“Silly Slime” with Museum & Theatre Educator, Sam!

Slime. We certainly know it when we see it, but what really is it?

Kiddo playing with the final product: Silly Slime.

The Science

Usually, we define substances as solid, liquid, or gas- the three states of matter.  Solids, consist of tightly packed molecules that move very little. Liquids, have molecules that flow and move around each other. And in gasses, the molecules are very fast and far apart… Which raises the question, what do we do about something that can look and feel solid but actually moves more like a liquid?

Well, think Silly-Putty. While it might harden when you squeeze it, or even bounce if you throw it on the floor, if you let it sit in your hand it’ll begin ooze. So here’s the answer, substances with a slime or putty-like consistency are called a non-newtonian substance. This is a substance that (dependent on how you manipulate it, like our silly-putty example) can sometimes act like a solid or like a liquid.

Fun Fact: Non-Newtonian substances are all around us! Many of them are food products that we eat such as honey, ketchup, peanut butter, and whipped cream.

Playing with Silly Slime

It’s Slime Time!

This Silly Slime recipe, is really simple but requires heating which can be an added safety hurdle when working with kids. Please, if you’re interested in making this at home, have an adult present to assist any kiddos.

Our main ingredient for this recipe is Psyllium husk– A plant based, fiber supplement found in products like Metamucil (I like to use it because it’s borax free!).

For this recipe you will need:

  • Psyllium husk
  • Water
  • Food Coloring (of your choice!)
  • Microwave-safe bowl

Another tidbit before we being: The ratio for Silly Slime is 1 tbs of psyllium husk to 1 cup of water. For the sake of this recipe, we’ll assume that you are making slime for one!

Let’s Begin!

First, pour…

  • 1 cup of water
  • Desired amount of food coloring (Pro Tip: less is ALWAYS more)

…into a microwavable-safe bowl. Begin to mix and add…

  • 1 tbs of psyllium husk.

Continue stirring until mixture until well-combined.

This is where things can get tricky (and sticky)


Microwave the mixture for 5-10 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency. Be aware, after the initial 2 minutes of heating, the slime can begin to rise. So, we recommend you keep an eye on it at is heats!

Pro Tip: My “desired consistency” for slime is when it sticks to a spoon and creates a long slime train.  A good thing to keep in mind is that the slime is “sheer thinning” which means it acts more like a liquid the more you manipulate it. This can mean a bigger mess but helps if it comes in contact with things like fabric.

Finally, cautiously remove your mixture from the microwave and pour it out onto a plate (or table-top if you love a good mess like I do). Once the slime is cool enough, it’s time to pick-up, jiggle, and play!

Have fun scientists!

-Sam Connelly, Educator

World Water Day & Sustainability

With an economy that relies on the health of Maine’s waters and land, and a population of people dedicated to the outdoors, the Museum & Theatre seeks to rally and excite our community to take part in preserving our natural resources. Children and families use the Museum & Theatre as a resource to learn more about our environment and how to protect it, and the Museum & Theatre plans to grow that impact through expanded programming and exhibits.

Casco Bay remains one of the fastest warming bodies of water in all the world. The Museum & Theatre’s live touch tank program, How Climate Change Effects Casco Bay, seeks to inform and empower children and their caregivers, fostering empathy in the youngest visitors and action and engagement with older visitors. During the program, visitors have access to real tools to measure salinity and temperature, as well as microbe health, and compare these results to current scientific data.  Visitors also have freedom to touch and explore the life within the tank, from microscopic phytoplankton to large anemone, sea stars, and rock crabs.

Crab (named Sandy-Shelley by visitors) being held by the hands of a Museum & Theatre educator.

For World Water Day, March 22nd, we will be exploring our Tide Pool Touch Tank at 10:30am to meet our marine creatures and explore a little piece of Casco Bay. 

Sustainability & the future home of the Museum & Theatre

The future Museum & Theatre on Thompson’s Point (coming in 2020!) will feature a brand new, custom aquatic exhibit designed to explore the interconnected Maine watershed through incredible experiences with live fish and animals. Three large touch tanks and several viewing tanks will be the feature of this interactive aquatic adventure. This exhibit will feature many of Maine’s native aquatic species from freshwater turtles to gulf of Maine skates, providing the opportunity for all ages to develop connections to Maine species and fostering stewardship of natural resources.

While plans to build the future Museum & Theatre at Thompson’s Point progress, the organization is continuing to ramp up our offerings at 142 Free Street and in surrounding schools, including a new education outreach program available to surrounding schools and organizations: Heating Up: Climate Change & Sustainability in Maine. Now students can explore the interconnected relationship between microscopic plants, humpback whales, and humans during a hands-on experience that allows participants to view live samples under a microscope and climb inside a life-sized whale.  

Our sustainable programming

Eric Venturini, a native pollinator conservation expert from The Xerces Society, educates visitors on the importance of Honey Bees in our community.

Current sustainability programs at the Museum & Theatre on Free Street focus on the roles different creatures play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem for Maine. On February 23rd, the founder of the Maine Wolf Coalition, John Glowa, joined Museum & Theatre visitors to talk about how wolves hold an important role in keeping our ecosystem healthy. In our popular February vacation week mainstage theatre production, The Three Little Pigs, audiences experienced an interactive version of the story which suggests that perhaps the pigs built their houses on wolf territory; this play (with youth actors from Maine!) explored habitat use in a fun, playful manner for families. Biologist and conservationist, Eric Venturini, from The Xerces Society talked to families visiting during February vacation week all about native bees and pollinators. And a honeybee exhibit allows visitors year-round to see a live honey bee hive in action as the bees come to and from the Museum & Theatre’s unique observation hive.

As the primary resource for Maine families, we believe it’s important to offer families learning through play opportunities for increasing their understanding of and connection to the natural world. Do you have suggestions for other sustainability educational programming or special guests that you would like to see at the Museum & Theatre? Please comment below with your ideas, and we hope to see you soon!

Young visitors play in Cascade Stream of our Discovery Woods (sponsored by L.L Bean)

Welcome, Lily!

Photo courtesy of Sharyn Peavey Photography


I am honored to be the newest member of the Education Team at the Children’s Museum and Theatre. I grew up playing and attending theatre productions here, so it’s inspiring to join the amazing group of people who make this organization truly magical.

I first became interested in museum education when I volunteered at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine during college. I realized how much children learn from the interactive exhibits and programs at the museum; it was particularly exciting to see the thousands and thousands of children who play, learn, and explore at the museum and theatre each year. I was ‘hooked’ after my summer of face-painting, story reading, and camera obscura operating.

My newfound interest in museum engagement inspired me to focus on museum studies and education classes throughout the rest of college, visit over eighty museums during my study abroad experiences in France and England, and volunteer at several art education programs for children and youth.

Most recently, I worked in a one room co-op schoolhouse and a small children’s museum, both in rural Northeast Tennessee. Teaching in a one room schoolhouse was an amazing chance to collaborate with a small number of individuals to create learning opportunities for my students and to experience our educational system in a different part of the country. Working at a children’s museum in rural Tennessee showed me that play-based, youth-centered organizations can create positive change in a community and that children are hungry to learn and explore the world around them.

When I’m not playing at the Children’s Museum and Theatre, I am usually busy organizing an art and social justice camp in Transylvania, Romania or helping to promote our new crowdfunding website that supports community development projects in Transylvanian villages. You may also find me planning farm camps for some of Maine’s youngest farmers, riding and competing my horse, or playing my violin.

Next time you and your family are at the museum and theatre, come say hello. I’m excited to meet you!

-Lily O’Brien

Now Playing at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine: The Witches!

Reba as a Witch
Theatre Director, Reba Short, joining in the witchy fun!

“Oh, is my tongue blue?” Here’s what our Theatre Artistic Director and director of our production of The Witches has to say about the play… Want to see more? Get your tickets to The Witches here and for our own special interactive adaptation of the story for preschool ages, How to Spot a Witch, here!

From the Artistic Director, Reba Short:

Why would a theatre company produce The Witches anyway? The themes are dark, the images are gruesome; for goodness’ sake, there’s a chorus of witches talking about crunching children’s bones! The Grandmother in the story seems alright, but she’s smoking black cigars! How could this possibly be a children’s play? Has the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine lost all its good sense?!


As Theatre Artistic Director, I say not in the least! We are producing the work of Roald Dahl, hailed as one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1983, and Children’s Author of the Year from the British Book Awards in 1990. The themes in Dahl’s books are so dark, they’re funny. The witches are so terrible, they’re loveable. The plots are so preposterous, they can’t be serious, and they aren’t, at all. That’s Dahl’s magic as a storyteller. He pushes the boundaries of his make-believe world to its furthest corners, and then keeps pushing. His imagination goes to dark and wild places, and he invites the young reader with him and counts on them to know what is fantasy. Today we are asking the same of you, our audience. Join us for this wild and awful annual convention of witches and know that it’s just pretend.

My favorite part of Roald Dahl’s books are his heroes. Always unlikely, they may seem weak at first. They are usually children who use courage and cleverness to become strong. In our play, it’s a small-boy-turned-mouse that receives the call to adventure. (It would be impossible to find a smaller hero!) If the witchy plot wasn’t so awful, it wouldn’t be necessary for the boy-mouse to save the children at all. This is a story that begs the audience not to take it too seriously, but to find inspiration in the acts of courage and magical ways that the even small heroes can save the world.

Play Our Way: Private Playtime for Families Affected by Autism


Click here to download a printable copy of  the Play Our Way flier_2014.

Play Our Way: Private Playtime for Families Affected by Autism

Fri November 14 / 5:30-7:30pm
Sat December 13 / 8-10am
Friday January 9 / 5:30-7:30pm
Saturday February 7 /8am-10am

Families of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are invited to the Museum for a special, private playtime. The Museum will be closed to the general public, providing a more conducive play environment. Our staff has made adjustments to the lighting in our exhibit and play areas and noise-reducing headphones will be available. Play Our Way is free, and pre-registration is not required – just come over for as little or as long as you like! You are welcome to stay and play when we open to the public. The Play Our Way monthly playtimes will continue through February 2015 thanks to the support of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maine. For a complete list of dates and more information about this program, click here or contact Louisa@kitetails.org.


Let’s Play! Making Music at the Museum & Theatre

If you visited the Museum & Theatre this spring on Tuesday mornings, you may have noticed some tunes coming out of our Dress-Up Theatre. With generous funding from the Frances R. Dewing Foundation, we were able to hire local singer-songwriter Sorcha Cribben-Merrill to work with myself to develop a series of music programs and performances. We partnered with Youth and Family Outreach, a non-profit preschool a stone’s throw from the Museum & Theatre, and they brought their three classrooms of fabulous students over to the museum once a week to join in. On the last Tuesday of each month, we brought three additional local musicians for a full-blown Folk Music Sing-along, where we sang familiar songs everyone loves but also gave the musicians a chance to play a few of their originals. As a big fan of the music scene here in Portland, I loved seeing two of my favorite groups of people – preschoolers and folk musicians – singing, dancing, hooting, and hollering together. Check out video evidence of this happening here:

If you’re watching this and feeling melancholy about having missed it – don’t worry! All of the super fun lesson plans Sorcha and I developed together have been documented in PDF form. We want to share them, so download for free here.

If you’re a preschool or childcare center and are interested in a hard copy, please email me at jamie@kitetails.org. With grant funding, we printed a limited series of books with all kinds of easy music literacy ideas to use with your children. These are designed for any adult who wants to incorporate music into time with children – with absolutely no talent or experience required!

One of the biggest takeaways from this entire, wonderful project was that music is as universal as sunshine or ice cream – pretty much everyone loves it and can bond over it. It’s also an incredible tool for teaching your child invaluable literacy skills – not just reading, but practicing verbal skills like rhyming, sentence structure, and phonetics. So get out those pots, pans, and wooden spoons – you’ve got some music making to do!

Crystal, Gem, and Fossil Fun

Last week a group of 6 to 8 year old eager-eyed rock sleuths came together for the Children’s Museum & Theatre’s first ever Crystal, Gem and Fossil camp. Having personally collected rocks (amateurly) for 25 years (my first were pebbles from my Massachusetts backyard!) I was thrilled to lead a week of activities all about the workings underground, prehistoric life and of course, shiny, luminous, precious mineralogical treasures. Here’s the week as a photo review.

If this looks like fun, check out

Where Science Meets Art Camp

August 11-15

We made a list of reasons why rocks are important and investigated objects that contain rocks and minerals (did you know a typical computer contains at least 65 different minerals?)


We looked really closely at what sand and sediment actually is….and then we pretended to be sand granules at the bottom of a river bed.



Eventually our sand granules buddied-up and started to stick together, turning into a sedimentary (layered, sandwich-like) rock. Once we were pushed a bit deeper into the earth we hit the metamorphic stage, and eventually deeper and we because igneous – we were SO hot that we turned into liquid, molten rock. When we couldn’t take the heat anymore…we had to pop out of the earth through a volcano! (Here we are “3…2…1…rupture!”)


We looked at basalt and other types of volcanic rock (…and sometimes smelled them too).



And of course, what would a science camp be without some backing soda and vinegar volcanoes?!


To re-cap the different stages of the rock cycle, we made some rock treats, first starting with sediment (cheerios, rice crispies, chocolate chips….) we added some melted marshmallow during the Igneous stage and baked it all to be molten-chocolate-gooeyness.


We used rock salt, Epsom salt and regular table salt (aka sodium chloride or halite) and talked about how wild it is that we eat minerals! And minerals are actually IN US! We counted the different faces of faceted gems and the vertices and created our own connect-the-dots gem painting. The salt we sprinkled on top absorbed some of the paint and made some pretty cool designs.





We wrote and drew.




We looked at crystals through a microscope.


We cracked open our own geodes.


We looked very closely and then sifted and cleaned them up, like real mineralogists.





And had free play…once we even met the Portland fire fighters!



Per their request we took a few ‘selfies’

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And we can’t wait to do it again! Thanks for a great week.


American Girls Come to the Museum

Many, many children have dolls. A stand-in for a friend, sibling or even a baby, dolls give children a chance to role play, to use their imaginations and to experiment with different kinds of social situations in a safe way. This may date me a bit, but as a young girl, my American Girl dolls captured me in a way that other toys couldn’t. Initially I received Samantha as a Christmas present; her brown wavy hair looked just like mine, and as an only child, I was thrilled at the idea of having a little brown-eyed companion. It also didn’t hurt that I was a major bookworm and gobbled up all of her stories as quickly as I could get my hands on them. The narrative historical fiction readers made me consider what it was like to live in the Victorian era; whether I would be as determined and strong-willed as Samantha was and do things like rip holes in the knees of my stockings. (I’m guessing yes.) But those books also sparked a curiosity about what it would have been like to be a young girl at that time, which got me thinking about social history and bigger issues in general.
This is what I love about the American Girl books – how they inspire girls to learn about history by, essentially, holding up a mirror. What would you would have done as an African-American girl living in Philadelphia during the civil war? How do you think it felt to have your family separated and to work to bring them together? These are difficult questions, but presented in a context that is developmentally appropriate and compelling for contemporary children to think about. This is why I’m leading a series of American Girl Craft Club workshops, where we’ll focus on a different American Girl at each club meeting and practice a skill or art form unique to each girl’s historical era. We’ll also enjoy a snack that was commonly eaten at the time, talking about availability of ingredients and why. Programs are two hours and drop-off; our first meeting is all about Addy and will be on Sunday, April 13, from 3-5pm. To sign your child up, click the link below.

Meet Nyiesha!

Nyiesha leads a class in belly dance. Photo by Roger S. Duncan.
Nyiesha leads a class in belly dance. Photo by Roger S. Duncan.

If you stopped by the Museum & Theatre on a Sunday this fall, you may have had a chance to dance it out with Nyiesha, a longtime friend of the Museum & Theatre. Starting in January, Nyiehsa will bring her international dance training to a new six-week class called Dance around the World. (The class starts Thursday, January 9 and is for ages 5 & up. No dance experience required, but pre-registration is – sign up here or at 828-1234 x231.)

Nyiesha has been entertaining since she was eight years old. She started on the stage singing in her mother’s fashion shows, and branched out into modeling, acting and then dance.

The stage has always been her passion, so persuing a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts and Dance at California State University of Los Angeles was the most natural path in developing her craft. A fire was ignited in her soul when Adam Basma first introduced her to Middle Eastern Dance in the year 2000. Before long she was dancing with two of Los Angeles’ most revered Middle Eastern dance companies, Adam Basma and Flowers of the Desert.

Nyiesha has had the privilege of dancing her way around the country  in venues such as the MGM Grand, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and the Hollywood Bowl. Samba also became a passion after living in Brazil for three years, she loves inspiring others with her samba steps at parties and special events. Middle Eastern and Samba dance drives her to be an inspirational performance educator. 

Want to know a little more about Nyiesha? Here’s a quick Q&A:

Where are you from? Los Angeles, CA

What do you like to do in your free time?  Read

Why are you excited to be at the Museum & Theatre? I LOVE working with children in a positive and creative atmosphere.

What is one interesting thing about you that other people might not know? I have a tea pot collection.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why? Teleportation, because I love to travel! I would have tea in London, pasta in Rome, crepes in Paris, and watch the sunset in Machu Picchu whenever I want and visit my family every day.

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.