In May, three of our staff attended the annual Association of Children’s Museum conference. All together, Justine Roberts, Executive Director, Paula Rais, Director of Community Engagement and Jane Bard, Education Director, presented in 5 conference sessions on topics ranging from museum business models, to how to create inclusive programming, to facilitating STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) activities with visitors. It was wonderful to be able to lead discussions about topics that matter to us, and to talk with our colleagues about how they do things. In addition, there were talks by John Seely Brown and Leila Gandini to inspire our thinking.
Among the many exciting and often provocative ideas we heard, those below have continued to resonate and are influencing our thinking:
We are a Children’s Museum for FAMILIES
At the conference, we heard from colleagues around the country that families are looking for rich experiences to have together, and adults want to be engaged with their kids not just watching them. We need to provide opportunities for adults to interact in the Museum, and find ways to support the adult role in the Museum experience.
This was great to hear. We believe that the Museum experience is at its best when the entire visitor group interacts joyfully and creates a shared memory. Research has shown the importance of adults in children’s learning, and also in the development of their interests. Consumer studies show that adults who are bored opt out of repeating experiences.
And trend analysis has shown that adults want to enjoy their children – they made the choice to have them, and they are determined to appreciate the time they have together. We have also heard from our own visitors and members that they want more family programming.
It isn’t too late
Another big conversation was around engaging children in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related studies. Research shows that if a child isn’t interested in science by age 11, it is difficult for them to make a switch and become engaged. What can we do to ignite interest in science for young children?
We run a program called Junior Science for 4-5 year olds. As one participant’s mother said to us this past year:
Based on the success of that program, we are considering launching a second class for 5-7 year olds.
We also added lego robotics this year, and have been doing more to fuse science and art in the Thinkering Lab – where you can design and test cars and ball runs – and in the Studio where you can investigate structure, color, natural materials, light and more in artistic ways.
One area we believe the Museum can really participate in making science engaging is by showcasing its drama, and its surprisingly unexpected delightfulness. We see science in the everyday world around us and one of our goals is to help capture that and make it visible to others.
Wide Walls and High Ceilings
Shifting demographics in this country will have an impact on our current and future audiences. Studies have shown that 90% of museum-goers are Caucasian while ethnic populations in the United States continue to grow. In addition, it turns out that museum-going is passed on within families; you are more likely to visit museums if you were taken to them as a child.
Since Children’s Museums are not as common in the rest of the world as they are in the United States, we need to work additionally hard to be visible to, and accessible to immigrant and first generation audiences who may not be familiar with what we do. One way we do this is through the schools, but increasingly we are looking for opportunities to kids who come with their class to return with their families as ambassadors to the Museum.
Cultural diversity is not the only emerging demographic shift of significance for museums. The adult/senior population is growing and 60% of seniors participate in childcare of their extended families. This raises important questions about how we can target this group more and provide more amenities for them.
We don’t have the answers but we do have a lot of questions! One is what are their needs and interests? Another is how can we engage seniors more in playing with their children in the exhibits? – put adult size costumes/props w/ the green screen? Ask them to recall favorite ways to play when they were young? Promote photographing the kids playing/learning by putting more photos on our website and/or in house bulletin boards (People stop all the time to look at the staff/volunteer bulletin board in the hallway!)
Getting it Right: inclusive and accessible programming
In the areas of inclusion and accessibility we already operate on a foundation that places the child’s learning process and creativity as central. This is important for all children- those with special needs certainly, but also for typically developing children. All children have different skills, strengths and interests. Our expertise is in designing environments which are layered for learning over time, and which are scalable in complexity as visitors gain mastery.
But really being inclusive and accessible goes further than this. A theme among keynote speakers at Interactivity was how learning is about imagining and tinkering so you can figure things out – this is great to hear because this is what museums are good at!
“Arc of life learning honors child + adult” - J. Seely Brown
“Adults should be more attentive to a child’s cognitive process than the results they achieve.” – Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio
CMNH does a great job with this, but how can we help parents and teachers engage more and notice the learning taking place for children in their care? can we ask questions (through signage, or experience guides) that encourage observation? Point out the kinds of milestones they might witness (esp. in Primary Place) that could go unnoticed? De-emphasize “craft projects/products” and highlight creative process and how to continue this at home?
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:
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?The 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?The 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
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
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.