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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

Costumes All Year Round

Nate as Spiderman

Nate as Spiderman

Costumes are unique toys, if you even want to call them that. They’re playthings you don’t play with, rather, they support and inspire play – they’re play facilitators. You’ve likely seen it for yourself that there’s something very compelling for children about re-envisioning everyday objects, assembling ensembles, or pretending to be somebody else. But did you know it’s also good for their brains?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (click here for article), playing with costumes can build imagination, help children discover new things about themselves, and can be a powerful tool for self-expression. But I wasn’t about to take NAEYC’s word for it, so I took my questions to an expert: 8-year-old costume-enthusiast Nate Hill. Continue reading

Creative Confidence – Expand your life experiences

A Distant Episode 2Having creative confidence is trusting and valuing each and every one of your ideas and taking creative risks.

In the Art Studio this is goal #1 – to instill creative confidence in every visitor that walks through the door – no matter what the project is, what medium we are exploring, or what collaborative project we are constructing.

We regularly post new ideas about how to instill creative confidence in children at home and in the classroom.

For those of you out there that do not know, Boston Children’s Museum has an awesome gallery space where we have been showcasing the work of local artists since our renovation in 2007. One of the unique things about our gallery space is our family audience, which can top 2,000 any given day. That is an amazing turn-out for any art space! The thing about our audience is that they most likely are not coming to the Museum to see art. (I am trying to change that!). What this means it that they aren’t anticipating walking into an art space or preparing themselves for the conversation they will have with their children about what they are seeing, or what the art is, or what it means. They just happen upon it. I love watching the discovery, seeing what kids are drawn to, how they decide to interact with the work, what they say, what they don’t say….being a witness to the truly hands-on aspect of the Museum and what this means in an art space. Continue reading

Everyday Inspiration

AS sneaker tracingWith the drudgery of sullen subway rides, repetitive routines, or long and difficult days at work or school, it can be easy to become immersed in the daily grind, losing sight of the search to remain creatively inspired. Because of this, it’s important to remind yourself that inspiration is everywhere, even when you’re stuck in the murky depths of the mundane.

Be on the lookout for creative inspiration in unexpected places; for example, some people only have to look as far as the shoes on their feet. From May 3rd to July 6th, the work in our Boston Children’s Museum Gallery is inspired by sneakers.  The show was curated by Olivia Ives-Flores and the Sneaker Museum. Continue reading

Creative Confidence – Idea 9 – Humility

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Creative Confidence – Idea 9 – Humility

Having creative confidence is trusting and valuing each and every one of your ideas and taking creative risks.

In the Art Studio this is goal #1 – to instill creative confidence in every visitor that walks through the door – no matter what the project is, what medium we are exploring, or what collaborative project we are constructing.

We regularly post new ideas about how to instill creative confidence in children at home and in the classroom.

Idea 9 – Humility

“Humility involves knowing your limits, and having appreciation for the intentions, strengths and perspectives of others.”

Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier, “The Encyclopedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding”:

“Humility can only come from those who actually have something about which to be humble. The humble are those who could crow, but chose to keep their beaks shut. Humility is also a close associate of gratitude, and it’s an attribute that simply oozes class.”

All Pro Dads – http://www.allprodad.com/top10/parenting/10-ways-to-teach-your-children-humility/
Humility, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

“Humility is the foundation of this personal power which rests in the fact that we are not pretending to be anything or anyone we are not. It is a quiet power, an unshakable power. A peaceful power. An active power. No sheer external force can, or ever has, overcome the power of humility. Countless historical examples have proven this principle.”

John David Hoag, a Professional NLP Trainer, Coach and Therapist

Humility, self-confidence and self-esteem are all important character traits no matter your age. Where does humility fit into teaching or raising children when self- esteem and self-confidence are valued so highly in our society? What does humility have to do with creative confidence and creativity? Continue reading

Creative Confidence – Patience and Persistence

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Creative Confidence – Idea 8

Having creative confidence is trusting and valuing each and every one of your ideas and taking creative risks.

In the Art Studio this is goal #1 – to instill creative confidence in every visitor that walks through the door – no matter what the project is, what medium we are exploring, or what collaborative project we are constructing.

We regularly post new ideas about how to instill creative confidence in children at home and in the classroom.  This month is an important one:

Idea 8 – Patience and Persistence.

If you so choose, every mistake can lead to greater understanding and effectiveness. If you so choose, every frustration can help you to be more patient and more persistent.

– Ralph Marston Continue reading