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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 or email 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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Embracing Change

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?

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Why Blog?

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 . . . 

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Books We Love for Transitions

Museum arts & humanities educator Xanthi Gray introduces a book at a Story Explorers session.

Books We Love is a collection of book titles for adults, independent readers, and for reading aloud with children.  Each column will be organized around a theme and will include recommendations by Museum staff and the Dover Children’s Librarian, Kathleen Thorner.  We invite you to use the comments to contribute your own favorite titles related to that same theme, or to share your experiences reading about, and with, your children.

Why are we writing about books?
Books allow us to reflect on our experience and explore ideas.  They can stand in for a trusted advisor, community leader, friends and family. And their distance from our own pressing concerns can be liberating and helpful.  When we read with our children we share both the love of reading with them, and offer an opportunity to think and learn together.

Whether we read to ourselves or with our children this is a great way to think about books – as opportunities to safely explore new ideas, consider options, and play out our hopes and dreams.

New Beginnings

This collection of titles focuses on transitions – a theme that resonates with the change of seasons and beginning of school.  Titles for adults include helping children make decisions, coping with stressful transitions, and what to expect from typical developmental milestones.  For children the books focus on school as a common experience with change that is often highly anticipated by both children and their adults.  Themes range from first day jitters to coping with cliques, and feature children, teachers and even the class pet.

The Most Recommended Book

All of our education staff, and librarian Kathleen Thorner, each had one book title in common.  That was The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. 1993.  Its popularity surprised us and we wanted to highlight it.

Books for Parents

Good kids, Tough Choices: how parents can help their children do the right thing by Rushworth M. Kidder.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.  – Kathleen Thorner

Great kids: helping your baby and child develop the ten essential qualities for a happy, healthy life by Stanley I. Greenspan.  Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007.  - Kathleen Thorner

Parenting through Crisis: helping kids in times of loss, grief, and change by Barbara Coloroso.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000. – Kathleen Thorner

The Parents’ Guide to Psychological First aid: helping children and adolescents cope with predictable life crises edited by Gerald P. Koocher and Annette M. La Greca.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. – Kathleen Thorner

Touchpoints Three to Six by T. Berry Brazelton.  This series explores predictable developmental milestones and examines the tension children experience as they grow more independent and competent.  A helpful framework for parents whether your child is 2-yrs old or 12-yrs old. – CMNH Staff

Recommendations for younger children (for starting school):

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, 2000.  Sarah is afraid to start at a new school, but both she and the reader are in for a surprise when she gets to her class. - Kathleen Thorner

Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London, 1996.  Froggy is nervous about his first day of school, but, even though it’s hard to sit still, he has a wonderful time. – Kathleen Thorner

I Am Too Absolutely Small for Schoolby Lauren Child, 2004.  When Lola is worried about starting school, her older brother Charlie reassures her. - Kathleen Thorner

I Don’t Want to Go to School by Stephanie Blake, 2009.  Simon the rabbit does not want to go to his first day of school, but by the time his mother comes to take him home, he is having such a good time that he does not want to leave. – Kathleen Thorner

Maisy Goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins.  A great introduction to what happens at daycare and preschool for young children – CMNH Staff

Will You Come Back For Me? by Ann Tompert. To help ease the fears of separation for children going to daycare or preschool for the first time – CMNH Staff

Mama Don’t Go by Rosemary Wells, 2001.  Yoko loves kindergarten, but she doesn’t want her mother to leave–until her new friend helps her realize that “mothers always come back.” – Kathleen Thorner

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Ahley Wolff, 1996.
Introduces the letters of the alphabet as Miss Bindergarten and her students get ready for kindergarten. – Kathleen Thorner

Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou. – CMNH Staff

Who Will Go to School (Kindergarten)Today? by Karl Ruhmann. – CMNH Staff

My Preschool by Anne Rockwell, 2008.  Follows a little boy during his day at preschool, from cheerful hellos in circle time, to painting colorful pictures and playing at the water table, to passing out paper cups for snack. – Kathleen Thorner

Sumi’s First Day of School by Soyung Pak, 2003.  Sumi is nervous about going to school because she doesn’t speak English. However, by the time she finishes her first day there, she decides that school is not as lonely, scary, or mean as she had thought. – Kathleen Thorner

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes, 2000.  A mouse named Wemberly, who worries about everything, finds that she has a whole list of things to worry about when she faces the first day of nursery school. – Kathleen Thorner

Good books for Older Readers (school experiences):

Ellie McDoodle: new kid in school by Ruth Barshaw, 2008.
Ellie writes and doodles in a journal of her family’s move to a new home and her struggle to make friends, which gets a lot easier as she leads a nonviolent protest about long lunch lines at school. – Kathleen Thorner

Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming, 2010.
An unlikely teacher takes over the disorderly fourth-grade class of Aesop Elementary School with surprising results. – Kathleen Thorner

How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  By Mark Teague.  Start the school year off with a laugh when your teacher asks YOU – how did you spend YOUR summer vacation? – CMNH Staff

How to be Cool in the Third Grade by Betsy Duffey, 1993.  When Robbie York is marked as a target by a bully at school, he decides that the only way to survive the third grade is by being cool. – Kathleen Thorner

Justin Case: school, drool, and other daily disasters by Rachel Vail, 2010.  Through his journal entries, Justin relates his daily worries as he goes through third grade. – Kathleen Thorner

Nikki and Deja by Karen English, 2007.  When an arrogant new girl comes to school, third-graders and best friends Nikki and Deja decide to form a club that would exclude her but find the results not what they expected. – Kathleen Thorner

School Days According to Humphrey by Betty Birney, 2011.  Humphrey the hamster is puzzled when unfamiliar students fill Mrs. Brisbane’s classroom at summer’s end, but he soon learns that his friends from last year are fine and that the new class needs his special help. – Kathleen Thorner

School!: adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School by Kate McMullan, 2010.  Each morning, student Ron Faster hurries to Harvey N. Trouble School, where he encounters such staff members as science teacher Ms. Roxanne Pebbles, music instructor Mrs. Doremi Fasollatido, and the resigning janitor Mr. Iquit. – Kathleen Thorner

Stuart’s Cape and Stuart Goes To School by Sara Pennypacker.  Bored because there is nothing to do in the house to which his family has just moved and worried about starting third grade in a new school, Stuart makes a magical cape out of his uncle’s ties and has a series of adventures. – Kathleen Thorner and CMNH Staff

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, 2010.  Sixth-grader Tommy and his friends describe their interactions with an advice giving paper finger puppet of Yoda, worn by their weird classmate Dwight, as they try to figure out whether or not the puppet can really predict the future.  – Kathleen Thorner

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