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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
Imagine That. . . imagine that these children we cherish and care for are grown – what world will they inherit and what challenges will they have to tackle? How will we prepare them to take charge, approach problems with creativity and grit, participate actively in their communities, and make good decisions? How can we ensure that they are successful throughout their lives, what foundation do we need to give them and how do we all work together to make that possible?
Imagine That . . . can you imagine that children’s first relationships can impact their lifelong health, including their risks for chronic disease? Or that the sing-song ways we talk to infants actually helps them acquire language and is a universal phenomenon across time and culture? Or that children as young as 18 months understand cause and effect and have the power of imagination? The fields of neuro-science, early childhood, and informal learning are exploding with new understandings and insights that affect how we think about our work, and what we do in the Museum.
Imagine That . . . we are humbled and thrilled by the creativity, ingenuity and curiosity of our audience. We too experience a WOW moment as we witness a child making a connection for the first time, or taking a risk, collaborating with a stranger, solving a problem. These moments often surprise, delight, and teach us something important. They fuel our own excitement and commitment to our work.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire serves over 93,000 visitors a year and we are dedicated to continuing to be relevant and meaningful to our users. At the same time we are more than a destination. In fact, we have a commitment to serving as a critical resource for all New Hampshire families on site, or off. This blog is a place for us to bridge between the Museum and day-to-day life, and to actively involve you beyond a Museum visit.
We will use this space to ask questions, invite participation, and share ideas. We imagine that the recipe exchange in the Cafe will take on another life on-line, that book suggestions made on our Books We Love column may become part of our early literacy exhibit, that our soon to launch Science Portfolio project will inspire young inventors to participate in an open engineering design competition, and more.
We will use the blog to explore all of these opportunities to learn from, and with one another. Our goal is to enhance our ability to meet the needs of the families and children, and to hone our own efforts so that they represent the best we can do and maximize our contribution.
We cannot succeed without you: our users, stakeholders, and supporters. Together we celebrate children’s achievements and honor their growth. With you, we will continue to build the relationships and develop the insights that enable us to support children’s wonder and engagement with their world.
Imagine that . . .