children to take advantage of free, nutritious summer meals.  By working in neighborhood parks, PlayCorps fills the gap when school is out to ensure that Providence youth are active, safe and healthy over the summer.

From July 6 to August 21, weekdays from 11 AM to 2 PM, PlayCorps will coordinate play activities in these parks:

  • Billy Taylor Park (Mt. Hope)
  • Bucklin Park (West End)
  • Father Lennon/Camden Street Park (Smith Hill)
  • General Street Park (Wanskuck)
  • Harriet & Sayles Park (South Side)
  • Wallace Street Park (Silver Lake)
  • Zuccolo/Pastore Park (Federal Hill)

In addition, play facilitators with the PlayCorps “Playmobile” – including several members of the Museum's AmeriCorps team! – will travel to other parks and events throughout the summer.

The PlayCorps team participated in a very successful Pop-Up Play Day at Roger Williams Park on June 20, and on Monday they’ll be dispatched to their parks to begin to connect with the community and kick off an exciting summer of play – building forts, blowing bubbles, making art, making music, exploring nature, making friends and SO much more!  We’re delighted to have worked with thoughtful and committed partners to expand this important program and look forward to seeing how it grows and develops this summer.

For updates and activity announcements, follow PlayCorps on Facebook and Twitter.

PlayCorps is supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the City of Providence’s Department of Parks + Recreation, Healthy Communities Office, and Health Equity Zone grant through the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cultivating Collections

This article, by Museum Exhibits Director Robin Meisner, was also posted on Kidoinfo

Most visitors know Providence Children’s Museums as a collection of experiences in which children and families learn through play and active exploration. One of the defining features of our exhibits is that they are rich in discoveries and stimulating for the senses. We incorporate unusual and ordinary objects to make learning tangible, and are deeply committed to surrounding children with beautiful learning environments.

One way we do this is by sharing the Museum’s collection of childlife objects, which includes tin toys, penguin figurines and a wonderful grouping of marionettes created by Betty Heustis  (1901-1983). We also love sharing other people’s collections. This spring, children and families investigated intricate metal miniatures handcrafted by Cambridge, MA artist Abraham Megerdichian (1923-1983) and shared by his family, and colorful Chinese and Indonesian shadow puppets from the collection of Hilary Salmons, executive director of Providence After School Alliance.

Collections are fascinating – they tell stories about the objects themselves and the individuals and institutions that collect them. At the Museum, they provide tangible, powerful ways for children and families to engage in quiet moments of observation and reflection. And for individuals, collecting offers opportunities to build and share pieces of themselves.

From a very young age, children form attachments to things – favorite blankets or stuffed animals – and as they develop, they begin collecting objects that they enjoy in other ways, like rocks, stickers or postcards. Collecting is empowering. It allows kids to make their own choices about what to collect and how to display it. Their collections are their creations, which say something special about their identity and their world at a particular moment in time.

Museum staff shared some of their favorite childhood (and grown-up) collections:

“When I was maybe 10 to 12, I used to collect business cards from stores. Maybe I was inspired by the Laura Ingalls Wilder books – in one of them having a “calling card” was a very big deal.”
– Cathy, Education Director
“My dad traveled a lot for work when I was growing up and he would always bring me a snow globe from wherever he was visiting. I didn’t really have any special attachment to the globes themselves, but I loved he was thinking of me while he was away.”
– Turenne, Volunteer & AmeriCorps Coordinator
“As a child I was completely entranced by “The Wizard of Oz” and collected everything related to the movie. I had a set of miniature dolls, posters, books, costumes and even a marionette puppet of Dorothy.”
– Corrie, Membership & Marketing Coordinator
“In high school, I collected psychedelic polyester shirts from the 1970s. I think I had over 40 all together, and yes, I did wear them regularly.”
– Suzy, Research & Evaluation Specialist
“My 7-year old daughter and I collect chickens in a variety of forms (ceramic, wire, cloth). This started with a friend who made some artful chickens and gave them to us, and from there we have started buying chickens whenever we see them. They now roost in our home.”
– Jessica, Exhibit Developer
What do you and your kids like to collect? There’s almost no limit to what’s possible!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Learning About Learning: Circuit Blocks and Labels

The Museum is partnering 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.  Museum researcher Suzy Letourneau shared this project update.

Last summer, the Museum opened the new Mind Lab space, which hosts ongoing research about children’s learning and development by the Museum and its academic collaborators.  When researchers aren’t in the space, there is a self-directed “circuit block” activity with batteries, motors and buttons that can be connected in many different configurations.  On the surface the activity is about electricity and circuits, but the deeper message we hope to convey is the important role of exploration and experimentation in learning about cause and effect.  The activity draws on scientific research that shows that when children make their own discoveries about how things work, they explore and learn more deeply.  Thus, we purposefully did not include step-by-step instructions with the blocks to encourage children to test their ideas and make discoveries.  While prototyping the activity, we found that children often systematically tried the blocks to see how they worked, experimented with different ways of making a circuit, and collaborated or shared their ideas with one another – all evidence of learning.

The exhibits team tested resources for adults to support children’s thinking as they play, including observation tools and prompts caregivers can use while playing with their kids (for example, questions to ask when kids get stuck or aren’t sure how to get started).  Caregivers who tried these resources were more engaged in the activity themselves, either by observing while their children explored and made discoveries, or by helping them work through challenges in different ways.  The team also created labels to communicate how children learn through experience, exploration and play, and offer research evidence to back up these ideas. 

The labels are based on Museum staff’s discussions and knowledge about the ways that play and exploration support children’s learning and development, and are informed by conversations with dozens of caregivers.  We asked caregivers what they noticed about their children’s play, what they thought about how children learn through play, and what questions they had about these topics.  Caregivers often agreed that kids learned through play, were very interested in research on children’s learning (including the research that happens at the Museum), and wanted to learn more.

We created prototype labels and resources using low-cost, temporary materials so we could get feedback and make changes easily.  Some show specific examples of different ways that children can learn through play, and others give illustrated summaries of research studies.  We asked visitors: What did the new materials make them think about or wonder?  Which parts were most interesting?  Was anything confusing or unclear?

Based on comments and suggestions, we revised the labels in the fall to make our messages clearer.  We’re also creating more illustrated research summaries, since they were visitors’ favorites.  And we added a “Guide for Grown-ups” to the circuit block activity to suggest ways that caregivers can support their children’s learning as they play together.  Over the next few months, Mind Lab will continue to be a site for ongoing research and prototyping that will help Museum staff learn alongside visitors.

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