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.

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

Sing Ho! A Silly Old Bear Turns 90

antique-books-stacked

When I was One,

I had just begun.

When I was Two,

I was nearly new.

When I was Three,

I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,

I was not much more.

When I was Five,

I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever.

So I think I’ll be six now and for ever and ever.[1]

This October, one of the most beloved bears of all time turns 90 years old. Though he appears in earlier publications, fans prefer to celebrate the birth of Winnie-the-Pooh on October 14 as that is the date Winnie-the-Pooh was published.

To join in the festivities, here are a few things you may or may not know about a silly old bear. Continue reading

More Than a Mess

IMG_1645“We have fabric, hula hoops, flagging tape, little drink umbrellas, string, some scissors, chalk, and cardboard tubes. What else do we need? What’s missing?”

“There are more cardboard tubes upstairs. Let’s bring out some duct tape. I think we might need more fabric…Oh this material has a cool texture! And look at these mirrors!”

This is a typical conversation I have every Monday morning here at Boston Children’s Museum. My Mondays are dedicated to making a mess. Each Messy Monday a team of Museum staff from the Art Studio and the Messy Sensory area in Playspace team up to support hands-on activities for children and adults of all ages. This could mean anything from painting with spaghetti to mixing shaving cream and sand to create moldable dough. This past Monday our invitation to our visitors was, “Come in and do whatever you want with the materials we have here.” It is increasingly rare for children today to be given this kind of open invitation and it is always interesting to see what happens next. Continue reading

Power of Play in Action: One Mom’s Story

Mimi Tovar PicWelcome to our guest blog post from Mimi Tovar, mother of five and parent partner in Boston! Mimi was one of fifteen parent partners who participated in Boston Children’s Museum’s Power of Play Training through the Boston Family Engagement Network on March 31. During the last year, our team at the Museum has trained over 300 adults in this interactive play training that helps teachers, afterschool staff, parents, family care providers, and others understand the importance of play for children. Participants leave with specific examples of how to support play in everyday life. On the night that Mimi participated in the Power of Play Workshop, she sent me this email:

“Today will forever change my perspective of the words “play or playing”!

As a mother of five children, I have always stressed the importance of education, not realizing that playing is a crucial part of their learning development. I also learned that playing can be and IS a stress reducing tool.

As an artist, it makes perfect sense, as a mom, well not so much, until today. Continue reading

Talking Art

Photo courtesy of Rene Dongo

Photo Credit: Rene Dongo

Holiday break can be a great time to see art as a family at a local museum or gallery. Ever wondered how to engage children in conversation about art? Here are some questions and tips you can use to get started:

– Let children lead the way. “What would you like to look at?” or “Take me to a painting that you want to see!” invites them to survey the space and find something that looks interesting to them. 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

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

Encouraging Creative Development

Encouraging Creative DevelopmentBoston Children’s Museum’s Art Studio is one of my favorite places – and that’s good, because I spend a lot of time there. For the past year-and-a-half, I’ve assisted our Arts Program Educator in program preparation and planning, carrying out workshops, and doing my part to help keep the Studio a place of healthy self-expression. My love of this work has inspired a new undertaking: the pursuit of a Master of Education degree in Elementary Education, with a particular emphasis on the creative arts in learning. Each month, I’ll reflect about an element of my graduate schooling and my job here at BCM through the Museum’s Power of Play blog. For the month of February, I’d like to talk about something I learned in a recent class, on the subject of appropriately supporting a child’s creative development.

Taking each of my daily encounters to heart, I learn so much through simple observation and quick conversations with our visitors. With this experiential education in addition to my formal schooling, I’m beginning to understand just how heavy my feedback may weigh in a child’s mind, for better or for worse. Continue reading