It’s time to meet another member of the Experience Guide Staff at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire!
Sarah is at CMNH the majority of the week and can usually be found hip deep in arts and crafts supplies in the Muse Studio. You may have even heard Sarah’s voice while you were shopping for a pair of jeans. Yes, you read that right! Sarah has a lot to say so let’s jump right in and find out more!
Zach: Sarah, how long have you worked at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire?
Sarah: I’ve been at the museum since October – so about 11 months!
Z: Why CMNH?
S: I’ve always loved working with kids and when I saw that CMNH was hiring I thought it would be a great opportunity to do different activities and exploration with families each day. I loved that each day would be a new and different experience! The other part of that daily surprise is the fact that I get to teach each day. Interactive teaching with the visitors is the highlight of my job.
Z: What originally brought you to New Hampshire?
S: I came to Dover because I was accepted in to the Masters of Fine Arts program at UNH in Durham. My focus is Creative Writing – specifically Poetry.
Z: Where did you complete your undergrad studies?
S: I attended Columbia University in New York City. My focus in undergrad was Creative Writing but I also spent much of my time at Columbia attending and participating in musical performances. I’ve been studying voice since I was six-years old so I definitely enjoyed working with classical music and opera at Columbia.
Z: Wow! You may likely be our only Experience Guide with an opera background! Tell me, what – if any – experience did you have working with families before your time here at CMNH?
S: For many, many years, I taught at a musical theater summer camp in my hometown of Allentown, New Jersey.This Way to Allentown!
Z: That sounds like a lot of fun!
S: Yes! “Musical Theater Magical Camp” was a very enjoyable place to work!
Z: Wow! With a name like that it sounds even more fun!
S: It really was a lot of fun. Each session ran for 3 weeks and was open to children from 5-12 years old. We would spend Week One getting to know each other, learning about theater, playing games and becoming comfortable with being on stage. We would cast a full musical in Week Two and then teach them choreography, design and make the costumes, and create the set. Then, after rehearsing throughout Week Three, we would put on a performance on the last day for the entire camp and all of the returning families.Curtains up on the, “Pirates: The Musical” set, circa 2009
Z: Did any of the children ever experience stage fright?
S: Oh, yes! We would often get parents who would sign their children up for our camp in an attempt to kind of bring them out of their shell. These are the children that would be quite shy at the start of camp; often they would be the younger campers. Which made it such a wonderful process that at the end of three weeks we’d be able to see these kids that had entered the process unsure of themselves and their abilities come out on stage and blow us away with their confidence!
Z: I’m currently working on a production myself this summer outside of CMNH and I’m having some trouble with a few of the actors hitting their spots and remembering their lines. Can I recruit you to come and fill them full of your trademark confidence??
S: Well, I’m pretty busy at the museum this summer but we’ll see what I can do!
Z: Sarah, switching gears a bit, I’d like to know if you or your family visited museums when you were growing up?
S: We did. We went to a ton of museums as a family. My father is a software developer and he has worked on a number of projects and exhibits for museums. He and his brothers did most of hardware and software for the Sony Wonder Museum in New York when it first opened.
Z: “New York” meaning New York City?
S: Yes! Right on Madison Avenue! I was able to explore the museum before they officially opened to the public while my father worked on different projects and exhibits.
Z: How old were you?
S: About 6 or 7.
Z: I’m jealous.
S: [Laughs.] You should be! My dad has worked with a number of museums since then and I actually got to do some voice-over work on one of his projects.
Z: I’m somehow even more jealous now. What was the voice work?
S: It was an exhibit for the Children’s Museum of Houston that was also getting installed at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey. It was a Magic School Bus weather-based exhibit. I provided the voices for two of the children in the Magic School Bus.All Aboard the Magic School Bus!
S: He also worked for the Levi’s flagship store in Union Square in San Francisco – so for a long time, I was the voice of many of their in-store kiosks.
Z: Did you actually get to travel to San Francisco?Sarah’s voice will help you buy your next pair of jeans!
S: I did! The whole family spent the summer in San Francisco.
Z: And how old were you then?
S: I was 12 years old and it was wonderful to be there for the whole summer. We really got to know the city.
Z: I have to ask – did you visit any museums?
S: We did. We went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It . . . well . . .
S: It was actually . . . an interesting experience.
Z: I’m going to need you to tell me more than that!
S: Yes. Well. They had a number of installations that were very advanced and were . . . well, perhaps a little over my 12-year old head.
Z: I see. Well, Sarah, please tell us: What is your favorite museum in the world?
S: That’s a really tough question to answer. I very much love the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I visited it constantly while at Columbia. But . . . I’d have to say that the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ will always hold a special place in my heart. When my father was working on the Magic School Bus exhibit, my friend and I were allowed to be at the museum before and after hours and we were given free access to all of the IMAX shows. Most importantly, we were allowed to wear V.I.P. necklaces. [Laughs.]
Z: I always knew you were a V.I.P.! Sarah, what is your favorite exhibit at CMNH and why?
S: My favorite exhibit is probably the Muse Studio. I love the way we’ve been able to mix artistic creativity with scientific exploration. You’ll see families and staff drawing, painting and collaging conjoined with learning how a prism works and how a lima bean plant grows. It’s definitely the part of the museum that, as a child, you would have had difficulty getting me to leave.
Z: Even as an adult we have a hard time getting you out of the Muse Studio!
S: This is true. [Laughs.]
Essential Information about Experience Guide Sarah
Favorite Color: Green (Most shades of green, but not Turquoise!)
Favorite Animal: Dachshund
Favorite Movie: Contact
Favorite Type of Music: Classical / Favorite Artist: Elvis Costello
In May, three of our staff attended the annual Association of Children’s Museum conference. All together, Justine Roberts, Executive Director, Paula Rais, Director of Community Engagement and Jane Bard, Education Director, presented in 5 conference sessions on topics ranging from museum business models, to how to create inclusive programming, to facilitating STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) activities with visitors. It was wonderful to be able to lead discussions about topics that matter to us, and to talk with our colleagues about how they do things. In addition, there were talks by John Seely Brown and Leila Gandini to inspire our thinking.
Among the many exciting and often provocative ideas we heard, those below have continued to resonate and are influencing our thinking:
We are a Children’s Museum for FAMILIES
At the conference, we heard from colleagues around the country that families are looking for rich experiences to have together, and adults want to be engaged with their kids not just watching them. We need to provide opportunities for adults to interact in the Museum, and find ways to support the adult role in the Museum experience.
This was great to hear. We believe that the Museum experience is at its best when the entire visitor group interacts joyfully and creates a shared memory. Research has shown the importance of adults in children’s learning, and also in the development of their interests. Consumer studies show that adults who are bored opt out of repeating experiences.
And trend analysis has shown that adults want to enjoy their children – they made the choice to have them, and they are determined to appreciate the time they have together. We have also heard from our own visitors and members that they want more family programming.
It isn’t too late
Another big conversation was around engaging children in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related studies. Research shows that if a child isn’t interested in science by age 11, it is difficult for them to make a switch and become engaged. What can we do to ignite interest in science for young children?
We run a program called Junior Science for 4-5 year olds. As one participant’s mother said to us this past year:
Based on the success of that program, we are considering launching a second class for 5-7 year olds.
We also added lego robotics this year, and have been doing more to fuse science and art in the Thinkering Lab – where you can design and test cars and ball runs – and in the Studio where you can investigate structure, color, natural materials, light and more in artistic ways.
One area we believe the Museum can really participate in making science engaging is by showcasing its drama, and its surprisingly unexpected delightfulness. We see science in the everyday world around us and one of our goals is to help capture that and make it visible to others.
Wide Walls and High Ceilings
Shifting demographics in this country will have an impact on our current and future audiences. Studies have shown that 90% of museum-goers are Caucasian while ethnic populations in the United States continue to grow. In addition, it turns out that museum-going is passed on within families; you are more likely to visit museums if you were taken to them as a child.
Since Children’s Museums are not as common in the rest of the world as they are in the United States, we need to work additionally hard to be visible to, and accessible to immigrant and first generation audiences who may not be familiar with what we do. One way we do this is through the schools, but increasingly we are looking for opportunities to kids who come with their class to return with their families as ambassadors to the Museum.
Cultural diversity is not the only emerging demographic shift of significance for museums. The adult/senior population is growing and 60% of seniors participate in childcare of their extended families. This raises important questions about how we can target this group more and provide more amenities for them.
We don’t have the answers but we do have a lot of questions! One is what are their needs and interests? Another is how can we engage seniors more in playing with their children in the exhibits? – put adult size costumes/props w/ the green screen? Ask them to recall favorite ways to play when they were young? Promote photographing the kids playing/learning by putting more photos on our website and/or in house bulletin boards (People stop all the time to look at the staff/volunteer bulletin board in the hallway!)
Getting it Right: inclusive and accessible programming
In the areas of inclusion and accessibility we already operate on a foundation that places the child’s learning process and creativity as central. This is important for all children- those with special needs certainly, but also for typically developing children. All children have different skills, strengths and interests. Our expertise is in designing environments which are layered for learning over time, and which are scalable in complexity as visitors gain mastery.
But really being inclusive and accessible goes further than this. A theme among keynote speakers at Interactivity was how learning is about imagining and tinkering so you can figure things out – this is great to hear because this is what museums are good at!
“Arc of life learning honors child + adult” - J. Seely Brown
“Adults should be more attentive to a child’s cognitive process than the results they achieve.” – Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio
CMNH does a great job with this, but how can we help parents and teachers engage more and notice the learning taking place for children in their care? can we ask questions (through signage, or experience guides) that encourage observation? Point out the kinds of milestones they might witness (esp. in Primary Place) that could go unnoticed? De-emphasize “craft projects/products” and highlight creative process and how to continue this at home?