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.
Co-authored by Justine Roberts, Executive Director, and Paula Rais, Director of Community Engagement
March 10 & 11, 2012: CMNH will host an ASTC Roundtable for Advancing the Professions titled From Access to Inclusion: Welcoming the Autism Community. See www.childrens-museum.org or email email@example.com for more information.
“Just seeing my son happy and comfortable and engaged in so many new things was absolutely astonishing. . . I’ve never had a happier Mothers Day in 10 years!”
The Children’s Museum welcomes over 93,000 visitors annually at our building in Dover. Of those, 50% come in for free or through reduced admission and 24% come from underserved audiences. It is no accident that our statistics look this way. We have worked hard to make our commitment to being accessible and inclusive a reality for our users.
And we are proud of our ability to invest in and continue to grow relationships with non-traditional children’s museum-goers including first generation Americans (through school-based partnerships in title 1 districts), elderly adults and their younger primary caretakers (through our Alzheimer’s Café), and special needs populations (through signature programs like the Children’s Museum of NH’s Autism Partnership Program: Exploring Our Way).
Exploring Our Way (EOW) started in March 2010. It was actually begun in response to requests from families with children on the autism spectrum. They asked us to open the Museum just for them because their children were overwhelmed during normal operating hours by the noise, joyful chaotic activity, and general stimulation of the environment.
We have made a point to communicate that the event is structured as a low-risk entry point to the Museum, which gives families a shared experience with success on which to build the confidence to return during regular operating hours. After just one full year of operation, nearly 50% of EOW users are also transitioning into Museum visitors during other times as well.
- give families experience with success
- build confidence
- build understanding and appreciation
- provide safe environment so adults and siblings relax and enjoy one another
- practice being at the Museum so they can come back
Here are Exploring Our Way visitors’ top 3 favorite exhibits:“The Museum was big enough to keep all our childrens’ interest but small enough that we didn’t have to worry about an escape.”“He (my son) did really well today and actually made a friend!”The best thing about EOW is “allowing my child to be who he is without feeling like I need to apologize for his behaviors or explain them.”
It is no accident that our partners for this program bring capacity-building know-how and support to this effort. We started EOW in collaboration with Easter Seals, and we could not do it without a broad coalition which gives us access to medical experts, parents with first-hand experience, advocates, service providers, and young adults on the spectrum. The generosity of our partners in making EOW a success cannot be understated.
Where can we grow?
We are also exploring the opportunity to host therapeutic massage classes and play-based therapy groups at the Museum, and our new Alzheimer’s Café gives us another way to serve as a resource for a community that otherwise might not be able to take advantage of the Museum.
We are continually looking for ways to make a vital contribution, and we hope our actions are helping to make your community a better place to raise a family. That is our ultimate goal.