Update: Playscape will pop-up once again on August 31st!

Earlier this summer, we posted about our first Pop-Up Playscape event, which was a huge hit! Nearly 100 kids and adults came out to create an amazing box city with countless creative twists. Lots of people took notice! The event was featured in The Forecaster, on WCSH6, and it’s even been highlighted on the home page of the Maine Community Foundation (support for this project came from their Cumberland County Fund).

Here's where to find us on Saturday, 8/31 from 12-6.
Here’s where to find us on Saturday, 8/31 from 12-6.

There’s one more chance to get in on the fun! We’ll be on the Eastern Promenade on Saturday, August 31st. Want to know a little more before you go – like why this project is great for developing young minds? I’ve put together some background info about open-ended play, as well as some insider tips for the day of the event. No time to read ahead? No problem! Just arrive with an open mind and some willing builders, and the rest will fall into place. We’ll see you there! (Don’t forget to RSVP on Facebook and share it with your friends!)

What is “open-ended” or “child directed” play?

Stated simply, it just means going with the flow. There is no pressure or rules to follow. The point is not to produce a specific finished product. It’s all about free play and exploration — the opportunity to invent and discover.

Kids led the way at our first Pop-Up Playscape event on 7/22.
Kids led the way at our first Pop-Up Playscape event on 7/22.

What are “loose parts”?

Loose parts (like boxes, sticks and stones, bottle caps or other recycled materials) are objects that are easily moved and used for play, games and art. They can be carried, rolled, lifted, piled, or combined to create different types of structures and experiences.

Why are we playing with loose parts and letting the children drive?

To encourage healthy development and build life important life skills! Play and art-making contribute to growth and development because they encourage children to test, explore and discover in a safe space. This type of play requires children to manipulate their environment and experiment with different materials in order to learn. They figure things out for themselves! Stationary materials or a set of rules can restrict the ways children can manipulate the environment, thereby restricting opportunities for creativity, problem-solving or taking healthy risks. Environments like Pop-Up Playscapes aim to be rich in loose parts and allow for extensive manipulation of the environment and experimentation that can lead to innovation. Plus, when kids have a chance to make something amazing on their own without being “right” or “wrong,” they build self-esteem.

Continue reading “Update: Playscape will pop-up once again on August 31st!”

Basics on Raising Backyard Chickens

isak tooToday’s post comes from guest blogger Sharon Kitchens, who recently came to the Museum & Theatre to lead a program about raising chickens and bees. Sharon is an active is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice.  She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and Maine’s food sources for The Portland Press Herald. When she is not writing she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her bee hives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

First, let’s talk about why someone would want to take on chickens. Well, there are the delicious fresh eggs, which once you’ve tasted you are unlikely to ever go back to store bought. A surprisingly not so well known fact is chickens, when permitted humane living conditions and personal interaction with their (let’s say) keeper, are a riot. Some of my chickens come when called (no, not by name…more than likely by the sound of my voice), a couple even sit by me on the back stoop, and heck I just crack up watching them run across the field. Want to live a more sustainable life, chickens could be your answer. I feed mine veggie scraps and wilted greens from the garden, which they turn into manure, which gets worked into the compost (chicken manure is high in nitrogen).

Second, ask yourself if you should take on a backyard flock.  Please think about this next part good and hard. It’s what I call the “Dalmatian Effect” when someone sees these adorable chicks at farm supply stores in the spring and says I’ll take some of those home. A few weeks later, those chicks are not so small, are making a lot of noise, need more space, and suddenly their owner decides to give them away. The other issue to consider, is what will you do with your chickens once they stop laying? It’s a fact that they will. Not all egg layers (the most common type of chicken for backyard flocks) make good meat birds, so eating them might not be the best idea.

During my recent talk at the museum on keeping backyard chickens, I talked about how to keep chickens happy and healthy.  After all, keeping chickens means you are responsible for their welfare. Like any other animal, chickens have basic needs: water (should be changed every other day, but might need to be refreshed daily during a heat wave), food, shelter (including shade and protection from predators), and nesting boxes (they might make a nest out of a hay bale, but chances are they’ll lay their eggs in the box if it’s built properly). Here’s a link to an article on nesting boxes from Backyard Poultry.

I talked a lot about coops, both build your own (some books have plans and there are ideas/layouts online) and coop kits. (I’m a fan of Roots, Coops & More in Augusta, Maine.) An important fact that I think is frequently overlooked when planning for chickens is researching breeds before purchasing chicks. Some chickens are more friendly, e.g. Buff Orpingtons, of which I have five and liken to the yellow labs or golden retrievers of the dog world. There are others that might be more aggressive with people and/or not be able to coexist with other breeds.

There are several free online resources. (I’m always an advocate for investing in good books, but if you are trying to figure out if keeping chickens is even for you/something you can do and/or you just want extra information, by all means don’t spend extra money.) In addition to Backyard Poultry magazine’s site, I like  Backyard Chickens and My Pet Chicken. The post I wrote for my Portland Press Herald blog “The Root” on raising chickens covers most of the basics including books and more online resources I used when preparing for my flock, figuring out the size of your flock and if you want a rooster, purchasing chicks and preparing for their arrival, equipment, and more.

If you take on chickens I congratulate you on your new adventure, and if you decide they are not for you then I applaud your decision to put their health and happiness first.

Cooking Healthy: Frozen Banana Bars

Hi, everyone! Did you catch our Cooking Healthy workshop this morning? Even if you missed it, we’re excited to share today’s recipe with you. Make delicious, nutritious goodies at home, any time!

Today’s recipe:

Frozen Banana Bars!

Cooking Healthy is a monthly cooking program sponsored by Northeast Delta Dental and is free with admission. Hope to see you next month!


Inside scoop: tips for rainy day visits

Families on their way into the Museum on a rainy summer day.
Families on their way into the Museum on a rainy summer day.

It’s a summer day. It’s raining. You urgently need some indoor fun. You know a place that has TONS of cool stuff to do indoors. You get everyone into their slickers and galoshes and head over to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. [Thank you for thinking of us!] As you approach those familiar white pillars, you realize that yours isn’t the only family who sought shelter at the Museum today. The line is out the door!

Fear not! There’s really plenty of room for everyone to come in out of the rain and have a great time at the Museum. By planning ahead and keeping these insider tips in mind, it’s easy to enjoy a fun and festive day at the Museum, no matter what the weather.

  • Stay the course. Don’t panic! Even when the line stretches down the block, it will usually take no more than 10 minutes to get through the line and into the Museum. (Remember that many people, especially those from out of town, arrive in large parties, so that big crowd may only require a few transactions at the front desk.)
  • Move on up. Hit the second floor first and work your way down, especially if you arrive right at 10am. Most families start in Our Town and work their way up, so if you’re here first thing, reverse the trend by starting on the second floor.
  • Stop by when the first drops start to fall. The longer it rains (days, weeks!), the busier the Museum becomes. If the forecast calls for three days of rain, come in on the first of those days and you’ll see the lightest crowd.
  • Be fashionably late. On most rainy days, crowds start getting lighter at 3pm and thin out for the rest of the day until we close at 5pm. (This may not be the case on a First Friday, when we are open until 8pm.)
  • Drop in and out. Your admission is good all day. If you arrive early and feel a bit overwhelmed, you can step out and have lunch (ask the front desk for a guide to local family restaurants), then come back to play after 3 when it’s a little quieter. Be sure to get your hand stamped!
  • Call ahead. If you’re particularly sensitive to crowds, try calling us at 828-1234 and asking if there are any large groups that day. We’ll be able to tell you whether there’s a summer camp or rec group visiting, how big they are, and when they’ll be here. Group visits are no more than 2 hours long, so you can plan your visit around them.
  • Enjoy yourself! We spend a lot of time watching the weather here, and when we see a rainy forecast, we plan for it! We add more programs and events to the schedule and bring on extra staff and volunteers to make sure your visit is safe and fun. Get into the spirit of the day and you’ll find you can have a lot of fun with the festive atmosphere! One of the great things about a rainy day is that children share space and make new friends. Kids who don’t know each other – sometimes don’t even speak the same language – end up helping each other milk the cow or ringing each other up at the market. It’s a pleasure to see these connections develop!

Come rain or come shine, we’re always happy to see you. If you have any feedback, questions or concerns on a rainy day, don’t hesitate to visit the front desk. Your input helps us make each day at the Museum & Theatre better than the last!