Message in a Milk Bottle: Every Fish Is Unique

This blog post was written by our Health and Wellness intern, Alexa Curtiss. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life.

The “Message in a Milk Bottle” program has become an annual spring tradition at Boston Children’s Museum, and allows the Museum’s Health and Wellness Educator intern to create and run a special themed activity for children of varying ages, abilities, and circumstances. This Spring it was my turn, and I was excited to be able to create a project that would not only involve children visiting the Museum, but that I would be able to take it out into the community and include pediatric patients at both Shriner’s and Franciscan’s hospitals, as well as students from the Campus School at Boston College. I titled my activity “Every Fish is Unique”.

For the first part of the project, children were asked to choose a paper fish cut out from a variety of pastel and bold hues. They were offered colorful strips if they wanted to “weave” the body and make fins, and then were able to further individualize their fish using crayons, markers, craft feathers, and sequins. As they worked we talked about how, just as every fish was special, different and unique – so too is every child. When they come together, they all make up one big community.

Having already visited and worked with the children at the hospitals and school earlier in the month, I brought their completed fish to the Museum on April 23rd, when I ran the activity for visitors. As I chatted with the children while they worked on creating their fish, I began to assemble the second part of the project. This was a huge 5’ x 9’ fish which I hung in the window of the Museum, to which I began affixing all the completed fish. This allowed me to visually demonstrate the second part of the message: showing how, by putting all the very different and special fish together, they created and contributed to a beautiful and unique community.

One very unexpected aspect of the project began to reveal itself as I began adding the individual fish to the larger one: the sun came streaming through the window and seemed to light up the fish, creating almost a rainbow effect, which to me signifies the beauty of diversity within a community! The big fish remained “swimming” along on display at the Museum through the end of April, continuing to spread the message of the value of diversity in community to all who viewed it.

Sleep Hygiene

This blog post is written by our Health and Wellness intern, Alexa Curtiss. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life.

From difficulty falling asleep at night, to troubles sleeping through the night, even to the emergence of nightmares. There are so many questions regarding a child’s sleep as they develop during the first few years. Because the topic of helping children sleep is so popular, I decided to write about a few suggestions that may help with various sleep troubles. Try out any of these suggestions for a few nights and see how it goes!

  1. Cool, dark, quiet rooms help children sleep.

Cool, dark, and quiet rooms can help children get optimal sleep. Being too warm can cause children to be uncomfortable and therefore cause tossing and turning. This is why a cooler room can help them get better sleep. Too much light in a room while a child is trying to sleep can cause the brain to become stimulated, as if it was daytime, meaning the child might have a hard time sleeping or getting restful sleep. The same goes for noise either in the room or around the room the child is trying to sleep in. A white noise machine can be helpful if there is unavoidable noise outside or nearby. You can set a white noise machine to run quietly to mask some of the extraneous noise. While white noise machines can be very useful, young children’s ears are very vulnerable, so it is recommended to use machines that specify on the product information that they do not exceed 50 dBA (decibels) and to keep the device at least seven feet from the child.

  1. Routines before bedtime.

If your child is having a hard time settling down at bedtime, you can try creating a nightly routine of several things you do in a certain order before bedtime. Having a routine like this can help signal to your child and their brain that it is time to start winding down. An example of a routine could be: bath time, pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, sing a song, lights off, two minutes of rubbing the child’s back while they lay in bed.

  1. Nightmares.

If your child starts having nightmares, first, it is important to know that it is common for children to start to have occasional nightmares especially as they start to have a real sense of imagination but are not yet capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. There are many ways to help your child following a nightmare. One example for helping your child is going into their room if they call out for you. Stay long enough to help them calm down, provide them with a comfort item (favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc.), and then slowly leave the room. In some cases, it can be helpful to speak to your child about a time in which they feel comfortable with you coming back to check on them, for example, agreeing to come back to check on them in an hour (quietly, so if they are asleep, they are not woken), as this can give them a greater sense of security.

Bring your snacks to Tasty Tuesdays and share your strategies of helping your child get a better sleep!

The Benefits of Yoga for Children

When you hear about yoga classes for children you may be a bit skeptical. You may find yourself thinking, why? Why should my child do yoga? Won’t that be too hard for a child to understand and physically do? How would it help them? Isn’t yoga linked to religion? Why should my child do yoga when they can do other activities like riding their bike, running, sports like soccer and playing games like tag?

Whether you practice yoga or not, you most likely have heard about the benefits it provides. Practicing yoga is known to help reduce stress, promote calm and positive emotions, as well as increasing balance, strength and overall health. One of the great things about yoga is that the benefits it provides are for everyone, regardless of age. Anyone from children to grandparents can participate in and benefit from yoga.

To give you a brief history, Continue reading

Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Critter Care

critter-careHi there!  We’re doing Critter Care right now.  Meet Marina, one of our Visitor Experience Associates.  She’s cutting up food for our critters.  Boston Children’s Museum has four live animals:  Watson, our bearded dragon lizard; Oliver our ball python; and we have two new spotted turtles who we haven’t named yet.   Every day a Museum staff person is assigned to “Critter Care”.  No experience is required to sign up for Critter Care, just a willingness to deal with the messes that animals can make. Critter Care team members seem to think that the benefits and enjoyment of working with the animals outweighs the little bit of unpleasantness.

Caring for the critters gets them used to humans as we handle them which is important because we like to take them out of their homes occasionally to have them meet our visitors during “Creature Features”.  Some Critter Care staff are also trained in “Creature Features”, where they learn proper handling and how to talk to visitors about the animals.

Staff members on the Critter Care team generally really enjoy getting to know the animals and develop a real fondness for them.  They learn a lot about these individual animals, as well as the species in general.  Watson is a staff favorite.  He’s extremely social and often can be found at our staff Morning Meeting.  He likes to latch on to the front of your shirt and hang there, head cocked to the side listening. Sometimes we let him skitter along the floor. His claws slip a bit on the tiles, but he is undeterred – so much freedom!

The next time you’re at the Museum come visit our live animals on the first floor in Investigate, between Bubbles and Raceways.

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