Remembering the Kit Department and its pioneering loan service

Hayley Mercer is the fall Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management. She is currently a student at Simmons University in her third year pursuing a Masters in History and Information and a Masters in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management.

As the fall Elvira Growdon Intern for Boston Children’s Museum, I had the opportunity to process, rehouse, and create a finding aid (or guide to the collection) for the records and materials of the now-closed Kit Department. From the 1930s to 2010, the Kit Department at Boston Children’s Museum created and circulated kits covering hundreds of different subjects to surrounding schools.

Initially, the Museum operated a loan service where collections items and labels were rented out to schools, libraries, and youth groups so that children could experience the Museum wherever they were. These items encompassed a wide range of topics across various fields of study, from Norwegian culture to volcanoes to textiles. This loan service meant that, for example, children at Boston Children’s Hospital who were too ill or injured to come to Boston Children’s Museum could still experience its exhibits from their hospital or convalescent home.

Loan box in schoolroom, ca. 1930-1939 [permalink:]
Loan box at Home for Convalescent Children, ca. 1930-1939 [permalink:]

For over 25 years these loan kits acted as portable exhibits, offering information on the topic of the loan box as if the children were at the Museum itself. However, these kits did not offer any additional instruction on ways to incorporate the kit into classroom activities or encourage discussion among students. Additionally, as these loan kits contained collections items held by the Museum, extra care had to be taken with handling and students were not able to fully interact with them. Because of this, the Museum began considering ways it could harness the infrastructure already established by the loan kit program to circulate kits focused on fostering classroom activities and promote experiential learning.

Kit Loan department, 1956

In January 1964, the loan service department submitted their official proposal for “a program of portable, loanable kits of materials designed specifically for the teaching and learning of selected topics in the elementary curriculum and available to teachers on an ‘as-needed’ basis from a central source” called the MATCH Box program. The program’s name was taken from what its creators considered to be its primary purpose—to serve as Material Aids for Teaching Children—and was designed with the aim of providing teaching aids to educators and engaging ways of learning to students. Fueled by the belief that “direct, personal experiences are better than any abstraction of those experiences,” the MATCH Box kits would include a broad range of materials to encourage hands-on learning through games and activities alongside more traditional teaching strategies. 

Each kit came with audiovisual materials (including videos, slideshows, and music), books, artifacts, games, and curriculum guides, along with specific material unique to each kit—the MATCH Box aimed at teaching about medieval people came with a dress-up activity, the waterplay[FR2]  kit included funnels, tools, and buckets to maximize water playability, and the press kit had instructions teaching students how to start and print their own newspaper. 

Two students engaging in the Waterplay MATCH Box activities, ca. 1970-1979

Between 1965 and 1967, the Museum created prototype boxes and guides for thirteen kits, and by 1970 the MATCH Box kits were being used in schools in the Greater Boston Area and beyond. Over the years, other kit programs would be developed with different educational goals. Discovery Kits were activity-focused units where students could learn-through-doing about topics like papermaking, burn prevention, and quilt-making. Study Kits provided in each unit a wealth of resources like books, photographs, and objects for students to engage in quiet study time. More kits were added to the MATCH Box program as well, which was later renamed the Curriculum program to reflect its goal of providing a fully-developed educational program all in one kit. Similarly, the Exhibit Kits program emerged from the original loan exhibit program, with collections items that had been specially chosen to be used as a “teaching collection.” These teaching collection materials could be freely used and explored by students in a way they couldn’t be before, creating an even more engaging “mini-museum” experience.

Although the Kit Department closed in 2010, it provided countless students throughout New England the opportunity to experience new ways of learning and discovery from their classrooms, pioneering efforts to promote experiential learning. If you would like to learn more about the history of the Kits Department and the various lending programs it ran, or to find out anything else about the amazing stories and history of the Boston Children’s Museum, please feel free to visit the Museum Archives!

The Fish of Māui : Te Ika a Māui

Kolie Swavely is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections Management and Curatorial Practice for summer 2017. Her work at Boston Children’s Museum has focused on cataloging and digitizing the Polynesian collection and finding cultural materials that connect to stories, myths, and legends around the world. She is completing a graduate certificate in Museum Studies at Tufts University.

Hello! Or, as the greeting goes in New Zealand, Kia Ora!

As the current E. Growdon Intern at Boston Children’s Museum, I work within collection’s storage, a place that some could compare to the likes of a secret garden. Now, imagine that garden filled not with flowers, but with ethnographic artifacts and pieces of cultural history collected by world travelers over 100 years ago!

As museums continue to care for their collections, ensuring that each and every piece of art and artifact is in the best condition possible, it is easy to lose track of the stories each one tells, and has yet to tell. Like a fish to a glittering lure, there is always an artifact that catches your eye, beckoning to be explored and revived. Here at Boston Children’s Museum, I myself have been hooked. While carefully documenting objects, I continue to uncover many that speak to me; and this fishhook I present today definitely speaks loudly of its cultural origin, the Māori of New Zealand.

Fishhook/ “Matau” Culture of Origin: Māori of New Zealand. Object ID: OS 78. Collection: Oceania; Polynesia. Materials: Bone, Abalone, Wood, Sennit Cord. Dimensions: 1.125” x 0.625” x 3.75”. Collected by Miss Lucy M. Prince, 1898. Donated, 1915

This beautiful fishhook (above) was donated to Boston Children’s Museum in 1915, Continue reading

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

Challenges with Cultural Exhibits: Native Voices

nickThe following post is by our Native Voices Exhibit Mentor, Nickolas Nelson:

My name is Nickolas Nelson and I am an Exhibit Mentor for the Native Voices exhibit. My time as a mentor allows the opportunity for me to witness first-hand the fun and exciting adventures that Native Voices has to offer. However, working with such an exhibit does have its challenges.

In Native Voices, we want to give families insight into how a group of people previously lived, but to also provide information as to their contemporary lifestyles, belief systems, customs, and ideals. This is challenging because a majority of information about indigenous cultures is based on stereotypes and misinformation. For example, many books and other publications continue to place indigenous people in the past leading audiences to disconnect indigenous peoples from contemporary culture. The goal of Native Voices is to dispel this misinformation. Once the stigma and stereotypes have been explained away, true growth and knowledge can ensue. Continue reading

Sing Ho! A Silly Old Bear Turns 90


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

Happy Birthday, Beatrix!

BCM Pirated Peter Rabbit 003This July marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of renowned children’s author, illustrator, and conservationist, Beatrix Potter. Her tales played an important role in the shift that took place for children’s literature in the 20th century. Publishers recognized the importance of children as an audience and the need for higher quality in their offerings. Potter’s first and perhaps most famous tale is The Tale of Peter Rabbit published in 1902. In celebration of the sesquicentennial, here are some interesting facts about Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit. Continue reading

How to Have a Grand St. Patrick’s Day: Tips to Celebrating Respectfully

Shamrock 1-1 sm sqMany people associate contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as an Irish tradition. However the St. Patrick’s Day we know today is an American creation. In the 1800s, great numbers of Irish immigrants came to America to start a new life, but many American communities found it difficult to accept their overwhelming numbers. As a result, St. Patrick’s Day became an important day for Irish-Americans to gather together and celebrate their culture. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day continued to focus on religious aspects of the holiday. It is only recently that Ireland has followed with a three-day festival full of music, parades, and treasure hunts. Continue reading

That Giant Milk Bottle

BCM at NightSince 1977, visitors to Boston Children’s Museum have been greeted, as they approach the Museum, by a 40-foot tall building in the shape of a milk bottle. This may seem like an unusual choice for the front of the Museum, but it was not placed there as a statement on the importance of dairy in one’s diet, nor is it a marketing tool for Hood. There is a story behind this structure, and it is one filled with twists, turns and intrigue. The Milk Bottle’s journey has been an interesting one, and in the nearly four decades since its trip to Boston, it has become a beloved icon of the Museum and our mission. Continue reading