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.
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."
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.
Children’s Museum of NH Helps with State’s Childcare Crisis
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 of NH (CMNH) to fill in the gaps and nurture their children’s growth.
“The Museum has prided itself on being a trusted resource for play-based learning for nearly 40 years,” said Jane Bard, CMNH President. “When we saw the childcare crisis growing, we began reaching out to childcare providers, surveying families and speaking to other partners like UNH about ways we could use our expertise to help.”
What emerged was the need to reach young children wherever they were and to provide the adults caring for them with the tools they need to support healthy cognitive growth. This includes licensed childcare centers, small in-home care settings, libraries, family resource centers, families and grandparents caring for their own children.
“Once we realized the need was so great and so widespread around the state, the challenge was how to best serve all of these audiences,” said Bard. The solution was to give all of these audiences different tools and ways to participate in a variety of activities over the course of the year.
The first and most exciting, according to the childcare providers, is the Museum curated Play-Based Learning Kit, a 40-lb jumbo box filled with quality materials for children ages birth – five being distributed to 83 childcare providers, libraries, and family resource centers throughout the state of New Hampshire reaching over 9,000 children. “I would love to show parents more ways to encourage play-based learning,” shared Nicole Daniels from the River Center, a family resource center in Peterborough, NH. “I think with Covid, a lot of children lost the art of play, especially with peers and in groups, and we want to help bring that back.” Christi Mooney from High Street Child Care Center in Littleton, NH agrees. “Our facility is primarily play-based, and after Covid, we are seeing a lot of the 2-4 year olds who do not know ‘how’ to play. It has been a struggle to just get them to show us their creativity, use their imaginations, etc.” Each kit will come with monthly activity guides giving educators ideas on ways to use the materials in new ways to engage children and sites get to keep the kits beyond the end of the grant. “I love the idea of having more resources for the children, but especially love the idea for the teachers,” shared Alicia Tonelli from the Seacoast Community School in Portsmouth, NH. “It is always helpful to have different ideas, and perspectives. It sparks creativity!”
Beyond the kit, the Museum is collaborating with the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies to host two free Play-Based Learning Open House events at their Dover location and four online workshops, open to all early childhood educators. “Partnering with CMNH has been extremely rewarding. We have united our expertise on active playful learning to empower our early care and education providers to share enriching and joyful learning experiences,” shared University of New Hampshire Associate Professor Kimberly Nesbitt.
“The online workshops are being created for childcare providers who find it challenging to take time from their day to participate in professional development,” said Xanthi Gray, the Museum’s Education Director. “We want to support both existing and new childcare providers entering the field, and share ways they can create play-based learning experiences that support children’s developmental milestones.”
Back at the Children’s Museum of NH in Dover, the education team has launched three new weekly drop-in programs for visitors to spark ideas on ways to use common household items to create play-based learning experiences at home. Tinker Time Tuesdays are held every Tuesday at 10:30am, Baby Storytimes are held every Thursday at 9:30am, and Little Learners Play Groups are held every Friday at 9am. All three of these programs are included with normal museum admission, and free for museum members. In addition to giving kids a chance to practice play-based learning, these programs serve as a way for parents to connect and socialize with each other in a supportive environment.
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).
Three Sunflower Activity Ideas from Little Pine Learners
Get a Sunflower! If kids can pick their own at a farm or market, that adds to the fun!
- Have children use tweezers to take apart the sunflower, and get the seeds out.
- Draw or print a sunflower template and have children use a paint brush to sweep the seeds to the center of the flower drawing.
- When the exploration is done, use the seeds to create sunflower art by glueing them to the template or drawing!
Save the extra seeds to make a bird feeder or simply scatter for birds in your yard!
Even with limited space and materials, kids can learn from play!
Play Based Learning experts suggest that Montessori style play areas can be a good approach to use for play based learning at home. Open ended activities that allow for creativity work well, and it helps to have a defined play space where kids know they can use any materials available. Adding one new or different activity choice per week can help keep children engaged. This can be a new theme using their toys, nature items, or other objects from around the home. Borrowing library books also helps to add variety without purchasing anything new, and can be a great way to explore new topics.
A Few Guidelines
- Have a limited number of activities, and cater to their interests.
- Set up materials at their level and let them choose.
- Choose engaging activities over entertainment.
- Mix in a variety of activities and add something different each week.
- Use a cozy space where few things are "off limits" so kids can focus on play.
- Trays help separate activities and contain messes
At the Children's Museum of New Hampshire we've been inviting children to engage in hands-on Play Based Learning since we opened in 1983. However, we realize it's not as easy in a classroom or at home. Each week we will be sharing Play Based Learning tips to help caregivers and teachers encourage play!
You can see all the PBL tips here on our website, or follow us on Pinterest, or subscribe to YouTube.