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The Children's Museum of NH (CMNH) has received a generous grant from The Evelyn S. and K.E. Barrett Foundation to support a year-long initiative providing play-based learning training and resources to those caring for preschool aged children.  This grant is in addition to the recent award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will help CMNH to meet the huge response from partners wanting to be involved in the project.

As has been reported over the past year, there is an overburdened childcare system in New Hampshire. Childcare centers have faced staffing shortages and others have closed, leaving long waiting lists and a lack of available spaces. Families are turning to home-based childcare, family members and community resources like family resource centers, libraries, and the Children’s Museum to fill in the gaps and nurture their children’s growth.

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Building off their expertise as a leader in play-based learning, CMNH created a year-long initiative to support childcare professionals and others providing childcare in non-traditional settings. A series of programs will reach these audiences including supplying 80+ childcare centers, family resource centers, and public libraries with high quality play-based learning manipulative kits to use with the children in their care. Also included in this initiative are open houses, online workshops, programming at CMNH, monthly guides and activity suggestions, all with the goal of improving developmental and learning opportunities for young children. 

“This effort is exactly the type of program my mother, who championed children and early education, would have been proud to support,” said Peter Barrett, trustee of the Foundation.  “The Barrett Foundation is glad to be able to contribute to the important work being done to deepen developmental and learning experiences for young children in New Hampshire by the Children’s Museum."

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To date the Children’s Museum has held an Open House attended by over 100 childcare providers, and added three weekly drop-in programs at the Museum for families of preschool-aged children. The Museum has also distributed 83 kits of materials to those serving young children. “We’re receiving amazing feedback from organizations that have received their boxes,” said Meredith Brustlin, CMNH Content Specialist who curated the materials in the kits. “We have a lot of experience with open ended, play-based manipulatives and were thrilled to put that expertise to good use creating these kits. The Barrett Foundation grant means we are able to distribute materials kits to more providers, who in total reach over 9,000 children across the state.” 

The boxes contain some familiar play materials like Duplo blocks, sturdy toy trucks, and farm animal figurines but also have some items not traditionally thought of for play–like colorful mixing bowls with matching lids that can be used for sorting, drumming, stacking, and more! 

“We got our kit yesterday and we’re blown away,” said program partner Ellen Grudzien from The Amherst Preschool, in an email. “We are a 100% child led play school and we value materials with intention.  The box was full of them! I can’t wait to see the kids use it!!! Thank you for this initiative!” 

The Museum is meeting regularly with an advisory group about various aspects of this program. Organizations in this group include the University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire State Library, and United Way.

Participants are feeling good about the amount of support being provided by CMNH through this program. Cheryl Ingerson from Elkins Public Library in Canterbury, NH said “WOW!! We just received the PBL kit… WOW!! I can’t wait to add these to our programming and am looking forward to the monthly activity guides. Thank you so much!” 

These play-based learning experiences are funded thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) INSPIRE! grant for small museums. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire was one of 59 museums nationwide to receive this highly competitive grant. These programs are also funded in part by the NH Preschool Development Grant, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (Award# 90TP0060) and The Evelyn S. and K.E. Barrett Foundation.