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!

Hidden Object Highlight: Oware

This blog post was written by Kelsey Petersen, the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for fall 2018. Kelsey is currently a second year M.A. candidate at Tufts University, studying Art History and Museum Studies. Her research is focused on the display of African art in museums, the politics of representation, and cross-cultural artistic exchange. She appreciates the power of material culture to tell stories and connect others, and she hopes to continue with collections management after graduating.

When I started the Elvira Growdon Internship for Collections and Archives Management at Boston Children’s Museum, I learned that the Museum has a collection of over 50,000 objects, encompassing not just children’s toys and dolls, but also natural history specimens, geological samples, dinosaur fossils, global jewelry, indigenous baskets, and even a two-story Japanese home from Kyoto. Aside from Antarctica, every continent of the world is represented in the collection, and each object clearly has a story to tell.

While I could easily spend all day uncovering a single object’s cultural biography, I was especially interested in the cultural materials from Africa, which had not yet been systematically inventoried in the Museum’s collection database. As an art historian with a focus in the visual culture of the continent, I was eager to go through the fifty drawers of materials to gain a better sense of the collection, a large part of which was donated to the Museum in the mid-1930s.

With each passing day, the collection of objects from Africa continues to surprise me with its breadth of hidden materials. When I started my inventory project in September, I was expecting to find mostly wooden figurines, woven straw baskets, and an assortment of instruments. Instead I have discovered brightly colored East African kangas (large, patterned textiles worn and used in East Africa, often with a proverb in Kiswahili, one of the languages of the region), glass beaded jewelry, long metal spears (“Handle carefully; poisoned tips,” the catalogue card states), a delicate hair pin made of animal bone, and several gently curving wooden headrests.

One of my favorite objects I’ve come across so far is an oware, a wooden game board from the Ashanti region in Ghana, West Africa. With its long rectangular shape and evenly spaced depressions – with a few round seeds dispersed in each – the oware instantly reminded me of the mancala game set I had so often played as a child with my brother. After doing a little additional research, I learned that an oware is a type of mancala, one of many mancala game types played around the world. ‘Mancala’ comes from the Arabic word ‘naqala,’ meaning “to move,” and is a type of board game in which players ‘count-and-capture’ the greatest number of seeds possible, usually forty-eight in total. [One Africa, Many Countries- Ayo,” http://www.beyondthechalkboard.org/activity/one-africa-many-countries-ayo/%5D

Similar to other mancalas, the oware is comprised of two parts: a flat, rectangular base, and an oblong game board on top, with fourteen small cups and two raised bars in between the two rows of cups. Often intended for two players (although there can sometimes be teams), the purpose of the game is to strategically capture the opposing player’s seeds, keeping them contained in the large cup at either side of the mancala during the course of the game. The winner of oware is the player who collects the most seeds.

Mancala games are global, possibly originating in Africa or Asia over 3,000 years ago. There are hundreds of variation of the game, including layli goobalay in Somalia, ouri in Cape Verde, omweso in Uganda, and congkak across South Asia.  Oware, however, originated in West Africa, and is still played throughout Ghana, Senegal, and Gabon. ‘Oware’ comes from the Ashanti word ‘wari,’ meaning “he/she marries,” a translation that stems from the Ashanti legend that claims a man and woman decided to get married because they did not want to finish their endless mancala game. [History, Rules, and Play: The National Game of Ghana,” in Oware History and Rules (Mallee Blue Media), https://www.scribd.com/document/28894645/Oware-History-Rules%5D

The oware pictured here first came to Boston Children’s Museum in 1967 to be displayed in the Hall of Toys exhibit, when a staff member brought back a few examples of children’s toys from her vacation in Kenya. Although most of the seeds are now missing after years of use in public programs, researching this object makes me want to add a few more and challenge Rachel Farkas, Curator of Collections, to an oware match!

Interested in learning more about global mancalas? Check out Boston Children’s Museum’s ‘Beyond the Chalkboard,’ an accessible online resource that provides hundreds of curriculum-inspired activities for afterschool programs. One activity – “One Africa, Many Countries” – teaches participants the history of mancala, and how to play ayo, the Nigerian version of the game.

I encourage you to visit http://www.beyondthechalkboard.org/activity/one-africa-many-countries-ayo/ for this activity, and plenty more!

To learn more about the Museum’s General Cultural Collection, please visit http://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/general-cultural-collection, and be sure to stop by the Museum’s window displays, located across the main hallway of each floor.

Talking to Children About Tragic Events

Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue this past weekend. This terrible crime is an attack on all of us and we send our love and support to the community of Squirrel Hill and the entire city of Pittsburgh. This latest tragedy is a reminder of how important it is to help all children cope and find comfort in difficult times.

Boston Children’s Museum Health and Wellness Educator Saki Iwamoto offers some tips to support your child in a difficult time:

When tragic events happen in the world, especially in places that relate to you, it can often be difficult to cope with these events. Parents and anyone who works closely with children have to figure out what to tell their children. I wish there was no such thing as tragedy in the world – but unfortunately, bad things happen, and we need to be prepared for them.

Children in different developmental stages understand and react differently to traumatic events. Even if they were not directly impacted by the event, they are often still aware that something unusual happened as a result of media coverage, adults’ conversations, or even slight changes in their regular routines. Children may not be able to express their concerns verbally like adults do. Instead, they may exhibit their feelings through their behavior.  Play provides children with the opportunity to express their feelings, make sense of the world, and cope with stress. So when something difficult happens in the world, make sure that children have plenty of time to play. Continue reading

Martin’s Park – A Symbol of Joy, Friendship, and Peace for All

Photo credit – Clive Grainger, 2017

Today was a momentous day, as Bill, Denise, Jane and Henry Richard, Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh and others, broke ground on Martin’s Park; soon to be a world-class, accessible City of Boston park and playground in the “back yard” of our Museum on Fort Point Channel. This park, dedicated to Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, will be a symbol of all that is good in us – strength, resilience, love and fellowship. Martin’s vision of peace is the inspiration for this visionary place where all children and their families will play, have fun, and learn for years to come. And we need Martins’ vision now, more than ever!

In recent months, we have seen our civic discourse become increasingly divisive and destructive. While we, as Americans, may have views as diverse as our origins, we must all agree on one thing: hate and bigotry have no place in our society and we must do everything we can to stop it. In this context, the groundbreaking of Martin’s Park takes on a greater importance and urgency. For this park will be a symbol of peace and inclusiveness that reflects the noble aspirations of a family and a community.  It will forever inspire us to make a better world, a world in which every child can experience the exhilarating joy of play, discovery, and friendship. A park that will be a symbol for all, of the light and love that can emerge from darkness.  Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.”  Therefore this park will be, for all time, the brightly shimmering candle reflected in the mirror of thousands of children’s shining faces.

Please join me in celebrating this historic ground-breaking and its urgent message of peace and hope for our city, our state and our country.

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

Continue reading

Listening to Change (Ourselves)

Boston Children’s Museum is loud. Kids are noisy and the Museum has a lot of them – 500,000 people fill the museum with their voices every year. Shouts, laughter, complaints, sobs, questions. That is a lot of noise.  I was recently asked to write a blog post and, sitting at my desk adjacent to an exhibit, it can be difficult to wax philosophical about museum education over the rumble of so many voices. But, whenever I feel this way, that the noise of play is an impediment to work, I try to catch myself. Behind every sound is a story. And hearing a good story changes you. And so I stop trying to squeeze out the distractions and listen to what the Museum has to say. 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

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.

Continue reading

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: The Science of Luminaria

light-celebrations-luminariaLuminaria are a beautiful addition to these longer winter nights, and you may especially encounter these glowing paper lanterns along driveways, sidewalks, or even on houses on Christmas and New Years Eve. While they are traditionally made using paper bags with small candles inside, why not turn luminaria into a science activity? Because, you know, science. Below is a description for how you can investigate basic circuitry with your children, and create something beautiful as a result. And it’s a way for you to find utility in all of those no-longer-working holiday lights that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away. Life is good.

 

Suggested Materials

  • D or C-cell batteries (2 per luminaria)
  • 1 string of holiday lights (even one that is not working any more). From this string of lights, you will prepare:
    • Stripped individual light bulbs (see instructions below)
    • Stripped wire pieces, 6 inches long (see below)
  • Scissors and wire strippers (optional)
  • Masking tape or electrician’s tape
  • Small paper lunch bags (white or brown)

Preparation

If this is your first time playing with batteries and bulbs, you can try the “Lighting a Light Bulb” activity from Boston Children’s Museum’s “Beyond the Chalkboard” afterschool curriculum. It serves as a good foundation for this activity. Just replace the word “students” with “kids” in the instructions. Or with the word “me”, if you’re awesome enough to be playing around too.

There is some preparation for this activity, but you and your kids can do it together. It looks like a lot, but it is quite simple – the instructions below are just very detailed. And once you have it done, you’ll have bulbs and wire to use for years to come! Continue reading