With Liberty and Justice for All…

SONY DSCI invite you to join us for our month-long celebration of Black History Month. Boston Children’s Museum has been committed to welcoming and engaging all children and families for over 103 years, and has celebrated Black History Month for many decades.

And this is fitting, not only because of the Museum’s mission to warmly welcome children and families of all races, ethnicities, and religions, but because of the importance of the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the struggle for equality and freedom and against segregation and discrimination. As told in the lovely book, The First Step, by Susan Goodman, who will visit the Museum during this month, the first step in desegregating schools took place right here in Boston when Benjamin Roberts filed a lawsuit on behalf of his little daughter who was barred from attending her neighborhood school because she was black (Roberts vs. City of Boston, 1848). In 1855, Boston became the first major US city to integrate its schools, and Senator Charles Sumner, a Boston lawyer and anti-slavery activist, filed a bill that made the Civil Rights Act into law in 1875, a law that led to the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. Right here in the African Meeting House on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, Frederick Douglas made his impassioned speeches, and William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Antislavery Society in 1832, and published The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper, for 35 years. Continue reading

Exploring Tartans

dscn7646Throughout the recent holidays, Museum Educators have been asking visitors and staff what they do with their families and friends this time of year. As a family that takes pride in our Scots-Irish American heritage, my answer is that we come together to eat mashed potatoes, pull British crackers, and wear Scottish tartan. When I share this, there are often many follow up questions. What is tartan? Why is the shade you’re wearing different from other shades? Here are some answers to these questions. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes of Happy Noon Year

hny4Every year, Boston Children’s Museum celebrates the New Year with a special event called Happy NOON Year. For many of our visitors, it is challenging to stay up and ring in the New Year. To help be inclusive in this celebration, we invite families to celebrate with us and count down to the noon hour on December 31st. One of the traditions of this event is to drop a Museum staff-made ball during the countdown. My colleague Steve and I agreed to take charge of its creation this year, and our mission was to make the best, greatest Happy Noon Year ball ever with our master plan of decorating a 4-foot tall clear beach ball! Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Star Projectors

shining-stars-kidAh, winter. It’s cold and dark out, yes. But one of the best parts of winter is the star gazing. The stars come out early enough for even your youngest children to observe…just make sure you bundle up when you go out to see them!

After you’ve stargazed a few times, and picked out a few constellations with your kids, you can bring the learning inside by creating your own constellation projectors. This activity is based on “Shining Stars” from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard curriculum. Click here for those more detailed instructions. Constellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars, and they are familiar in some form or another to most children. Creating homemade projections of these constellations is a fun way to connect to astronomy at home. This activity is a good follow-up to Constellation Creation, posted on this blog earlier this week, and also from Beyond the Chalkboard.

Materials

  • Flashlights (see Preparation below for notes on these)
  • Paper cups (a few per child) (see Preparation)
  • A thumb tack, paper clip, sharp pencil, or wood skewer
  • Pen or thin marker

Preparation

Flashlights – The kind of flashlight you use for this activity is important. LED flashlights are preferred, but whatever kind you use, it is best if you can remove the reflector from the head of the flashlight. The reflector is the shiny, silver cone that lies just inside the lens, and the bulb of the flashlight typically shines inside it. Here’s what it looks like:

flashlight-reflector

Some LED flashlights make it impossible for you to remove the reflector, so check your flashlight before you start. Old school flashlights with removable bulbs almost always work, and are less expensive than LED lights, but are not as bright as LEDs.

Cups – the paper cups should fit over the lit end of your flashlight, and the flashlight should fit at least part of the way into the cup. It might be a good idea to have a few different sizes of cup available for testing.

Remove the reflectors from your flashlights, and make sure all of the flashlights are working.

Instructions

  1. Talk about constellations you know, or look some up online, or in a book. You could also try the Constellation Creation activity, posted earlier this week, before you make your fancy projectors.
  2. Look at the constellations you found, and choose one you like.
  3. Notice how a cup will fit over the flashlight, and turn the flashlight on with a cup on it. What do you notice? You should see the cup is all lit up. Poke a few holes in the bottom of a cup, then slide it on the lit-up end of the flashlight again. Turn off the lights, and point the flashlight (with the cup on it) at a wall. What do you notice? You should see a projection of the holes you made as points of light on the wall. If the holes look fuzzy, you may not have taken the reflector out (see above).
  4. Make some new cups with holes representing stars in a constellation.

You may notice that if you poked the holes going in from the bottom of the cups, so that the constellations look correct on the bottom of the cup, then they will look backwards when projected. Try either poking the holes in the correct configuration from inside the cup, or draw the constellation dots with a heavy, dark marker (like a Sharpie) on a piece of paper, flip the paper over, hold that paper over the bottom of the cup, and poke the holes of this backwards constellation through the cup. Your constellations should now project correctly.

Some children who have made these projectors have used black construction paper circles on the bottoms of the cups, before poking the holes. Some kids have trimmed long cups so that they were shorter and easier to handle. Some children have even decorated the outsides of their cups with themes that match their chosen constellations. What could you do?

Notes

  • Mag Lites are the best flashlights for this activity, as they are LED, bright, and have removable reflectors. The Mag Lite Mini LED 2-Cell AAA Flashlight is around $15, and the AA model is around $20. You can find Mag Lites at Amazon (click here for an example), Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. You can try this activity with less expensive, incandescent bulb flashlights – just be certain the reflector is removable, and that your room is nice and dark to accommodate the dimmer lights.
  • Doing a simple image search for familiar constellations like Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and others will yield many results.

Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Constellation Creation

constellation-creationConstellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars. They are now accepted scientific ways of organizing the night sky. This idea that a scientific model could begin with imagination might seem surprising, but should it be? Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He was pretty smart. This activity, based on “Constellation Creation” from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard curriculum, invites you and your children to look at star patterns and imagine your own new constellations, while practicing STEM skills like observing, recognizing patterns and thinking creatively. This kind of creative activity encourages children to make personal connections to objects in the sky, and to seek out their new constellation when you look up together at the sky at night. Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: The Science of Luminaria

light-celebrations-luminariaLuminaria are a beautiful addition to these longer winter nights, and you may especially encounter these glowing paper lanterns along driveways, sidewalks, or even on houses on Christmas and New Years Eve. While they are traditionally made using paper bags with small candles inside, why not turn luminaria into a science activity? Because, you know, science. Below is a description for how you can investigate basic circuitry with your children, and create something beautiful as a result. And it’s a way for you to find utility in all of those no-longer-working holiday lights that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away. Life is good.

 

Suggested Materials

  • D or C-cell batteries (2 per luminaria)
  • 1 string of holiday lights (even one that is not working any more). From this string of lights, you will prepare:
    • Stripped individual light bulbs (see instructions below)
    • Stripped wire pieces, 6 inches long (see below)
  • Scissors and wire strippers (optional)
  • Masking tape or electrician’s tape
  • Small paper lunch bags (white or brown)

Preparation

If this is your first time playing with batteries and bulbs, you can try the “Lighting a Light Bulb” activity from Boston Children’s Museum’s “Beyond the Chalkboard” afterschool curriculum. It serves as a good foundation for this activity. Just replace the word “students” with “kids” in the instructions. Or with the word “me”, if you’re awesome enough to be playing around too.

There is some preparation for this activity, but you and your kids can do it together. It looks like a lot, but it is quite simple – the instructions below are just very detailed. And once you have it done, you’ll have bulbs and wire to use for years to come! Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Grocery Store Gifts

grocery-store-gifts“I just want something interesting and educational….not just another piece of plastic.  You know?”

“I know they like to do art and science stuff…but the kits are expensive.”

“Help!  I need a present for my 4-year-old niece and I don’t have time to shop.”

These are all things I’ve heard lately as a parent and museum educator as we count down to the winter holidays. All of us have the best of intentions as gift-givers, but not necessarily the budget, time, or inspiration to back it up. The unlikely solution?  Your neighborhood grocery store.

As I strolled down the aisles of our local supermarket recently, I made up a game for myself:  how many cool art or science “preschool activity kits” could I put together using only items available at a typical grocery store?  I was thrilled to concoct several such kits in my head that I knew would thrill my own kids if they found them under the Christmas tree. Below are some of the winners. Notice my recurring suggestion of including a plastic tablecloth with each kit – it’s a lot easier to find time and space to do these activities in a busy household if you know that your table is protected and you can throw the whole work surface in the trash afterwards! Continue reading

Challenges with Cultural Exhibits: Native Voices

nickThe following post is by our Native Voices Exhibit Mentor, Nickolas Nelson:

My name is Nickolas Nelson and I am an Exhibit Mentor for the Native Voices exhibit. My time as a mentor allows the opportunity for me to witness first-hand the fun and exciting adventures that Native Voices has to offer. However, working with such an exhibit does have its challenges.

In Native Voices, we want to give families insight into how a group of people previously lived, but to also provide information as to their contemporary lifestyles, belief systems, customs, and ideals. This is challenging because a majority of information about indigenous cultures is based on stereotypes and misinformation. For example, many books and other publications continue to place indigenous people in the past leading audiences to disconnect indigenous peoples from contemporary culture. The goal of Native Voices is to dispel this misinformation. Once the stigma and stereotypes have been explained away, true growth and knowledge can ensue. Continue reading

Seeing Stars on the Waterfront

pop-scope-1

“Wow, what a beautiful view!”

That’s often what visitors say when they first come (and then come back) to Boston Children’s Museum. Our location along Fort Point Channel is truly a spectacular sight that greets visitors throughout the day.

But did you also know that the view is just as stunning at night?

As the STEM Specialist, the key part of my job is to develop science, technology, engineering, and math activities for children of all ages (and their grown-ups!) using the materials and exhibits the Museum already has to offer. As an educator and a learner I also enjoy collaboration and bringing people from different communities together. In my work, I constantly strive to unite these two interests. When I learned about #popscope, the stars really aligned. Continue reading

Why is Inclusion and Accessibility Important?

accessOne of my job responsibilities at the Museum is to ensure accessibility for all visitors, regardless of their medical conditions or abilities. We work toward this goal in a number of ways at Boston Children’s Museum, most notably through our Morningstar Access program in which visitors with any special needs or medical needs can have a quieter, safer visit to the Museum during set hours. Although this program is often highlighted and is great for those whose main concern is the crowds that visit the Museum at peak times, we put every effort into making the Museum environment, exhibits, and programs more accessible for everyone at all times. If certain needs are not addressed by design, then with advance notice, reasonable accommodations can always be made anytime the museum is open.

When we talk about accessibility and why it’s important, one of the common arguments is that accessibility isn’t just for people with disabilities. Everyone benefits from easier and various ways to access information, materials, and/or environments  But let me try to add a different spin on why I think accessibility is important. Continue reading