Raising Readers Visits Down to the Sea

Our friends from Raising Readers came to the opening of our new exhibit, “Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure.” They enjoyed themselves so much, they wanted to write about it! Here’s their story…

Thanks to Maine author and illustrator, Chris Van Dusen, Maine families have learned to ski, joined camping sprees, and headed down to the sea with Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee. They’ve also helped Jack build a house with a flying room and a car that can submerge, float, and fly. Oh, and they’ve journeyed on the circus ship with Mr. Paine and have laughed out loud at the circus animals getting, um, adjusted to their new home on an isle in Maine. Remember the ostrich in the outhouse and the monkey swinging in Miss Fannie Feeney’s bloomers?!

With his colorful, lovable, imaginative stories and illustrations, Chris Van Dusen has captivated the imaginations of children and adults alike. His work is so esteemed that in 2015, the Maine Library Association awarded Chris the Katahdin Award, a lifetime achievement award and the highest honor given by the organization.

Chris and his stories, If I Built a Car and The Circus Ship, have been featured in two Raising Readers anthologies (2006 and 2010) and other titles are also a part of our library of well-loved children’s books. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Raising Readers staff are some of his biggest fans. Our team was thrilled (like kids-on-Christmas-morning-thrilled) to be invited to the grand opening of Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure exhibit at the Children’s Museum2`12 and Theater of Maine on June 18th.

Down to the Sea_CharlotteWhen we walked through the door, to the museum’s outside space, Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee came alive with a whale fountain in one corner, a sandy “beach” in the playground’s center, pedal cars, a shipwreck to explore, a greenhouse and garden, and Mr. Magee and Dee’s presence throughout. To add to the sheer delight of experiencing a book outside of its pages, kiddos were having a ball interacting with the exhibit and the author himself. They ran around with dog ears on their heads, toy boats in their hands, and were pedaling pint-sized vintage cars as quickly as they could. Even the youngest tikes were pointing at the life-sized painting of Mr. Magee and Dee and screaming their names in delight, a true testament to the power of reading to children and the relationships their young minds build with their favorite characters in their most beloved books.

From an early childhood development stand point, exhibits like many of those found at the Children’s Museum are wonderful for a number of reasons: they promote gross motor play, sensory play with sand and water, and of course, early childhood literacy.

Take it from us, a team of avid children’s book readers, advocates, and lovers of all things Maine, visiting Chris Van Dusen’s Down to the Sea exhibit is worth experiencing, for children and adults alike.

We also encourage you to come check out Raising Readers standing exhibit on the second floor of the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine, our cozy and rustic Book Nook. It’s a great place to relax with a good book on a warm lap or cozy chair amongst the hustle and bustle of the museum.

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To learn more about ways you can have fun engaging your child in early literacy opportunities, visit: http://www.raisingreaders.org/parents_and_families/

To see a list of Chris Van Dusen’s books and to get ideas of fun activities that you can do with your kiddos based on his stories, Raising Readers recommends visiting: http://www.chrisvandusen.com/books
http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/0763649465.btg.1.pdf

Would you like to attend and participate in more activities with an early literacy focus in Maine? Check out the Portland Kids Calendar to see what activities are scheduled near you!
http://www.portlandkidscalendar.com/calendar/

Taiko Drumming Fest

Our new Taiko Drumming exhibit opens April 19th – join us to hear some amazing percussive music from Japan, sample Japanese food, and more! Funded by the Sam L. Cohen Foundation.

Free with admission.

“The Playscape” Opens This Friday at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

For Immediate Release:

Friday March 14th, 2014
The Playscape Opens to the Public
Exhibit open during normal business hours | Tuesday – Sunday 10am-5pm
Museum General Admission: $9 per person (under 18 months free)
142 Free Street | Portland, Maine 04101
For more info: 207.828.1234

About The Playscape:
The Playscape is an exhibit designed to promote child-directed, open-ended play and physical activity through engagement with climbing structures and large-scale blocks. Our 900 square-foot exhibit space is being transformed into an abstract indoor landscape compete with lush astroturf and flying kites. The space will be completely immersive and give visitors the feeling of being transported to another world. The exhibit’s two centerpieces are custom CedarWorks climbing structures for children ages 2-12 and Imagination Playground blocks made of biodegradable foam. Both aspects of the exhibit invite children to use their imaginations and their bodies to learn through play. Visitors will be invited to let their imaginations take flight as they climb to the top of a tower, send bucketfuls of balls to friends below, roll in a mini ball pit, traverse bridges, soar down slides, create unique blue structures, and explore The Playscape in their own, creative way.

Sponsor Comments and Contributions:
CedarWorks is pleased to partner with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine to promote indoor play, imagination and discovery. For more than 30 years, CedarWorks has been committed to designing and crafting the safest, most beautiful, and highest quality play systems for children.

“The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine is a wonderful space which blends education and fun for families,” said Barrett Brown, CedarWorks company president. “Our indoor play products are a perfect complement to the goals of the Playscape exhibit in that they awaken young imaginations, and get kids moving and exploring through active play,” Brown added.

Tory W. Rogers, MD Director of Let’s Go!, a childhood obesity prevention program in Maine, said “Let’s Go! believes in providing opportunities for Maine children to be more physically active and The Museum is doing just that!” She includes, “Part of Let’s Go!’s commitment to decreasing childhood obesity rates involves encouraging community partners, like The Museum, to get kids moving. We’re happy to support The Playscape and what it stands for.”

About the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine:
The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, located in the vibrant heart of Portland, exists to inspire discovery and imagination through exploration and play. The Museum & Theatre serves as an indispensable resource for families and educators, helping to create a broad community devoted to our children’s development and learning. The Museum & Theatre is a significant and valuable community asset, offering a broad and diverse array of educational and cultural enrichment opportunities especially developed for children ages 0-10 and the adults who accompany them.

Using four core areas of focus, including Science, Multicultural, Arts, and Early Childhood Education, the work within the Museum reaches children 6 months to 10 years of age, as well as their families and caregivers. Theatre productions include cast and crew members ages 7 to 16, with their performances being enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Outreach and programming serve students and educators throughout the state, in classes from Pre-K through 5th grade.

Recognition includes winning the Nickelodeon’s Parents’ Pick Award for the Best Museum in Portland (2009) as well as being named one of the 12 Best Children’s Museums in the US by Forbes (2012) and one of four children’s museums in the world to receive the MetLife Promising Practice Award (2012).

The Playscape Exhibit is generously sponsored by:

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Introducing… The Playscape

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Our newest exhibit, The Playscape, is under construction in conjunction with our friends from CedarWorks and is being readied for its grand debut. The Playscape will officially be open to the public Friday, March 14th during normal Museum hours, 10am-5pm.

The Playscape features two indoor climbing structures with lots of room for big movement and giant, open-ended, blue blocks that can become anything you want them to be. With one climbing structure specifically designed for toddlers and another, taller climbing structure for the big kid in us all, as well as the ability to make your own structure from very unique blocks, families will find something for all ages in The Playscape. Let your imagination take flight as you climb to the top of a tower, send bucketfuls of balls to your friends below, roll in a mini ball pit, traverse bridges, soar down slides, create unique blue structures, and explore The Playscape in your own, creative way.

Many thanks to our sponsors:

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WCSH6    |    Let’s Go!

and UNUM.

Lights, Camera, Color: In the reimagined Camera Obscura exhibit, 10th Century Technology Meets 21st Century Kids

CO-tableThe technology behind the Camera Obscura – the reflection of light into a dark space, creating a projected image – is more than 1,000 years old. How do you make that feel new in 2013 for kids who are accustomed to high-tech screens that fit in their pockets? That was the challenge the we faced when creating Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, a reinvented exhibit on the Museum’s third floor.

The year is 1020.

There are about 300 million people on earth. The city of Portland, Maine won’t be established for another seven centuries. Recent innovations include locks (allowing the creation of canals) and fire arrows. The Middle East is in a golden age of scientific achievement, with scientists making notable progress in the fields of medicine, astronomy and physics. The scientist Alhazen (also known as Ibn al-Haytham) has made an important discovery about how people see.

Depiction of a camera obscura used for recreation. Paul Sandby, Roslin Castle, Midlothian, ca. 1780, Gouache on medium laid paper, mounted on board, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon collection.

Depiction of a camera obscura used for recreation. Paul Sandby, Roslin Castle, Midlothian, ca. 1780, Gouache on medium laid paper, mounted on board, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon collection.

Until 1000 A.D., people believed that eyes sent out rays of light, and those rays formed a picture. They believed that the picture disappeared when eyes were closed because eyelids blocked the light from shooting out. After many experiments with light, Alhazen correctly theorized that eyes work the other way around, receiving light to create an image. His work offered the first clear description and early analysis of the device that came to be known as a camera obscura (latin for dark chamber): a box with a small hole
into which reflected light rays pass to create an image of what is outside. He used the camera obscura throughout his lifelong study of optics; his work corrected several antiquated theories and predated many Western optics discoveries by hundreds of years.

The camera obscura played a vital role in art and photography for centuries to come. During the Renaissance, the camera obscura helped artists understand the concept of perspective, taking painting from the flat compositions of the Middle Ages to the more lifelike, three-dimensional images we see after the 1400s. In the 16th and 17th centuries, using portable, tented camera obscuras for sketching became popular for both artists and hobbyists.

Starting in the 1700s, many scientists were working simultaneously to find a way to make the images projected by the camera obscura permanent. Their experiments with light project and silver salts, iodide and nitrate led to photography as we know it. Louis Daguerre’s “Daguerrotypes” are perhaps the most well-known form of early photography although amateur scientist William Talbot’s obscure “Talbotypes” were perhaps a more direct precursor to modern film photography.

Throughout history, the camera obscura has played an important role as artists and scientists sought to record and understand the world around us.

The year is 1994.

The original Focus Room. Photo by Claudia Dricot.

The original Focus Room. Photo by Claudia Dricot.

About 5.6 billion people live on earth, and about 1.25 million of them live in the state of Maine. Less than 20% of the US population has a cell phone; only 14% of Americans report that they use the internet. In Portland, the Sea Dogs are playing their very first season, and the Pirates are about to play their second. The Children’s Museum of Maine has been at its Free Street location for one year, with exhibits on the first floor (the second floor is mostly undeveloped) attracting more than 120,000 visitors. This year, the Museum is opening a brand new exhibit: the Camera Obscura.

Frederic L. Thompson – chair of the capital campaign that raised of $2.5 million for the Museum’s new location – secured a donation from Kodak to build a periscopic camera obscura on the Museum’s third floor, taking advantage of the cupola that tops the historic building. While a simple camera obscura can be created with a box and a pin, Thompson had a vision for a more complex device that would provide a more memorable visual experience. Though our camera obscura still uses natural light alone to create the image, a 12 inch lens inside the cupola helps project a more focused image, and a 20 inch mirror rotates mechanically, offering a 360-degree view.

A feature in the Boston Globe in 2008.

A feature in the Boston Globe in 2008.

Depending on light and weather conditions, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away. A camera obscura of this scope and quality is rare – similar examples can be found in San Francisco, Edinburgh and a handful of other cities – and the exhibit drew the appreciation of Camera Obscura enthusiasts, art historians, photographers and travel writers (the exhibit has been featured in AAA Magazine and the Boston Globe).

The room just outside the camera obscura (called the Focus Room) offered a few hands-on optics exercises and a wealth of historic context for the camera obscura, from Alhazen to the light shows of the early 20th century. However, because of the delicate equipment that moves the rotating mirror, the exhibit’s central component was available only by guided tour, which generally took place twice daily. While popular with older children and parents, some families with younger children – due to short attention spans or challenges of navigating up to the third floor – visited the Museum for years without taking advantage of the hidden gem at the top of the stairs.

The year is 2013.

There are over 7 billion people on earth and 1.3 million call Maine home. 91% of US adults now have cell phones (as do 78% of kids over 12). More than half of those are smartphones, meaning most Americans have internet access in their pockets (85% use the internet in some form). In Portland, locals are enjoying the city’s trendy status thanks to the many accolades it’s received in recent years, from being named America’s Foodiest Small Town to having one of the 12 best children’s museums in the US. The Children’s Museum of Maine is now the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and it’s celebrating two decades at its Free Street location – as well as a new chapter in the story of one of its most distinctive exhibits.

An early sketch that included the shadow wall (top) and the completed shadow wall in use.

An early sketch that included the shadow wall (top) and the completed shadow wall in use.

Knowing that the Camera Obscura was one of the Museum & Theatre’s most versatile exhibits, staff has long been motivated to bring more people to the third floor to see it. By the fall of 2012, the exhibits and education staff had developed some ideas for renovations that could excite younger visitors and inspire the Museum & Theatre’s core audience to learn more about optics and light. The staff again approached Fred Thompson, this time via the Rines/Thompson Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, with a proposal. In early 2013, the Fund funded the Museum & Theatre’s proposal to renovate the exhibits, expanding upon the existing educational content, adding and updating interactive components and getting more visitors – especially young visitors – in the door. The goal: make a 1,000-year-old technology appealing to children growing up in the digital age.

The key to attracting young visitors: accessibility. Logistically, that meant modifying the actual Camera Obscura itself; previously open only during guided tours, the Camera Obscura is now open throughout the day; Museum visitors can get a
peek at Portland from a room with no windows any time they like. To preserve the exhibit and ensure that it will be here for years to come, the rotation controls are locked except during guided tours (still given daily). The projection is far from static, though – the cityscape is constantly alive with activity along Congress Street and beyond. Depending on light and where the lens is directed, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away.

An early prototype of the tented camera obscura used in observations.

An early prototype of the tented camera obscura used in observations.

Accessibility is a psychological and developmental challenge as well, so the two-room exhibit is now filled with bright, new, kid-friendly components. The component that inspires the most dancing, wiggling and giggling is the shadow wall: a bright white wall in a dark room with adjustable colored lights where children can play with their shadow and layer the light to create new colors. The exhibit also features a light table surrounded by low stools attracts toddlers eager to stack blocks with sheer color inserts to play with projection. New model camerae obscurae throughout the exhibit invite visitors to experiment with focus and find the parallels between the inner workings of the eye and the camera.

During the development process, each component was prototyped and observed
in action. Although prototypes may appear rough around the edges, they provide important insights into how an exhibit will appeal to children at different developmental stages and whether it will work at all. Some experiments were taken out of the plan when staff observed that they did not hold children’s interest or inspire them to make connections; other new elements were inspired by offhand remarks or unexpected responses to prototypes during the observation period. Chris Sullivan, the Museum & Theatre’s Director of Exhibits, worked with staff to develop a series of prototype exhibit components; staff observed visitors interacting with the prototypes and used those observations to inform the final exhibit – although Sullivan is hesitant to use the word “final.”

Experimenting with a model camera obscura in the new exhibit.

Experimenting with a model camera obscura in the new exhibit.

“Our exhibits are always growing and evolving,” Chris says. “Visitors are learning from the exhibits, but we learn from our visitors, too.” The prototyping spiral – a series of exercises in design, testing, analysis and redesign – is an increasingly popular in the museum field, particularly children’s museums and science centers, which thrive on durable, hands-on exhibits that inspire open-ended learning.

At the opening celebration on October 16, the revitalized exhibit seemed to have
met its goal, mesmerizing toddlers and preschoolers (along with a few big kids
visiting from out of town) who darted happily between the shadow wall, the light
table and the camera obscura itself. Those seeking a more historical perspective – typically parents – picked up copies of the new background take-home brochure that details the history of the camera obscura phenomenon.

(Left to right): Director of Exhibits Chris Sullivan, former Board chair and ex- hibit founder Frederic L. Thompson and Executive Director Suzanne Olson at the opening celebration on October 16, 2013.

(Left to right): Director of Exhibits Chris Sullivan, former Board chair and ex- hibit founder Frederic L. Thompson and Executive Director Suzanne Olson at the opening celebration on October 16, 2013.

We will continue to offer guided tours of the Camera Obscura; tours offer a more in-depth history of the phenomenon and include a demonstration of the periscopic Camera Obscura’s rotating view of Portland and beyond. Tours are free with general museum admission and are also available separately for $4 per person. Call 207-828-1234 x231 or visit our calendar of events for scheduled tours.

For more images of the new exhibit Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, visit www.kitetails.org.

Just Sew Stories: Hmong Culture Comes to Maine

Kue John Lor, the exhibit's co-curator, in traditional Hmong clothing

On Sunday, June 30th, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine will celebrate the opening of Just Sew Stories: Hmong History Stitched, a new temporary exhibition within the acclaimed We Are Maine exhibit.

Just Sew Stories features more than a dozen costumes, toys and tapestries created in the traditional Hmong style of paj ntaub (literally translated as “flower cloth”). Long an important element of Hmong clothing and decorative arts, this intricate embroidery style evolved as the Hmong people were driven from their native countries during and after the Vietnam War, settling in refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia. As they traveled and resettled – many in the American Midwest – Hmong women used embroidery to tell the story of these migrations. The narrative tapestries they create are known as story cloths.

The exhibition was co-curated by Museum & Theatre staff and Hmong cultural consultant Kue John Lor with support from the Frances R. Dewing Foundation. In addition to the Hmong embroidery (most created by Lor’s aunt, Nao Vang, a Laos native living in Wisconsin), the exhibit features

Nao Vang (far right), paj ntaub artist, with her family in Thailand

interactive components, including felt boards that children can use to create their own story cloths.

In the spirit of cross-cultural learning, the exhibit opening celebration will also feature a short documentary about the Culture Scholars, four Portland High School students from around the world who work part-time at the Museum & Theatre leading programs that encourage families to learn about new cultures and share their own. The Children’s Museum & Theatre’s multicultural programming – including the Culture Scholars program, the We Are Maine exhibit and other endeavors – earned international recognition in 2012, when the Museum & Theatre was one of four children’s museums in the world to receive the MetLife Promising Practice Award.

Show and Tell Gallery showcases biggest collection yet!

Louisa creates a sign for the fourth annual Show and Tell Gallery.

More than 40 artists ages 5 to 17 from as far away as Caribou and Limestone submitted work for the 2013 Show and Tell Gallery, a collection of work by youth on the autism spectrum. Each April since 2009, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine has collected art work by young people with autism spectrum disorder and hangs the show for Autism Awareness Month. The show will be on display in the Museum & Theatre’s Stairwell Gallery through August 2013.

Artist Olivia Frankl created this remarkable reproduction of a Monet.

This year’s gallery includes more than 60 pieces, ranging from fanciful pipe cleaner dragons to striking photographs to a remarkably faithful replica of Monet’s The Boat at Giverny. Many students submitted work with encouragement from art teachers and special education professionals who recognized both their students’ talent and the value of an opportunity to share their creativity.

“Some children on the spectrum struggle with communication and may not speak to peers or

“Worry Not Dolls” by artist Kayla Campbell illustrates the creative use of mixed media you’ll see throughout the gallery.

teachers about their achievements,” says Louisa Donelson, the educator at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine who founded the gallery and responsible for its curation. “The Show and Tell Gallery gives them an opportunity to take pride in their work. Their teachers, families and even classmates come to see it. It helps the whole community recognize how much kids on the spectrum are capable of, and how many Maine families are affected by spectrum disorders.”

Support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maine and Walmart funds both the Show and Tell Gallery and Play Our Way, a series of free,

Louisa (bottom center) accepts Maine Autism Alliance’s Step Up! for Autism Award on behalf of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

private playtimes for children on the autism spectrum and their families. This funding also supports a series of small art workshops led by Donelson for youth on the autism spectrum. (Space is still available in spring workshops; interested families can email louisa@kitetails.org for information.)

Last Wednesday (April 3rd), the Maine Autism Alliance awarded the Museum & Theatre one of its first Step Up for Autism awards, recognizing the Show and Tell Gallery, Donelson’s art workshops, and the Play Our Way Playtimes as vital resources for Maine’s autism community.

Calling all young artists on the autism spectrum!

For me, one of the only things that comes close to making art is viewing art. That’s why I am so excited for the 4th annual Show and Tell Gallery! Through March 27th, we’re accepting art submissions from children and teens on the autism spectrum. We’re eager to see a wide variety of art in all media – including (but not at all limited to) painting, drawing, digital or computer art, photography, and sculpture. If you have artwork but don’t have a mat or frame for it, just let us know – we’re happy to help get your piece gallery-ready!

If you know a child or teen diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder who is 5-18 years old (or in grades K-12), and might like to see their art hanging at the Museum & Theatre, please share this opportunity with him/her! Having curated this gallery for several years, I can tell you that the experience of seeing a child’s artwork on display here at the Museum & Theatre is a special opportunity that has a big impact on the artists and their families. We’ll have a special friends and family reception to open the show, and the work will hang in our front stairwell gallery throughout the spring and summer.  (Don’t worry about handing over your masterpiece – all pieces of art will be returned.)

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact me at Louisa@kitetails.org or 207-828-1234 x227.

For detailed guidelines and the official submission form, click here.

Meet Sandy, Our Town’s Child Inventor

coming soonA new exhibit is opening in Our Town this spring, but plans have been underway for more than a year. Get the inside scoop on how an idea becomes an exhibit from Chris Sullivan, our Director of Exhibits and Operations.

Fairchild Semiconductor dedicates its philanthropic efforts to early childhood science education for many reasons, one of them very practical: they need engineers! They are eager to hire Maine engineers, which means they need Maine kids to get excited about math and science early so they’ll pursue higher education and careers in the field of engineering. They have supported the Museum & Theatre’s science programming for years. In November 2010, we began discussions with their philanthropy committee regarding a new exhibit: a hands-on engineering exhibit that would reach children outside of the classroom, placing engineering in the context of imaginative play.

fairchildarticlequote-jimPhase One: Engineering Crash Course

Before we could find a way to introduce engineering concepts to children, we had to understand them ourselves. When our work began, we had no idea what semiconductors are, how integrated circuits work or why there are eight bits in a byte. A committee of Fairchild staff members – volunteers from departments across the company – was assembled to help us. With their guidance, we toured of Fairchild’s testing, development and fabrication facilities, engaged in hands-on experimentation, saw how silicone is grown, and learned about the chemical and physical processes that transform it into a chip. We learned that even one task requires the work of many different types of engineers. For example, if Fairchild is creating a chip that allows high definition movies to play from a cell phone without increasing the phone’s size, someone will need to design a new chemical process to create the smaller chip, and someone else will coordinate where the new machines will be placed for smooth production. Then, even after the chip is made, other engineers will continue to test and experiment with it to see what other uses it might have. Soon we had a new appreciation for the cutting edge work these individuals are doing and how many different types of thinkers are required to do it effectively: electrical engineers, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, machine operators and technicians.

Our own understanding of engineering grew quickly, but our ultimate goal still seemed daunting: how could we make this comprehensible and interesting for children? The answer came from the engineers themselves. When asked what had interested them as children, they had all loved solving problems. Whether they were solving equations or dismantling the family television set, they’d been curious about how things worked. Now, as engineers (whether they use a computer or a wrench), they apply that natural curiosity and creativity, along with math and science skills, to discover and define how things work.

Our staff attended a demonstration by the South Portland Robotics Team and left amazed and inspired. The final exhibit will have a robotics component.

Our staff attended a demonstration by the South Portland Robotics Team and left amazed and inspired. The final exhibit will have a robotics component.

We had found our starting point, the essence of engineering itself: problem-solving. When presented as an opportunity to experiment, rather than a science test, engineering naturally appeals to children’s creativity.

Phase Two: Causing Problems

Sparking children’s curiosity is a natural fit for our work, so we were excited to get started. The challenge: today’s technology is so pervasive and integral to daily life that children may be less likely to question or investigate it than they were in decades past. More sophisticated technology also presents fewer opportunities for experimentation. (How would you go about taking apart an iPod, or a DVD player mounted in the back of a car seat?)

We were determined to create opportunities for experimentation – to give children problems to solve. To make these problems inviting and integrate them into Our Town (itself a well-used, curiosity-inspiring area), we created Sandy Fairchild, Child Inventer. Her laboratory, which will be installed in the former vet clinic space, will feature several hands-on experiments designed to assist Sandy’s Our Town neighbors with practical problems. Children will apply science, math, spatial reasoning and technology skills to devise creative, open-ended solutions. Our collaboration with Fairchild gives us a team of engineers who are ready to help us implement the technological aspects of the exhibit.

Before going forward with fabrication plans for a circuit board (top), we try out a low-tech prototype (bottom).

Before going forward with fabrication plans for a circuit board (top), we try out a low-tech prototype (bottom).

We’re now in the midst of designing interactive components to fill the space. We start with intensive prototyping work. These prototypes are low-tech and designed to gauge children’s response to the component’s concept. Have you ever been to Museum and seen a staff member inside a cardboard box, acting like a computer? Were there others nearby, jotting down notes? You helped us develop an exhibit! Observing your child at play helps us determine our next steps. Prototyping involves a lot of research, brainstorming, false starts, critical dialogue and plenty of trial and error. These prototypes are rough, but they help us anticipate and resolve some technical kinks and discover the concepts and challenges that keep young visitors engaged.

Phase Three: Nuts & Bolts & Beyond

As our prototyping phase draws to a close, we enter the fabrication stage when we create and install the pieces that will become Sandy’s laboratory. Informed by our prototype observations, we’ll finalize our design plans, keeping in mind factors like visual appeal, safety and durability. We determine which pieces can be fabricated by our own staff and work with external designers and fabricators for some of our more complex components. For Sandy’s experiments, we’ll be working closely with engineers at Fairchild to ensure that the technology we use is safe and will stand up to heavy use from visitors of all ages. We also spend this time researching and writing text for the exhibit signs that will enhance the visitor experience. Soon, Sandy’s lab will be open for hands-on exploration of robotics, communications technology, circuitry and more.

fairchildarticlequote-jennThe exhibit is expected to open in late spring of 2012, nearly 18 months after our process began. (Stay subscribed to our email list for the opening announcement.) Sandy is an active inventor, so we’ll continue to work with Fairchild to develop and introduce new experiments periodically. We’re excited to offer our visitors a new way to play and explore, and we’re even more excited to think about the bigger implications of Sandy’s arrival. How many bright engineering minds will this exhibit inspire? What technologies will they invent? How will those inventions change the world? How big an impact can one small exhibit have? We can’t wait to find out!

Questions? Feedback? Contact Chris Sullivan at chris@kitetails.org.

SmartArt Exhibit Opening

On Thursday, May 20 we held a SmartArt exhibit opening for our members and volunteers. Everyone had a blast exploring the exhibit, enjoying our smart snacks and we even had some raffle winners! We’d like to thank Pie in the Sky Pizza for donating their delicious pizzas, Ben & Jerry’s for donating our raffle prizes, Poland Spring for the bottled water and all our staff and volunteers who spent Thursday preparing for a fun-filled exhibit party! Here are some pictures from the event. Visit our facebook page for even more!