Seeing Stars on the Waterfront

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“Wow, what a beautiful view!”

That’s often what visitors say when they first come (and then come back) to Boston Children’s Museum. Our location along Fort Point Channel is truly a spectacular sight that greets visitors throughout the day.

But did you also know that the view is just as stunning at night?

As the STEM Specialist, the key part of my job is to develop science, technology, engineering, and math activities for children of all ages (and their grown-ups!) using the materials and exhibits the Museum already has to offer. As an educator and a learner I also enjoy collaboration and bringing people from different communities together. In my work, I constantly strive to unite these two interests. When I learned about #popscope, the stars really aligned. Continue reading

Put Your Listening Ears On!

canon-1-aug-83When my older son was four, he begged for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site at bedtime.

When he was five, it was Magic Treehouse.

But now that he’s six and just started first grade, he can read to himself, and there is a new treat he begs for…a science podcast for kids.  Yes, BEGS!  To the point that we have had to negotiate an allowance of two podcasts per week so that we’re still reading most nights.

A little background: I grew up on a farm in the landlocked Midwest and had vivid dreams of marine biology and ocean exploration.  I devoured all books on the subject that I could get my hands on (that list was short).  Now I’m raising kids in a world where we can watch (and have watched!) a documentary about giant squid tracking anytime we want.  A YouTube video of open heart surgery.  An app about human anatomy, or insect identification.  A live cam on the otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  An animation of primate evolution or chemical bonding.  Suffice to say this would’ve blown my 6-year-old mind.  The access to science and all its wonders is…limitless. 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

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

The Makers are Coming! The Makers are Coming!

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Have you heard the news? In July, Boston Children’s Museum is hosting Boston’s first official Maker Faire! What is a Maker Faire, you ask? Great question. Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of creative doers – tech enthusiasts, designers, robot builders, artists, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, authors, crafters, students, commercial exhibitors, and more. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they create with their bare hands and bold minds, and to share how they do it, why they do it, and what they learn. And visitors get in on the making as well. Maker Faires are community-based learning events that inspire everyone to think creatively and innovatively, and to connect with people and projects in their local community.

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There have been over 150 Maker Faires around the world since 2005. New York, San Mateo, Detroit, Kansas City, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Orlando, San Diego, Washington DC, Ottawa, Lisbon, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Hanover, Oslo, Trondheim, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Shenzhen, and over 120 other cities and towns have hosted Maker Faires. And now you can add Boston to that list.

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Want to see a 3D printer in action? Join us at the Boston Mini Maker Faire. Want to meet R2D2 and BB8? They’ll be at the Boston Mini Maker Faire. Want to see a Japanese woodworker do his thing? Or create your own spin art? Or fold and paint a paper birdhouse that you get to keep? Or try some LEGO engineering? Or see a robot dance? Well…you know what to do. Join us at the Boston Mini Maker Faire!

The details:
When: Saturday, July 23, 2016, 10 am-5pm
Where: Boston Children’s Museum
308 Congress Street, Boston, MA, 02210.

Tickets are on sale now! Click here to purchase.

For More Information, Visit:

https://makerfaireboston.com/

To contact us, please write:
info (AT) makerfaireboston (DOT) com.

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Boston Mini Maker Faire is a kind of marketplace of possibilities, where both children AND adults will be exposed to the amazing, the ingenious, and the captivating; where you can shop around for creative endeavors you may not have thought possible. Children will find that future self they can aspire to, whether it be an artist, engineer, hobbyist or world-changing inventor of marvelous things. Adults will find inspiration to spark their own creativity. And parents will see their kids in a new light, as they try, test, and stretch their minds in new and exciting directions. And most of all – it will be a whole lot of fun. We hope you will join us! Pre-event tickets are on sale now – click the link above, or visit the event website to get your tickets before the event is sold out. See you at the Faire!

Encouraging Kindness

milk bottle 2bThis month’s blog post is written by Boston Children’s Museum’s Health and Wellness intern, Marissa Veilleux. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life. Marissa is helping provide various health programs in the Museum, and she is passionate about helping our visitors learn about caring about themselves and others.

This semester I had the opportunity to design and run this year’s “Message in a Milk Bottle” project entitled Be Kind, Spread Love. I traveled to local area hospitals and schools where we created heart-shaped suncatchers and discussed love and kindness, and then transported these beautiful suncatchers to Boston Children’s Museum and hung in a window for all to see.
Visitors then had the opportunity to create their own suncatchers and add to them to this display, creating a united window of suncatcher hearts.

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But kindness cannot be taught in one day. There are many opportunities in your day to day life where you can teach kindness to your child, especially by modeling it for them every day.

Children are constantly told to be nice to others. But what does that really mean? Here are four ways to teach your child kindness during your daily tasks.

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Let’s work together.

Ask children for help with projects, like cooking in the kitchen. Ask them what they would like to do to help. When taking a walk, suggest that they pick flowers to give to someone to brighten their day. This can be used as an opportunity to talk about kindness. You can work as a team to do things like cleaning up toys. You can say, “You pick up three and I will pick up three”. Follow that with, “You picked up your toy. Thank you. That was helpful.”

Use your manners.

Walk the walk, and talk the talk. Model good behavior by saying please and thank you or no thank you to the cashier at the grocery store or to a server at a restaurant. Children learn through others. You can praise your child’s kindness by describing your child’s action and stating how their contribution benefited others. For example, “Thank you for giving your sister a toy. That was thoughtful.”

Use kind words and smile.

It is important for your children to learn to compliment people by using kind words. You can say things to your own child like, “I love the red blocks you used to make that house.” as a way of giving them an example of a compliment that they might share with their friends. You can also ask your child what they like about something. For example, “What is your favorite part of this picture you colored? My favorite part is the blue clouds.” This will teach your child a nice way of paying compliments. Smile and laugh with your child. Happiness and kindness is contagious.

It’s not just about being kind to people.

Teach respect for the earth by discussing environmental kindness, such as throwing trash in the garbage and not littering. Have your child collect cans from home and bring them to recycle at your local supermarket. Being kind to our environment in turn teaches your children to be kind to others too.

Join us for Tasty Tuesday on 1st and 3rd Tuesdays with your snacks and share your ideas of how we can help children learn kindness!

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

Engaging Young Children in STEM

IMG_3888For the past four years, Boston Children’s Museum has been partnering with National Grid and a federal Race to the Top grant to create STEM kits for distribution to early childhood educators.  The Museum creates and distributes the Kits, then provides in-depth training to other museum educators and hundreds of early care providers.  Why is the Museum so invested in creating a cadre of early learning professionals who are “STEM literate?” Continue reading

Toys For Your Child’s Healthy Development

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December is often gift-giving time with all the holidays that occur. Children get excited with all the new toys that they get. But let’s take a moment to think about the toys that we give to our children. There are so many choices in the toy stores, and many boxes claim high educational and developmental value to children. How do you choose toys? What’s considered truly “educational” and “developmentally appropriate”? Do toys make a child a “genius”? Continue reading

Joyful Discoveries: Evaluating the Museum Visitor Experience

How many visitors drive the Bobcats in Construction Zone on a typical day? Do visitors in PlaySpace use the resources we create for them? If a child doesn’t get to go on stage during a KidStage play, how might that affect their experience during the show? If visitors use an exhibit in a way we didn’t design for, but they still have fun, is the exhibit a “success”?

At Boston Children’s Museum, where visitors choose their own route, create their own experiences, and construct their own meaning from all that happens during their visit, questions about evaluation and measurement can be challenging to answer. There is no such thing as a “standard” visitor experience, so the idea of “measurement” takes on a whole new meaning within the Museum walls. So how does Boston Children’s Museum go about evaluating programs, exhibits, and visitor experiences in ways that help meaningfully inform our practices or improve the museum experience for visitors?

As the Museum’s Evaluation Coordinator, my role is to implement evaluation projects that work to answer these questions while not losing sight of the inherently playful and open-ended nature of a museum visit. Here’s a little glimpse into how this work gets done at Boston Children’s Museum.

Observations: Visitors at Play

Cardboard 1 smWatching visitors explore, play, create, and interact – and taking good notes on what visitors are actually doing – is a crucial part of any evaluation project at the Museum. Are visitors using an exhibit component in the ways we thought they would? Do they appear interested and engaged? Are they having fun?

Last summer we spent time observing several special workshops created for an audience of older children and their families. We observed that during a music workshop, adults and caregivers took a backseat and watched their children explore sounds and create musical instruments. However, during an engineering workshop, adults and children actively worked together to build structures that would hold up against a simulated earthquake. As educators and program planners in the Museum, we now have a better idea of what kinds of activities engage both adults and children, because we took the time to observe real visitors engaged in real Museum activities.

Surveys: When We Want a Broader Picture

Sometimes, we need to collect data from many visitors, but we just don’t have enough time or staff members available to interview people in any open-ended way. Surveys are a great way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Recently, we collected surveys from KidStage visitors, and what we learned opened up a host of new questions for us to explore. For example, we found that Friday Night visitors had more positive experiences in KidStage than Weekday visitors. Why might this be? These surveys helped us learn about visitors’ experiences in KidStage at a certain level, but we’ll need to continue asking good questions to really understand where we can continue to improve.

Interviews: Listening to the Visitor Voice

Boston Children's Museum Family Fest 2013Asking visitors to tell us about their experiences, in their own words, is a vital part of understanding how visitors actually experience the Museum. What do visitors think they’re getting out of a Museum experience? How are they connecting with exhibits and programs? What do visitors think is missing, or what could the Museum do to improve?

Recently Boston Children’s Museum celebrated Arthur the Aardvark’s 8th birthday. Some Museum staff were curious: How many visitors came to the Museum to celebrate with Arthur? To answer that question, we asked visitors a few short questions, one of which was the open-ended question: Why did you decide to visit Boston Children’s Museum today? We learned that nearly 20% of visitors came to celebrate with Arthur. However, allowing visitors to describe their reasons for visiting, in their own words, also taught us some interesting things about what gets visitors to the Museum. Many visitors were simply looking for something fun to do with their kids while visiting Boston. Others were using the Museum as a way to spend time together with family and friends. Learning about our visitors through these simple, open-ended questions helps us see our visitors in more nuanced ways, and helps us create experiences that can better serve the diverse needs of our audience.

At Boston Children’s Museum, we aim to “spark a lifelong love of learning” within our visitors. We also work to maintain this spark within ourselves, as the playful educators and experience creators we are. Evaluation at the Museum keeps us asking questions and seeking new insights from our visitors, which help us sustain our own love for inquiry and curiosity, and our own desire for “joyful discovery” in the work we do every day.