Enjoy the Summer with Watermelon!

watermelonSummer is watermelon season! Watermelon is very nutritious and offers a lot of opportunities for creativity for children. Enjoy watermelon while we have it fresh and ripe as a seasonal treat!

Watermelon is nutritious.

Watermelon has a lot of nutritional value. According to the USDA, watermelon is high in lycopene, even more than the amount you find in tomatoes, which are known to be lycopene-rich. Lycopene is a very powerful antioxidant that helps us maintain healthier bodies by protecting our cells from being damaged.

Also, more than 90% of watermelon is water, which makes watermelon an ideal food to eat in the summer to prevent us from getting dehydrated. Continue reading

Joyful Discoveries: Evaluating the Museum Visitor Experience

How many visitors drive the Bobcats in Construction Zone on a typical day? Do visitors in PlaySpace use the resources we create for them? If a child doesn’t get to go on stage during a KidStage play, how might that affect their experience during the show? If visitors use an exhibit in a way we didn’t design for, but they still have fun, is the exhibit a “success”?

At Boston Children’s Museum, where visitors choose their own route, create their own experiences, and construct their own meaning from all that happens during their visit, questions about evaluation and measurement can be challenging to answer. There is no such thing as a “standard” visitor experience, so the idea of “measurement” takes on a whole new meaning within the Museum walls. So how does Boston Children’s Museum go about evaluating programs, exhibits, and visitor experiences in ways that help meaningfully inform our practices or improve the museum experience for visitors?

As the Museum’s Evaluation Coordinator, my role is to implement evaluation projects that work to answer these questions while not losing sight of the inherently playful and open-ended nature of a museum visit. Here’s a little glimpse into how this work gets done at Boston Children’s Museum.

Observations: Visitors at Play

Cardboard 1 smWatching visitors explore, play, create, and interact – and taking good notes on what visitors are actually doing – is a crucial part of any evaluation project at the Museum. Are visitors using an exhibit component in the ways we thought they would? Do they appear interested and engaged? Are they having fun?

Last summer we spent time observing several special workshops created for an audience of older children and their families. We observed that during a music workshop, adults and caregivers took a backseat and watched their children explore sounds and create musical instruments. However, during an engineering workshop, adults and children actively worked together to build structures that would hold up against a simulated earthquake. As educators and program planners in the Museum, we now have a better idea of what kinds of activities engage both adults and children, because we took the time to observe real visitors engaged in real Museum activities.

Surveys: When We Want a Broader Picture

Sometimes, we need to collect data from many visitors, but we just don’t have enough time or staff members available to interview people in any open-ended way. Surveys are a great way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Recently, we collected surveys from KidStage visitors, and what we learned opened up a host of new questions for us to explore. For example, we found that Friday Night visitors had more positive experiences in KidStage than Weekday visitors. Why might this be? These surveys helped us learn about visitors’ experiences in KidStage at a certain level, but we’ll need to continue asking good questions to really understand where we can continue to improve.

Interviews: Listening to the Visitor Voice

Boston Children's Museum Family Fest 2013Asking visitors to tell us about their experiences, in their own words, is a vital part of understanding how visitors actually experience the Museum. What do visitors think they’re getting out of a Museum experience? How are they connecting with exhibits and programs? What do visitors think is missing, or what could the Museum do to improve?

Recently Boston Children’s Museum celebrated Arthur the Aardvark’s 8th birthday. Some Museum staff were curious: How many visitors came to the Museum to celebrate with Arthur? To answer that question, we asked visitors a few short questions, one of which was the open-ended question: Why did you decide to visit Boston Children’s Museum today? We learned that nearly 20% of visitors came to celebrate with Arthur. However, allowing visitors to describe their reasons for visiting, in their own words, also taught us some interesting things about what gets visitors to the Museum. Many visitors were simply looking for something fun to do with their kids while visiting Boston. Others were using the Museum as a way to spend time together with family and friends. Learning about our visitors through these simple, open-ended questions helps us see our visitors in more nuanced ways, and helps us create experiences that can better serve the diverse needs of our audience.

At Boston Children’s Museum, we aim to “spark a lifelong love of learning” within our visitors. We also work to maintain this spark within ourselves, as the playful educators and experience creators we are. Evaluation at the Museum keeps us asking questions and seeking new insights from our visitors, which help us sustain our own love for inquiry and curiosity, and our own desire for “joyful discovery” in the work we do every day.

At The Intersection of Music and Art, Collections and Education

IMG00817-20150523-1516-1Boston Children’s Museum has an art gallery on the second floor, which is sometimes overlooked as children run from Arthur’s World to Johnny’s Workbench. Exhibits rotate every two months, with work from local, contemporary artists. A recent exhibit was Floor van de Velde’s A Curious Symphony and it featured a wide variety of musical instruments from the Museum’s collections, arranged to show off instruments from around the world. Music played overhead and in phone booths so visitors could hear a range of music from different countries, cultures, and eras. On one of the last Saturdays of the exhibit’s run, I held guitar-making workshops for nineteen visitors and their grown-ups.

Since the fall, I have planned workshops for each new Gallery exhibit, hoping to help children explore the art in new ways and obtain new tools for encountering and interpreting art. Past workshops included learning how to “Move Like a Monster” for Monster Party and designing a boat for dreams for The Star Travelers’ Dreams. This A Curious Symphony exhibit challenged me. Initially, the instrument-making workshops I eventually settled on seemed too obvious. But sometimes the most obvious ideas are the best ones. Continue reading

It Looks So Easy

May 1They make it look so easy. The NBA player going up for a lay-up. The jazz pianist improvising on stage. The cook who whips up a delicious soup in minutes. Experts make difficult tasks seem effortless. Maybe even so effortless that you are lulled into thinking – I could do that. And maybe you could, but only with years of practice. Good teachers in classrooms and informal educational settings like museums do it too. They make it look easy. But it’s not. A quick look around Boston Children’s Museum offers some examples.

Start with the Visitor Experience Associate who greets you. While he smiles and answers your question about how to use the lockers, his eyes are searching 360 degrees as groups of people pass by in multiple directions. He notes the toddler wandering into the bubbles exhibit by himself, ready to step in if no adult appears soon. He remains calm and sympathetic listening to a parent complain about traffic in downtown Boston, and gives a high five to a frequent visitor leaving for the day. And that’s just the first few minutes of his shift. Continue reading

Look Closer

Benjamin, Cranston, RI, Age 9 bruiserdog77@gmail.com Macro April 21 2015-033Working with our collections I was recently tasked with choosing objects to be highlighted in Boston Children’s Museum’s Macro Photography program. Macro Photography is an art form which can turn even the most mundane leaf or twig, which we might otherwise destroy without even noticing, into a treasure just by looking closer at it. With the hustle and bustle of spring in Boston, I cannot remember when I last stopped and looked at something simply to study it.  As I took the time to select objects for this program, I wondered which of them kids would be drawn to. I chose a brightly colored quail, whose feathers were filled with patterns and shapes. I chose crystals with many facets and ornate metal-work from Syria, thinking that kids would be excited by the artifacts’ intricacies. With the stage laid, objects picked, and camera ready I was still surprised by the depth and thoughtfulness of the first photographer. Continue reading

Let’s Play in the Mud!

Mud 1

International Mud Day is on June 29 (really!) and we at Boston Children’s Museum will be celebrating on Saturday June 27 from 11:00-3:00. We’ll be looking at different types of dirt under microscopes, playing with “clean mud,”  and exploring objects made from clay. But the highlight of the day will be the giant bowl of mud in our front yard, under the tent.  And I hear you asking, “Why on earth would I want to let my kids play in a giant bowl of mud??”  To which I say, there are lots of reasons!

Kids, especially young kids, need to activate all their senses to help their brains develop.  Mud-play is a highly tactile, sensory experience that actually helps to build the brain!  This kind of tactile play is a great opportunity to develop science skills too; kids will notice cause-and-effect, advance their “what if” experimenting skills, explore the properties of matter, and lots more.  Mud is also a great equalizer; anyone can play with it, at any age and any ability. Continue reading

Talking With Children About Tragic Events

talking about tragic eventsTragic and senseless events such as the one in Charleston, South Carolina can make us feel vulnerable and helpless. For those who have children or who work with children, the emotional reactions can be even greater, especially when children are involved in the event. Even if only viewing such events from a distance, children want to understand what happened and why. What’s the responsibility of an adult to help children understand events like this?

Everyone, both children and adults, responds to tragic events differently. Some people are more affected than others. Some people show emotional responses while others may be more reserved about expressing their feelings. People cope differently, and it’s important to act accordingly based on how your family processes difficult situations. Here are some tips that may be helpful when you are thinking about ways to explain tragic events to your child. Continue reading

Fix-It Fest

Fix 1On Sunday, May 3 Boston Children’s Museum held our first Fix-It Fest, a one-day extravaganza devoted to construction, fixing, and creating. Inspired by Broken? Fix-It, a traveling exhibit from Long Island Children’s Museum, Fix-It Fest was the brainchild of educator Cora Carey. I sat down with Cora to learn more about this exciting event. She talks 21st Century Skills, the “magic” of making, and the challenge of overcoming the prevalent “disposable goods” mentality. And make sure you check out the Glue Recipe at the end of the interview!

 

What is Fix-It Fest? Continue reading

Wheelock College Student Observations: Follow Me!

Climber 5This post is the last in our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by Wheelock Student Researchers Meghan McWeeney, Katherine Finegan, Emma Petner and Paige Dillon.

Children loved leading us up and down the Museum’s Climber. Through these journeys, we discovered answers to the following questions through observation, note-taking, picture, and video:

 

1) What does the interaction between children and caregivers look like?

2) How do children find their way to the top and back down The Climber?

 

Climber 1In order to get a closer look at how children moved up and down The Climber, we sent one of our researchers, Emma, to gain a better understanding of how Josh, age 5 made his way through.

Climber 2Right from the start, Josh was eager to show researcher Emma how he found his way to the top. Continue reading

Wheelock Student Observations at Boston Children’s Museum: The Wheels are Spinning

Peep 1This post is part of our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by Wheelock Student Researchers Samantha Marrocchio, Tatiana Medina-Barreto, Gaby Boivin and Mallory Johnson.

Our observations took place in the Peep’s World exhibit at Boston Children’s Museum. We were seeking to investigate questions we had regarding child development and play, including:

  • How do children in different stages of development use modeling as a technique when playing?
  • How do boys and girls play differently when playing?
  • How does parent/adult involvement affect children’s play?

Continue reading