Explore with Your Child: Adapting Museum Activities to Your Own Home!

This blog post was written by our Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, and is pursuing a degree in Child Life.

When I first began my internship at Boston Children’s Museum, I loved exploring and learning about the exhibits. I was curious to know how children responded and engaged with each exhibit, and how children’s behavior changed between areas in the Museum. I decided to observe in four Museum exhibits; Peep’s World, Kid Power, KEVA, and the Japanese House. I chose these four because they differ greatly from each other in both environmental design and the type of activities included.

After completing my observations in exhibits around the Museum, I considered what these observations demonstrated about child engagement both within and outside of the Museum environment. Keep reading for suggestions on how to bring favorite Museum activities and lessons into your own home!

dowel structures

In the Japanese House, children are often quieter and more cautious than in the rest of the Museum. The Japanese House is an authentic silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan that is approximately 100 years old. Children likely recognize that this is a special environment compared to the rest of the Museum and adjust their behavior accordingly. If you want to facilitate your child’s participation in an activity that requires quieter voices and calmer bodies, try talking and demonstrating to your child how special the activity is. For example, if you are looking for a more peaceful dinner time, try setting up your home like a “fancy” restaurant; this could mean simply adding real or fake flowers to the center of the table and playing quiet music in the background, or going all out and making pretend menus (with only a few options).

Kid Power has a series of stations designed to inspire children to be active and move their bodies; one such station is a seat attached to ropes that instructs children to “Use your power” and pull themselves up using the ropes. Some adults help their children pull the ropes and lift the child’s weight for them, while other adults instruct their children on how to pull the ropes instead of directly helping. The children who completed tasks independently often spent longer focused on each activity. When working to inspire persistence in your children, consider offering guidance rather direct help. Next time you’re at a playground and your child is asking for help crossing the balance beam, maybe hold your hand just a few inches away from theirs. That way you are there to catch them if they start to fall, but you are also demonstrating your confidence in them to make it across the beam independently!

Visitors spent longer in KEVA and Peep’s World than in the other exhibits I observed. Peep’s World is designed for young children and includes a cave to walk through, shadow play, the Imagination Playground, and a large water play area. KEVA consists of large platforms and bins of KEVA planks, as well as structures built out of KEVA planks displayed to inspire visitors’ own creations. Both are fairly open-ended; in other words, they allow lots of room for children to interpret how they want to manipulate and play with the materials provided. If looking to engage your child for an extended period of time, consider providing them with open-ended materials. But that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy KEVA planks! Do you have extra plates, cups, napkins, and straws from your child’s last birthday party? Challenge your child to build something with the leftover materials – if you are excited about the project, they will be too! Or, borrow an idea directly from Peep’s World and paint with water. All you need is a cup for water, a paint brush, and a few rocks for your child to magically change the color of with their water brush!

To brainstorm more activities that your child may enjoy, take time during your next visit to observe their likes and dislikes; notice which exhibits keep them the most engaged and replicate these activities at home. But don’t worry if an activity doesn’t work out exactly as planned! Children explore and experiment to figure out how this world works, and they will often find completely unique ways to play. Embrace this, and wherever your child’s creativity takes you, I hope you enjoy the adventure!

Message in a Milk Bottle: Creating a Geometric Community Garden

This blog post was written by Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University pursuing a degree in Child Life.

geometric garden 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each spring, the Health and Wellness Educator’s intern creates the Message in a Milk Bottle project, which centers on community building. This year, I had the wonderful privilege of designing and implementing this project. I wanted my project to represent spring and the exciting new possibilities that come with the season and to encourage children (and adults!) to contribute unique artwork; the combination of these ideas led to creating a Geometric Community Garden.

Real life community gardens offer individuals small plots of land within a larger designated area to grow plants of their choosing. Community gardens bring people together and often create a space for gardening that would not otherwise be possible in urban areas across the world. While implementing the Geometric Gardens activity, I provided handouts explaining a real life community garden in images and with developmentally appropriate language, along with suggestions of what is in a community garden. The suggestions included flowers and vegetables, but I also included images of rocks, topiary (shrubbery sculptures), and buildings to encourage participants to think outside of the box. The materials I offered for creating gardens echoed the visuals I provided in that they were open-ended; participants started with a piece of cardstock to act as a base in their representation of a garden. Gemstones, wood squares and ovals, multicolored felt cut-outs in a variety of shapes, brightly colored packing peanuts, and fabric samples were just some of the materials offered.

geometric garden 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to involve community outside of the Museum walls, I facilitated the Geometric Gardens project at Franciscan Children’s, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Boston, and The Campus School at Boston College. Each of these organizations serves children and families with special medical and developmental needs. By bringing the Message in a Milk Bottle project to them each year, individuals at these organizations have the opportunity to participate in a Museum event, and the visitors at the Museum have the opportunity to see and appreciate the individual creative contributions of individuals from different backgrounds and life circumstances than themselves.

Throughout late March and early April, I personally implemented the project at Franciscans and Shriners, and brought materials to the teachers at The Campus School to work on the project with their students. The activity was open to visitors at the Museum during April Morningstar Access, as well as twice during April vacation week, the theme of which was “Tell me a Story”. Before opening the activity up to Museum visitors, I began to create the Geometric Community Garden with contributions from those at outside organizations. As visitors completed their projects, they were encouraged to choose where their gardens fit into the community garden and tape them up themselves. With the display directly next to the activity, visitors could draw inspiration from projects that were already completed and appreciate the stories represented in each geometric garden.

geometric garden 4

 

Although I designed this project with the idea of encouraging creativity in children across Boston, I was still in awe of their creations and surprised by the unique ideas and depth of stories contributed by each participant. A child at Franciscans made an ice cream garden; a child at Shriners made a pepperoni pizza on a stick garden. A child from The Campus School created a football garden; a child at the Museum created a button to operate an airplane with. Participants ranged in age from approximately 2 years all the way to adulthood; one father helped his newly 2 year old daughter to stick down objects and then interpreted her work as creating a tractor, and proudly added the tractor to the community garden display. Children created 3D as well as 2D gardens, and adults asked questions about the gardens, interacting with their own children as well as other visitors while in the Museum. The range of storytelling weaved into the creation of this Geometric Community Garden project was inspiring, and an exciting representation of the uniqueness that each of us has to contribute to our communal story.

As an intern, this project enabled me to develop skills in planning, organizing, and facilitating a large scale activity that reached children and families across Boston. I was able to enhance my professional communication skills and learn from the story of each child’s garden. As a person, this project reminded me of the excitement in allowing creativity to flourish, the benefits of community and teaching community ideals to children, and the beauty of using open-ended materials to create something new.

geometric garden 3

Dress to Express

Take a velvet robe, add a football helmet, or a floppy summer hat and let your imagination soar. Dress up and role playing fosters creativity and empathy and helps children grow physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Physical Development

First you’ve got to get the costume on. Dressing up is a chance for young children to practice basic skills like pulling arms through sleeves and slipping shoes onto feet. Buttoning a button and tying a belt require fine motor skills.  Strutting around pretending to be a king, twirling like a dancer, and crawling like a cat, develop muscles and balance.

Social and Emotional Development

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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

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.

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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: 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

Sharing and Caring: Ramadan Themes in Action

Ramadan 2016 1Can you go without food or water from dawn to sunset? This is exactly what many Muslim adults do during Ramadan. More importantly, Muslims try to experience what the less fortunate go through every day and practice good habits and deeds, such as giving more to charity and practicing self-control. Fasting is usually broken with water, dates or milk before the start of the evening meal, called iftar.

Ramadan began on Sunday, June 5th and came to an end on Tuesday, July 5th, 2016. The next day, on Wednesday, July 6th many children and families woke up to Eid Al Fitr (feast of breaking the fast) to put on their finest clothes and many girls around the world washed their hands to reveal the beautiful design dyed with henna. On the morning of Eid, many people go to the mosque for prayer, as well as visiting friends and families. 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