The idea for the first Kid’s Café came about in 1995 at the Children’s Museum in Portsmouth in a tiny alcove under the stairs. What began as a simple table-top kit with food items to sort utilizing the food pyramid quickly turned into a full-blown exhibit highlighting other cultures from around the world.
I remember, as a floor staff member, watching the children play with the food and having them request more items to role-play with. We quickly added plates, napkins and utensils and watched a whole new exhibit come to life.
With the increasing popularity of the mini Café and a desire to bring more cultural activities to our space, the Café soon moved to the 3rd floor of the Portsmouth museum and became a more substantial exhibit called the Kid’s World Café. There we offered food from Japan, Canada, Germany, Turkey and Mexico.
When the Museum relocated to Dover, as an exhibit team, we knew that we wanted to bring the idea of the Kid’s World Café with us. With increasing emphasis on global societies and understanding and appreciating world cultures, our exhibit team created an area called One World that encompassed several exhibits, including the Kid’s World Café. One World includes interactive components that offer educational opportunities for families to learn about masks, clothing, footwear and food from seven cultures of the world. In the summer of 2008, we opened the new museum and the Kid’s World Café introduced visitors to the Greek culture.
In September of 2011, wanting to bring updated changes to this popular exhibit, the Kid’s World Cafe changed cultures from Greece to Mexico!
As an exhibit developer and museum educator I am often perplexed and surprised by what makes an exhibit so enticing to our young visitors. After creating exhibits for over 20 years, I have learned that using familiar components and every day objects, in this case items found in a kitchen or restaurant, offers children the opportunity to role play in a setting where they know what is expected of them. Children are often more open to learning about a new topics when they can draw upon prior knowledge and familiar topics to do so.
With the change of a new culture this year, brought new additions to the space. An interactive “Innovation Station” sharing board which offers visitors an opportunity to share recipes and traditions from their cultures with other museum visitors. The sharing board has recipes to take and enjoy making at home, and also invites families to leave their own favorite traditions for others to try.
So far, we have had visitors leave several family favorite recipes including “The Best Guacamole” and “Quiche in a Cup” that we will begin adding to our website for visitors to download and make at home.
The Kid’s World Café exhibit encourages children to use their imagination while interacting with other children and adults in that space. Learning and sharing information together is a winning combination and one we encourage throughout the museum. It is our hope that by experiencing and learning about other cultures, children will have a better understanding and appreciation of different cultures around the world.
You can’t go past the Kid’s World Cafe without hearing “Would you like extra cheese with your taco?” or even hearing specific words from the Mexican menu like “Guacamole” “Agua” or “Burritos”. The museum’s exhibit team plans on changing cultures in the Café every few years so be on the look out to experience a new culture in the coming years. Until then … Bienvenidos a Cafeteria de Ninos!
Care to share?
If you’d like to download our young friend Kimberly’s recipe for Tostadas (she’s the girl shown here making tortillas with her abuela from Mexico), click here. And if you have a Mexican recipe that your family enjoys, please feel free to share it here in the Comments section! We are always looking for new recipes to share with our members and friends.
Change. One word that means so much. Seasons change. Our children’s needs and interests change as they grow. As your family changes the experiences you seek to do together change as well. Here at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, changes are underway – changes designed to keep pace with the needs of the curious children and engaged adults who walk through our doors.
For us, change can take many forms and has many dimensions:
To Deepen Impact
Many of our exhibits can be used in different ways with some changes to supplies. For instance, have you ever wondered what it would be like to make and launch folded paper constructions in Build It Fly It? Simply using folded paper or recycled materials rather than foam shapes opens up new ways to think about the exhibit, its uses and possible outcomes. What flying contraptions have you always wanted to try in that space?
To Support Repeat Visitation
You might be one of the many families who visit the museum 4 – 9 times each year. Change offers new options for you to explore during a visit so the Museum remains challenging, engaging and fresh. New materials, exhibit props, staff-facilitated programs and take-home activities are designed to allow you to make new connections between what you already know – and new ideas.
So, for example, did you know you can build and decorate your own soapbox kit cars in to race in the Thinkering Lab? Buy two from the museum shop, borrow our kit of wood files and decorations, or take them home to make, then bring them back and race head-to-head. We purposely designed this space so that the make-your-own cars we have in the exhibit are just a launching pad for your imagination and the opportunities are endless. In the future, look for other car-building materials, like Legos or recycled materials.
To Stay Relevant and Meaningful
Flexible change, such as exhibit kits that we can share with interested visitors, allows you to customize your visit. Did you know you can ask our Experience Guide staff to bring out a beaver pelt and teeth, or owl pellet dissection activity? Take down more materials in the Studio, or give you a kit of materials to design and construct a different flyer to test in Build It Fly It? We want to be responsive and give you the ability to personalize your visit. After all, we don’t know what your interests are unless you share them with us!
To Support a Broad and Diverse Audience
From crawling infants, to inquisitive 4th graders, from new parents to grandparents, from the casual museum-goer to the Museum member who visits us every week, change helps us reach every visitor in a new way. The Studio’s monthly theme and changing weekly activities are designed to support a variety of learning styles and a broader age range. Our goal for this space is for the youngest visitors and those with the most skill and longest attention spans to both find something interesting to do, and be successful. We are challenging ourselves to come up with projects that meet all our goals and which you find fun.
To Build Relationships
When we choose the theme of an exhibit, we think about how it will allow us to connect and collaborate with, local audiences. From the Trout in the Classroom project to recipe-sharing in the World Café we look for local relevance, a NH focus, a good visitor experience, and opportunities to build relationships. Another way we do this is by incorporating visitor-made work in the Museum, and including your faces and voices within the Museum. This allows the Museum to truly reflect you – our users – and it keeps the experience fresh for all. We think your work, images, and words are beautiful and inspiring and we are glad for the chance to celebrate the creativity in action here everyday.
What do you think? As you visit the museum over the next year, keep a look out for ongoing change at many levels. Do you see different elements and props in our exhibits? Did everyone in the family find something to do the month in the Studio? Did our Experience Guide staff share something new with you or invite you to try a special activity? Do you see comments, artwork and perspectives of our community?
We truly want to know what works and what still needs work. What do you want us to try next?