Cover Your Cough and Sneeze! How to Teach Kids to Cough/Sneeze into Their Sleeves

cough and sneezeWhen I’m on the floor doing programs and staffing exhibits, it almost seems like everyone is sick as I hear people coughing and sneezing all around the Museum. As the winter approaches, our bodies have to adjust to the temperature changes, and the dry air can make us more susceptible to cold.

It’s important to practice good hygiene skills to prevent getting and spreading the germs that cause colds. The followings are some tips to help children practice coughing and sneezing into their sleeves. You can also learn more about germs and hygiene by coming to “Germ Keep-A-Way Day” on Saturday November 28 at Boston Children’s Museum!

1. Start with modeling and directing.

Little kids cough and sneeze everywhere. Even if it might take some time, it will help your child and you stay healthy if your child learns to cover his cough/sneeze. First, whenever you sneeze or cough, make sure that you are Continue reading

Indigenous Halloween Costumes: Empowering or Problematic?

4046By Sara Tess Neumann and Meghan Evans

Recent issues have arisen with the lack of career costumes available for girls, or the prevalence of sexualized costumes for young children. Empowering costumes are challenging to find and a number of websites recommend dressing in Native American costumes. However, many Indigenous communities disagree. This has been brought to the forefront here at Boston Children’s Museum with the reopening of our exhibit Native Voices. Begun in 2010 and developed with an Indigenous Advisory Board from all of the tribes represented, it became clear that of the many goals of this exhibit the most prominent include dispelling stereotypes, correcting misinformation, and conveying that contemporary tribes continue to revive and evolve their cultural traditions, values, and communities.

This amazing group of advisors, historians, and academics emphasized that many stereotypes of Indigenous peoples continue to exist today, perpetuated in literature, film and television, sports teams, and holidays – like Halloween. Though the intentions of the wearers may be to honor and celebrate the rich cultures of Indigenous peoples – our Indigenous Advisory Board shed light on the challenges Indigenous people face today with the perpetuation of stereotypes.

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared that stereotypical images of Indigenous people further traumatizes and stresses American citizens nationwide and called for the retirement of all Native American sports mascots, stating that the:

APA’s position is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.

Like many cultures around the world, there are both negative and seemingly positive stereotypes applied to Indigenous peoples. However, Indigenous communities advocate for accurate representations as real people, living and working, bringing up kids and being themselves, wise or funny, serious or silly.

Stereotype: Indigenous peoples are a vanished race

Many portrayals and Halloween costumes of Indigenous people focus only on the past, often leading to the misconception that these cultures are part of the past and no longer exist. Indigenous blogger Bear Witness says:

When you’re in a world that sees you as a mascot with warpaint and feathers, issues of representation become of extreme importance. We dress and live like everyone else. We don’t live in teepees, we don’t hunt buffalo. All those things that are part of the stereotype are ways of dehumanising us.

Stereotype: Indigenous people are highly sexual

Indian costumes sexualize Indigenous people with low tops, short skirts, bare chests, and loin clothes. A common costume sold for women is the “Sexy Indian Princess”, “Pocahottie”, or “Tribal Temptation.” Activist and blogger Adrienne Keene writes:

Native women have been highly sexualized throughout history and in pop culture. There are any number of examples I can pull from, the “Indian Princess” stereotype is everywhere—think the story of Pocahontas, or Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Cher in her “half breed” video, or the Land ‘o’ Lakes girl, seriously almost any image of a Native woman that you’ve seen in popular culture…But the pervasive “sexy squaw” is the most dangerous, especially when you know the basic facts about sexual violence against Native women.

Stereotype: Indigenous peoples are warlike and savage

Another costume sold for men is the “Savage Warrior”, an angry Indigenous person – often male – “waiting to massacre innocent pioneers without the slightest provocation.” The warrior stereotype is sometimes presented as positive, because it presents Indigenous people as brave, but Devon A. Mihesuah (Choctaw) writes about how these so-called positive stereotypes are still damaging:

All these portrayals of Indian violence may really be a backhanded compliment, for it appears that many non-Indians admire the fighting abilities of Indians. One of the most respected traits of Indians is that they were often difficult to defeat, so when they were subdued, it enhanced their conquerors’ reputation.

Stereotype: Indigenous people are all alike

A common presentation is of an Indigenous person dressed in a leather tunic with leggings or a loin cloth, bare chested, and with a full feather headdress. Devon A. Mihesuah (Choctaw) attributes this homogenous image to popular culture:

Filmmakers and non-Indian artists, however, devote most of their attention to the Plains tribes that historically hunted bison and lived in tipis. But tribes in the west, New England, around the Great Lakes, and the Arctic didn’t live in tipis (or at least not in big, buffalo hide tipis). Most of them didn’t wear their hair in braids, nor did they wear headdresses. 

There are over 500 uniquely different Indigenous tribes in North America, with varying forms of regalia, traditions, and beliefs.

Honoring and Respecting Indigenous Cultures

Many Indigenous people and authors state that they believe no malicious intent is behind the wearing of Indian costumes. The hope is that through education and advocacy that the world will find other ways to show respect. Blogger Kyle Dlaakaw.éesh Wark (Tlingit) writes:

If you want to honor and flatter us, fight for Native people’s right to access subsistence resources on our traditional homelands. Advocate for Federal or State recognition of Tribal sovereignty, which includes land management, the protection of our people from domestic violence and sexual assault in Tribal courts, and Tribal management of child custody cases. Recognize the inherent connection between perpetuating Native life ways, including art forms and diet, and our strength as Native people, including raising up strong families. Testify on our behalf in the legislature. Donate to Native causes, volunteer at Native events. Celebrate our entire way of life. Don’t dress like us for one day of the year. “Playing Indian” trivializes the historic trauma, culture loss, and heartache of Native peoples.

Here at Boston Children’s Museum, we believe that children are learning every minute of the day. In choosing costumes for Halloween, consider how stereotypes perpetuate misconceptions. Halloween should be a fun time for everyone.



  1. “Summary of the APA Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots”, American Psychological Association, 6 October 2015, /resources/indian-mascots.aspx.
  2. Dorian Lynskey, “This means war: why the fashion headdress must be stopped”, The Guardian, 30 July 2014,
  3. Adrienne Keene, “Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women”, Native Appropriations, 17 June 2010,
  4. Devon A. Mihesuah, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, Atlanta: Clarity Press, 1996, 51.
  5. Ibid., 52
  6. Ibid., 23.
  7. Adrienne Keene, “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?”, Native Appropriations, 27 April 2010,
  8. Kyle Dlaakaw.éesh Wark, “The Perils of Culturally Appropriate Halloween Costumes”, Indian Country Today Media Network, 31 October 2014, /2014/10/31/perils-culturally-appropriative-halloween-costumes.

Borrowed and Returned

ExhibitOne of the most frequently asked questions I have here in collections is, “How did the Museum get all this stuff?!” (Considering how eclectic our collections are, that question
is usually asked with a hint of awe and wonder.) For the vast majority of materials in the collection, the answer is simply that they were gifts or donations to the Museum. Occasionally items are purchased; occasionally items are “found in collections” (which is just what it sounds like – an object with no documentation that has been lost to time and storage); and occasionally items are loaned. Well, in this past year, one old loan has been of particular interest. Continue reading

Relaxation for Everyone

relaxation dayWe all live in a stressful world. There are so many demands from work and other parts of our lives. Just being in environments with a lot of noise, material, and people can also add to stress. And children are not immune to this – kids are exposed to stress at an early age. If the stress becomes significant, it can lead to more serious issues such as anxiety, physical pain, and behavioral difficulties.

It’s important for both adults and children to relax. You can take even just five minutes a day to have some quiet, relaxing moments with you child, which can make a big long-term difference!

  1. What causes stress?

Stress can be caused by both everyday events and special occasions. Examples of everyday events can be scheduled activities, eating (especially if a child tends to be a picky eater), going to daycare or school, and peer relationships. Special events such as traveling, loss of a loved one, changes in routines, or moving can compound stress levels.  Even fun activities can add to overall stress, even though they are not what we think of as harmful kinds of stress. Continue reading

Poetry Collage

Poetry 1I recently offered a poetry collage workshop in the Museum’s Art Studio, focusing specifically on free-association and shaped poetry. Too often, writing in schools is presented in a way that is stressful and overwhelming for kids. I wanted to see if I could present a writing activity that was fun and creative by adding structure and inviting visitors to experiment with the most free-form type of writing: poetry.

Visitors used collections of pre-cut-out words to explore free-association composition and play with the arrangement of words. Visitors also experimented with shaped poetry, using both pre-made shapes and their own shapes, to gain inspiration and connect literary and visual arts. Continue reading

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 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