One of our favorite family workshops here at the Children’s Museum of NH is making and decorating gingerbread houses. This past weekend, we welcomed 34 families – some with grandparents, cousins and friends – to this annual holiday tradition. Never does our classroom smell so sweet as when filled with the aroma of baked gingerbread. And if you want to see smiles, it is amazing what a table full of colorful decorations and baggies full of icing can do.
Although you will have to wait until 2013 to make a gingerbread house with us, here are our top five tips for creating a similar fun experience at home:
1. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as building a full-sized gingerbread house. For younger children, you can start simple with constructing small houses, or anything else their imaginations come up with using graham crackers. Another great no-bake idea – decorate ice cream sugar cones to make a forest full of trees!
2. If you are using candy decorations, expect that kids will want to eat them while they decorate. Serve a healthy snack of cut fruit or veggies with dip before you even think of taking out the candy. Even serving a small portion of a sweet treat while they are decorating, such as our choice of a simple sugar cookie and apple cider, keeps the desire to munch on candy at bay.
3. Think outside of the box when choosing decorations. Many cereals that you might already have on hand have interesting colors, textures and shapes. Waffle pretzels can make interesting windows and doors. Dried fruit, shredded coconut and snack treats you already have at home can all make great decorations without breaking the bank.
4. Icing matters, especially when building 3-D objects like houses. Regular frosting that you purchase or make does not stiffen fast enough or get hard enough to glue your creations together. Our favorite recipe that has the added benefit of drying like concrete is: 2 pounds of confectioner’s sugar, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 6 egg whites. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer for 5 – 7 minutes until stiff peaks form. Instead of buying expensive pastry bags, a plastic sandwich bag with the corner snipped works well to spread your frosting.
5. It’s all about having fun together! Will your children care about creating a symmetrical design or have the willpower to resist the urge to taste while they create? Probably not. Will it be messy? Certainly yes, but once dry the icing is easy to sweep or wipe up.
We hope you’ve been inspired by these tips and photos from our recent Gingerbread Workshop to try this project at home. Happy Holidays!
Guest post by Alison Leighton, Child Life Specialist at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and Seana Hallberg, Family Resource Coordinator for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth’s clinic at Wentworth-Douglass HospitalSeana Hallberg (left) and Alison Leighton (right) visited the Children’s Museum recently to answer parents’ child development questions.
In our work with children and parents at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, we get a lot of questions. Each day, we meet with families who are dealing with pediatric medical issues and try to help in any way we can, from answering questions and acting as a sounding board to connecting them with community resources and specialist care.
No matter who we meet or where we go, we find we get a lot of the same questions about child development. We recently spent time at the Children’s Museum of NH’s Toddlerfest and took questions from new parents and it was no exception. Their concerns were typical of what we are asked most often.
So here are our Top 3 Toddler Development Questions, along with the answers we can practically give in our sleep!
1.) “My child has used certain words before but when prompted, he does not want to mimic. Is this normal?”
Children who are typically learning to speak are also seeking “mastery” of their new skills. This often involves practicing the skill repeatedly, but on their own terms. A general rule of thumb is by 12 months of age a child should use simple gestures as a way to communicate like waving, or simple signs. You can begin modeling simple signs as early as five months and doing hand-over-hand with your children to model the sign. Children as young as nine months are seen making approximations of simple signs. What’s most important is that your child is moving forward in her communication skills — using his sounds, gestures and facial expressions in increasingly complex ways. If you have concerns about where your child is developmentally, you should speak with your pediatrician.
2) ” My child is resistant to being potty trained. What do I do?”
Our general feeling surrounding this issue is that children need to show signs of readiness before we begin the stages of using the potty. Often a child will tell you that they are about to go, or after they have gone, they begin to hide when voiding, or they are dry at night. This shows they are beginning to have bladder/ bowel control. Every child gets to this place at different times. It is important to remember to make potty training exciting by reading books about potty training, talking about the potty, practicing sitting on the potty. Rewards can work wonders (such as giving a sticker for each time they go). If a child isn’t ready, it often becomes a source of anxiety and stress for the entire family and they do not gain the sense of accomplishment or mastery of an important new skill.At the museum’s FoodWorks events, children are invited to sample colorful fruits and veggies they may not have tried before.
3) “I feel like my child only eats particular foods and I worry she isn’t getting all of the important vitamins and nutrients she needs. What should I do?”
As we all know, children can be extremely picky. Toddlers love to turn their noses up at the food we often want them to eat and those meals we slave over. It is important to remember to expose your child to a variety of foods beginning at a young age. Don’t assume your child may not like something … give it a chance. If your child does not like the food initially, they will begin to try if it is offered repeatedly. Children are more likely to resist if they are forced to do something. Try to be creative when making foods. Make smoothies with ingredients that they will not eat raw. Make fun snacks, etc. using cookie cutter shapes. In the process of making food, involve your children as they will be much more likely to try something they created.
- About Alison Leighton, Child Life Specialist, Wentworth Douglass Hospital: As a child life specialist, I ease the stress and anxiety for families in the medical environment using the child’s method of communication, play to teach, learn and cope.
- About Seana Hallberg, Family Resource Coordinator for CHaD at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital: As a Family Resource Coordinator, I am able to support families with the stressors of a child’s medical diagnosis and can assist families in finding socializing opportunities, educational and financial information and behavioral counseling.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables means that you know exactly what goes into your food and exactly where it comes from. This offers peace of mind to families who are concerned about feeding pesticides and genetically modified foods to their children. Not only that, having a home garden promotes good nutrition and gives families an activity that they can take part in and enjoy together.
Families are also motivated to grow their own food to stretch their food budgets. According to the US Department of Agriculture, for every $1 spent on seeds and fertilizer, home gardeners can grow an average of $25 worth of produce! That can be a significant saving for families and a great rationale for getting started.
Wanting to inspire as many growers as possible, we’ve constructed our own fruit and vegetable gardens along the river behind the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. We are partnering with Master Gardener Leslie Stevens to offer a FREE six-part series covering everything from seed starting and building your own raised beds, to composting and maintaining your own home gardens. Three raised beds will produce food for our visitors to help monitor, maintain, and watch flourish, all while learning the ins and outs of gardening.
The children who participated in our most recent session enthusiastically planted snap peas and potatoes. During the next session, we will be adding tomatoes and strawberries to our outdoor beds. Future sessions will cover helping plants grow and how to harvest fresh produce when it is ripe.
Families are invited to stop by the Museum’s front desk and find out how to can join our Growing Gardeners Club at any time this summer. We hope families will be inspired to see what can blossom in their own home garden.
We go through a lot of baking soda and vinegar in my house. We’re not cooking with it. We’re not cleaning with it. We’re mixing “potions” with it, erupting volcanoes, mixing it with food coloring and painting with it. Splashing salt on top to see what happens. Raiding the recycling bin and building courses for the bubbly liquid to travel down. (I highly recommend building such courses in a bathtub or on an outside deck!)
Although I’ve been an educator both in schools and the Museum for nearly 20 years, I’ve received some great insights into the way kids learn about the world observing my own kids try to figure out “what happens if” and “how does this work.”The author's son in a previous winter when snow was abundant!
This past weekend, my 9-year-old son was lamenting the pitiful ½ inch of snow on the small hill he likes to sled on in the yard. “That’s a problem,” I said. “Can you think of a solution?” After trying to relocate snow from other parts of the yard to no avail, he asked for a bucket. His solution: to pour bucket-loads of water down a path on the hill. How long will this take to freeze? How many layers of ice do I need to put on the hill to make it thick enough to hold the weight of me and my sled without cracking? Does the water freeze faster if I put cold water in my bucket?
My son was playing, getting messy and having fun, but most of all he was determined to have a place to sled by the end of the day (which was how long it took for the multiple layers of ice to freeze). Did he realize that he was conducting experiments? Forming hypotheses? Using scientific reasoning? No, but that’s okay.
Here at the Museum, we may not have the icy hill in the backyard, but we know we’ve done our job when we observe kids (and adults) engaged in asking questions, experimenting, or creating something new together. Are you looking for some “what-happens-if” fun during the cold winter months? We’d love to have you visit and experiment with us.
And check out these websites for some science inspiration you can try at home – recommended by Museum colleagues through the Association of Science and Technology Centers:
“The SciGirls website, http://pbskids.org/scigirls/, is awesome! It’s great for girls and boys.”
“www.edheads.com is a great website that has some really fun kid-friendly interactives with accompanying teacher guide (including virtual surgeries, crime scene investigations and nanoparticle development.”
“Carnegie Science Center has a website as part of our girls program at www.braincake.org.”
Activities for school, home or group projects on a variety of science topics: http://www.kids-science-experiments.com/
There is no better feeling than that of spending time happily engaged with a child. And we know from emerging research into brain development that children get more out of the time and attention adults spend on them than previously believed.
You may have heard the phrase “parents are a child’s first teacher.” This idea that the primary adults in a child’s life are their most important influence is true not simply about learning language or how to hold a spoon, but also in establishing lifelong values. When an adult includes a child in activities they enjoy – whether music, drawing, reading, building, or anything else – the child associates that experience with the shared good feeling.
These books peek inside the developing brain to help us better understand just what babies know, when they know it, and how they learn:
Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn – And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff with Diane Eyer. 2003
The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind by Allison Gopnick, Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl. 1999
Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers, the National Research Council, National Academy Press. 2000.
Here are some resources to help you plan outdoor adventures with your family:
Best Hikes with Kids. Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine by Cynthia Copeland, Thomas Lewis & Emily Kerr. 2007
New Hampshire Off the Beaten Path 8th: a guide to unique places by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers. 2009
These books are packed with ideas for how to feed the imagination and spirit of the children who share your home:
Winnie the Pooh’s Rainy Day Activities by Sharon Harper. 2002
Kitchen Science by Peter Pentland. 2003
I’m a Scientist: Kitchen by Lisa Burke. 2010
I’m a Scientist: Backyard by Lisa Burke. 2010
Festivals, Family & Food by Diana Carey. 1996
The Nature Corner by M.V. Leeuwen. 1990
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.