Meet the CMNH Experience Guides: Erika

Welcome to a new series on our blog that helps YOU – our readers & visitors – get to know our Museum Experience Guides!

Erika can be found at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire most weekdays and is always ready to greet families with a smile! You might recognize Erika even if you’ve never been to CMNH! How’s that? Well . . . maybe we should let Erika explain:

EW_Desk

Zach:  Erika, how long have you worked at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire?

Erika:  Just over a year and a half.

Z:  When you first came to CMNH, you were . . .

E:  . . . an intern! Yes. I interned here for a short while and then . . .

Z:  . . . and then you became an employee?

E:  Yes!  Then I became an Experience Guide at CMNH!

Z:  Tell me – why CMNH?

E:  I love museums. ALL museums! I live here in Dover and I love working with children and families. I found out about CMNH and I really wanted to become a part of such a wonderful place.

Z:  I must mention this because I’m not sure how many in the museum field can claim this, but you don’t just work at one museum. You don’t just work at two museums.  You actually work at three different museums! That must be quite a whirlwind!

E:  It certainly can be. I’m constantly going from museum to museum. I work the majority of my time here at CMNH, but I also work at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye and the SEE Science Center in Manchester as well.

Z:  My goodness!  That’s a lot of work!  Do visitors ever get confused when they see you at more than one museum?

E:  That’s actually happened a few times. I’ll be at CMNH all day on a Friday and then at the SEE Science Center on a Saturday and visitor’s will look and me and then do a double take and seem confused until it dawns on them where else they’ve seen me.

Z:  Now, sadly, after more than a year and a half with us at CMNH, you’ll be leaving us later this summer. You’ll be attending George Washington University.

E:  Yes, I will. I’m extremely excited.

Z:  This will be to obtain your Master’s Degree. What will your degree be in?

E:  Museum Education.

Z:  Museum Education?! I would think that you would already have plenty of museum education working for so many museums!

E:  (laughing) You would think!

Z:  But one can always learn more!

E:  Exactly! And I certainly plan to!

Z:  Erika, you grew up here in New Hampshire, correct?

KPFThe Annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene, NH

E:  I did, yes. I grew up in Keene, NH.

Z:  Did you visit museums as a child?

E:  I did. There was a small Children’s Museum in Keene that’s no longer there. We used to visit that museum A LOT. I loved it.

Z:  Did you visit other museums?

E:  Oh, yes. We would visit both the Museum of Science and the Boston Children’s Museum in Massachusetts. We’d also visit the Seacoast Science Center in Rye.

Z:  Did you ever visit this museum when we were located in Portsmouth?

CMOPThe Children’s Museum of Portsmouth, 1983-2008

E:  I did, but I was so little that I don’t have very clear memories of the experience.

Z:  That’s ok. We won’t hold it against you. Erika – tell us – what’s your favorite museum outside of the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire?

E:  My favorite museum is actually an aquarium. I consider aquariums a type of museum . . .

Z:  (faux-sternly) Hmmmm . . . we’ll allow it. Proceed.

E:  The aquarium is L’Oceanografic in Valencia, Spain. It acts as a science museum as well, so you can definitely allow it. (laughs)

Z:  So why were you so taken with L’Oceanografic?

E:  For several reasons. Apart from the exhibits, one thing I was immediately taken with was the entire set-up of L’Oceanografic. It’s the biggest aquarium in all of Europe and it’s made up of about a dozen zones with each one devoted to a different body or water or type of aquatic ecosystem. One building might showcase the Mediterranean Sea while another building is devoted to the Arctic. There are also underwater walking tunnels and sections of the facility that contained small bubbles that the visitor could stick their head into and suddenly be surrounded by fish on all sides. You felt like you were in the water with the fish. It’s an amazing sensation.

L’Oceanografic Underwater Tunnel

Z:  Wow!  I really want to visit L’Oceanografic now.

E:  And I haven’t even told you about the glow-in-the-dark octopuses yet!

Z:  Oh, man. Something tells me CMNH doesn’t have room for glow-in-the-dark octopuses. Erika, could you share with us what your favorite CMNH exhibit is? And why?

E:  My favorite exhibit, no question, is Dino Detective. I love – LOVE – anything to do with dinosaurs! I also love that exhibit because it’s one of the easiest exhibits to get down to our young visitor’s level and interact and explore with them while they learn about and dig for dinosaurs. I also enjoy teaching visitors about fossils and evolution.

Z:  Well, Erika, we hope that you’ll still come back in the future and visit CMNH  after you’ve moved to Washington D.C. and check in with the visitors and staff!

E:  Of course! I’ll always love CMNH!

Essential Information about Experience Guide Erika
 
Favorite Color:  Blue
Favorite Animal:  (Tie) Three-Toed Sloth / Hedgehog
Favorite Movie:  Cinderella
Favorite Type of Music:  A cappella

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Anyone Can Grow Food!

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.

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Art Beyond Vision

Guest Blog by Tess Feltes, Gallery 6 Coordinator at the Children’s Museum of NH

When the New Hampshire Association for the Blind approached me with the idea of an exhibit in the Museum’s Gallery 6 focusing on artwork enjoyed by persons with low vision or who are non-sighted, my first response was one of confusion!

How could this be done?

It took a shift from a traditional way of thinking to a broader definition of art. First, I had to embrace the concept that art belongs to everyone, not just the sighted and that there are many ways a person can have an aesthetic experience.

Art conveys ideas, emotion and beauty. We have to have art to live the full human experience. Art teaches us that not all problems have a single, correct answer. Art broadens our perceptions.

There is not one single answer or way of perceiving a work of art. Sometimes it is better NOT to have a specific goal, but to experiment and engage in the act of DISCOVERY.

Operating on these ideas, the initial idea was to develop an exhibit that visitors could TOUCH.

The next step was to contact a pool of creative thinkers. A call for art was issued to the talented members of the New Hampshire Art Association and other artists in the community. The response was intriguing!

From soft felted textiles, gleaming stainless steel wall sculptures and textural abstract paintings to three-dimensional collages, whimsical sculpture and assemblage, the walls of Gallery 6 offers visitors a myriad of tactile and imaginative pieces that give form to the unseen worlds of ideas and dreams.

Even as the exhibit was being installed, I watched children slow down not only to LOOK but also to TOUCH the work. I made a delightful discovery: this is an important way of engaging children and enhancing their enjoyment.

There are so many different approaches to the tactile art, it is hard to single out any particular pieces. Each piece seems to speak to each visitor differently and in a very personal way.

Gallery 6 has a way of wanting to burst beyond the walls and expand throughout the Museum. Because we want to offer visitors an opportunity to create their own tactile works and to explore for themselves the world beyond vision, there are specially designed activities in the Museum’s Muse Studio.

A section of the exhibit honors a truly inspirational pioneer, Helen Keller, who changed the public’s perception of people with disabilities. Born in 1880, she became known around the world as a symbol of the strength of the human spirit, yet she was much more than a symbol. She was a woman of intelligence, ambition, and great accomplishment, who devoted her life to helping others.

Her life story illustrates this truth:  physical limitations may be restricting, but a person’s true value comes from the depth of her mind

Finally we asked ourselves: How would technological advances available today change Helen Keller’s enjoyment of art? We sought out Marty Quinn – a most creative and innovative fellow to add MUSIC to the aesthetic experience…. and in the process he enhanced the kinesthetic experience as well!

Marty’s MoveMusic technology is featured during Art Beyond Vision as part of the popular Build It. Fly It. exhibit. Visitors are able to hear the paths of falling objects as music. Using visual to image sonification technology developed as part of NASA grants, visual surveillance software tracks the moving objects as they are selecting pixels on a computer screen.

Sound intriguing? Come to the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire between now and Memorial Day and experience the world of Art Beyond Vision for yourself!

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What happens if … ?

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/

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Books We Love for Family Learning

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.

Intrigued? Museum staff and Dover Public Library‘s Children’s Librarian Kathleen Thorner have compiled this reading list to help you make the most of family learning experiences.

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

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Our Evolving Kid’s World Cafe

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.

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Exploring Our Way

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 paula@childrens-museum.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.

Our goals:

  • 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 have a series of conversations and workshops coming up this year to help us think about how to build on EOW and take it to the next level.  

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.

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