Friday, January 19, 2018

Through the Looking Glass: One students perspective from childhood to Museum staff

A young mother holds a child in one arm while pushing a stroller through the exhibits in ThinkSpace, flocked by at least three other children under the age of twelve. Looking at her energetic, excited children and the tired smile on her face, I wonder about the first times I visited Providence Children’s Museum. As the seventh of nine children, did I resemble the five-year-old about to knock over the block tower built by an older sibling? Or was I the shy three-year-old, hesitantly asking to be let into Littlewoods while clinging to my Mom’s hand?

Every time I volunteer at the Museum, memories flood back of my experiences when I visited as a child. Many of the beloved exhibits that I remember from my childhood remain at the Museum, but each with a new twist, whether in the form of the addition of ice in Water Ways or the Fort Adams exhibit in the Coming to Rhode Island time tunnel. But for me, part of the twist is the difference with which I see the exhibits: instead of looking at the exhibits through the eyes of a child to whom everything is new, exciting, and unfamiliar, I see Providence Children’s Museum as someone behind-the-scenes.

I am learning that there is not only magic in the Museum for the children, but the volunteers and staff as well. By observing and creating a safe environment for learning, I get to create some of the magic. I have the opportunity to twist the knobs in Water Ways and watch as a child gasps and calls to their parent as the water reforms with each twist. I can observe and engage with children as they discover learning on their own or follow the example set by others. As a Play Guide, I also keep the learning environment safe and inviting, as I squeegee the puddled floor in Water Ways or set up blocks in a welcoming, but tidy manner in ThinkSpace.

Looking back at both my childhood experiences at the Museum, as well as the young mother and her energetic children visiting now, I recognize one of the unique qualities of Providence Children’s Museum: it does not matter if the children visiting are exuberant five-year-olds, or quiet, reserved three-year-olds, the Museum has something for every child. And volunteering has taught me that all the fun children have while visiting Providence Children’s Museum is made possible by the hard work of the volunteers and staff. Because of their effort and research, the Museum is a welcoming, vibrant place. I have also learned that the exploration and experimentation of learning does not have to end after childhood. There are so many varieties of different learning styles I am learning to recognize, and I discover something new in the exhibits with every volunteer shift.
 Written by Play Guide and current student of the University of Rhode Island, Abigail Clarkin.

 Abigail guides Antonio Cohelo's ship, the Nellie May, in the Coming to Rhode Island Time Tunnel.
 Abigail plays in the IWay exhibit, opened in November of 2006.