Museum Miniatures: Maximum Fun

 

written by Caroline Turner

Caroline Turner is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for the spring 2018 semester. Caroline is a current student at Simmons School of Information Science pursuing her Masters in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management. Caroline’s love for history and research grew from her experience on her family’s farm in upstate New York, where she enjoyed discovering tiny antique haircurlers, learning about the history of her ancestors and the region, and turning the cows out to pasture.

  

As a child, my favorite games were vast imaginary scenes complete with horses, castles, action figures, dolls, matchbox cars, and stuffed animals. I loved the quiet theater of it, and how a tiny shift of one toy could signify large transformation in the story playing out before me. When I became this spring’s Elvira Growdon Intern, I was drawn to these toys that encouraged imaginary play in the collections at Boston Children’s Museum (BCM). I was thrilled to find an assortment of miniature toy soldiers that evoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia and had endless research possibilities.

Toy soldiers were found in Egyptian tombs, and were first made from wood, stone, or clay, specifically for nobility. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, lead figures were made for the noble families in Germany and France. In the nineteenth century, the increases in metals, industry, and nationalism in European countries resulted in the increase of toy soldier production. German toy makers emerged as the early leaders in lead soldier manufacturing. German makers specialized in “flats” which essentially looked like cutouts on a small stand. The owner of the toy shop would decide on a subject, and then commission a draughtsman to make a drawing of the figures. An engraver would then transfer these drawings onto slate to create a mold for the molten metal. Because the figures were flat, they required less metal to produce. Once the figures were made and cooled, they would be handed over to women and children to paint. Once they were painted, they were sold by the toy shop. While the German flats in the Boston Children’s Museum Collections are perhaps from centuries later than the earliest production boom, they still fit the classic size and were made using the same technique.

The subjects of these German figures were often educational in nature. During the Enlightenment, people became more aware of how their children played and learned. Draughtsmen and engravers often looked to scholarly material for inspiration. They also looked to fine art, which often emphasized antique nudes. One favorite subject was Roman battles, especially against European groups like the Gauls. Of the three German sets at BCM, two of them are a Roman Camp and the Romans fighting the Gauls. Since the subjects of the figures, and the children playing with them, were mostly male, and because the toys were for educational purposes, having a few nude or naked figures was deemed acceptable. The Roman Battle set at the Museum includes a few naked and dying men on the battlefield.

Meanwhile in Great Britain, English toy makers were looking for a way to produce toy miniatures in a more efficient manner. William Britain made the technological breakthrough in 1893: hollow casting. This allowed toy makers to make round metal figures that, because, they were hollow, were even cheaper to produce than the flats. Britain’s toy company, aptly named “Britains” became the world leader in toy soldier production. He churned out different regiments from around the British Empire, including the Scots Guard and Bengal Lancers. At BCM, there are many sets of Britains Soldiers, including the Canadian Mounted Police and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Historians also differ on the purported historical accuracy of the miniatures. Some companies wanted to churn out as many different sets as cheaply as possible, and so they used the same molds but painted the figures to be different companies or even from different time periods or places. A mold of a running man might suffice for both a Roman soldier and a World War I soldier. Other companies, however, very meticulously made detailed and individualized molds for different sets. At BCM, I struggled to identify the manufacturer of a Coronation Parade set celebrating the 1937 Coronation of King George IV and Queen Elizabeth II. Many toy British toy companies issued a set that year, and they all incorporated the minute details of the carriage, the horses, and the guards involved. All the sets, therefore, look extremely similar.

  

Historically, miniature sets have even been accurate enough to train real soldiers. During World War II, miniature tanks, planes, and soldiers were used to teach new recruits how to quickly identify and differentiate allies from enemies. And before World War II, during the 19th century, European military leaders instituted wargames, or “Kriegspiel” into military training. These games taught military tactics and maneuvers as well as map reading, as trainees moved toy soldiers across various diagrams.


Perhaps it is with this history in mind that some historians have argued that toy soldiers promoted violence, and even led to both World Wars. After all, Winston Churchill himself attributed his military career to the influence of his large toy soldier collection. The more current school of thought, however, is that children do not become more attuned to violence from playing with toy soldiers. Instead, children can learn valuable skills from carefully and patiently setting up their soldiers, and by cataloging their collection. Imaginary games can teach children about being in control of complex situations, planning ahead, and organizing the details.

Many families in the 19th century peacefully incorporated their toy soldiers into their nativity scenes along with putz sheep and other small figures. Complex landscapes often included natural materials like moss and branches as well as the toy soldiers, carved animals, and nativity figurines.

To close my internship here at the Museum, I was able to set up my own scene mixing a variety of soldiers throughout time and place with other toys such wooden zoo animals and putz sheep, paying homage to the history of the toy soldier and the variety of imaginative play. I hope you will be able to visit the Museum and discover this scene of miniatures in the Collections window on the second floor.

References
Kenneth Brown,”Modelling for War?: Toy Soldiers in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain,” Journal of Social History 24, no. 2 (Winter, 1990):

Thomas Mannack, “The Ancient World in Miniature: German Flat Tin Figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries”, in Imagines, La Antigüedad en les Artes Escénias y Visuales, P. Castillo et al. (eds.), (La Rioja 2008)

Dave Gathman, “Toy Soldiers Trace Nearly All of History—But Not Very Accurately     ” Chicago Tribune, August 24, 2015.

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

Play as Immunization: Mitigating Stress and Supporting Healthy Development through Collective Impact

Dad and DaughterThis article, written by Anna Housley Juster and Saki Iwamoto of Boston Children’s Museum, is reprinted from “The Forum”, the newsletter of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Winter 2016, Volume 17, No. 1.

Public Health Issue

Play supports healthy child-adult con­nections, social emotional skills, resilien­cy, and executive function — making it one of the best immunizations we have against toxic stress, anxiety, depression, and the behavioral issues that impede school success (Folkman and Moskowitz, 2000; Pellegrini and Bohn-Gettler, 2013; Zigler, Singer, and Bishop-Josef, 2004). In spite of the empirically proven benefits of play, including school success and stress reduction, many children across income groups in the United States are not cur­rently afforded the time, space, and per­mission they need to build the foundational skills required to live physi­cally and mentally healthy lives and to reach their fullest potential. Continue reading

Indigenous Halloween Costumes: Empowering or Problematic?

4046By Sara Tess Neumann and Meghan Evans

Recent issues have arisen with the lack of career costumes available for girls, or the prevalence of sexualized costumes for young children. Empowering costumes are challenging to find and a number of websites recommend dressing in Native American costumes. However, many Indigenous communities disagree. This has been brought to the forefront here at Boston Children’s Museum with the reopening of our exhibit Native Voices. Begun in 2010 and developed with an Indigenous Advisory Board from all of the tribes represented, it became clear that of the many goals of this exhibit the most prominent include dispelling stereotypes, correcting misinformation, and conveying that contemporary tribes continue to revive and evolve their cultural traditions, values, and communities. 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.

Wheelock College Student Observations: Follow Me!

Climber 5This post is the last in our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by Wheelock Student Researchers Meghan McWeeney, Katherine Finegan, Emma Petner and Paige Dillon.

Children loved leading us up and down the Museum’s Climber. Through these journeys, we discovered answers to the following questions through observation, note-taking, picture, and video:

 

1) What does the interaction between children and caregivers look like?

2) How do children find their way to the top and back down The Climber?

 

Climber 1In order to get a closer look at how children moved up and down The Climber, we sent one of our researchers, Emma, to gain a better understanding of how Josh, age 5 made his way through.

Climber 2Right from the start, Josh was eager to show researcher Emma how he found his way to the top. Continue reading

Wheelock Student Observations at Boston Children’s Museum: The Wheels are Spinning

Peep 1This post is part of our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by Wheelock Student Researchers Samantha Marrocchio, Tatiana Medina-Barreto, Gaby Boivin and Mallory Johnson.

Our observations took place in the Peep’s World exhibit at Boston Children’s Museum. We were seeking to investigate questions we had regarding child development and play, including:

  • How do children in different stages of development use modeling as a technique when playing?
  • How do boys and girls play differently when playing?
  • How does parent/adult involvement affect children’s play?

Continue reading

Wheelock Student Observations at Boston Children’s Museum: Interactions in PlaySpace

PS 4This post is part of our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by Wheelock Student Researchers Ashley Domaldo, Amanda Kalander, Braelan Martin, and Katlyn-Rose D’Errico.

As student researchers from Wheelock College, we observed children playing in PlaySpace. PlaySpace is an exhibit specifically designed for children three and younger. During our observation, we focused on two main questions:

  • How do caregivers and children interact in the space?
  • How do children play with other children?

Continue reading

Wheelock Student Research at Boston Children’s Museum: Kitchen Conversations

Arthur 5

This post is part of our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day.  This post was written by students Kaitlyn Talbot, Nico Cantu, Becca House, Azeema Shaikh and Emily Lewis. 

In a Museum full of activities and spaces focused on the play of young children, what is the role of an adult?   Do they stand by and let the children explore the spaces for themselves or do they prompt the children on how to use different materials? As a Wheelock College research team we observed multiple times in two sections of the Museum: Arthur’s World and Children of Hangzhou.  While observing we considered these questions:

  1. What role does the adult take?
  2. How do children and adults interact in Children of Hangzhou as compared to Arthur’s World?
  3. With such rich content, what do children do in Children of Hangzhou?

Arthur 1In Arthur’s World, a little girl was playing with her nanny in the kitchen. The girl moved to the scale and asked, “What’s this?” The nanny replied, “A scale, so you measure the weight of different things compared to this,” as she pointed to the red can, labeled “20 oz.”, on one side of the scale. Continue reading

Observing your Children Learn and Play

Wheelock Intro photo 3By Wheelock faculty, Stephanie Cox Suarez, Erica Licea-Kane; student documenter, Angelina Amato; and Boston Children’s Museum staff member Kana Tsuchiya

In spring 2015, Stephanie Cox Suarez and Erica Licea-Kane led 20 Wheelock College undergraduate students to Boston Children’s Museum as part of a capstone course called “Making Learning Visible”. This course focused on documentation and visual arts for teaching, and students visited the Museum five times to document children’s play and learning. This is the first collaboration of its kind with this Wheelock College capstone course, and it has inspired us to continue to research children’s play and learning at the Museum.

Throughout this project, documentation methodology included observation and subsequent interpretation of learning processes and products of learning. This methodology helps teachers to reflect, deepen and extend children’s and teacher’s learning (more about Documentation practice is available here). Wheelock College student documenters observed multiple times at the Museum and worked alongside Museum staff to consider the following questions: Continue reading