How Does it Teach: American Girls Club

Making Victorian silhouettes during American Girls Club: Meet Samantha

I distinctly remember the Christmas I got a cranberry-colored velvet dress with a lace collar. I must have been seven or eight, and it’s not that I was particularly into dresses – but I also received a matching dress (right down to the buttons) for my Samantha doll. My mom had a friend hand-make them both and we have this picture of me and Samantha, perched on a rocking chair, earnestly grinning as only eight-year-olds can. I loved my American Girl dolls dearly (later Felicity came along to keep Samantha company) and everything that came with them. I’m not talking so much about their accessories (though those tiny hairbrushes, pencils, hair ribbons and the like definitely got my heart racing) as their stories. An avid reader from the age of three, I couldn’t get enough of Molly’s adventures in WWII America, Felicity’s colonial escapades, and Kirsten’s life as a pioneer. My dad even tape recorded him reading the entire Molly series when he spent five weeks away from me and my mom one summer. Needless to say, American Girls hold a special place in my heart.

Final "Me and my doll" silhouette product!

Fast-forward to today, when I get to lead our American Girls Club meetings with my co-worker, Louisa. I can’t even tell you how incredible it is to talk about women’s suffrage, the Underground Railroad, and environmentalism with groups of young girls who are already empowered to a point that is breathtaking. At the last club meeting, during our introductions, I asked the girls to share one thing that they love about being a girl. One, comfortably shifting around in her mother’s lap, shrugged her shoulders and said, “well, I like being a girl because… because I really just feel so free! Like I feel free to do whatever I want, because I’m a girl!” I smiled and told her that was a perfect reason, and in a blink of an eye thought about how far we’ve come. By learning the stories of Addie and Molly, Samantha and Josefina, we teach our daughters about history – not just of women and girls, but of our country — in a way that deeply means something to them.

Visit our calendar of events for the dates and times of the American Girls Club. The next one is this Sunday, July 11 at 3:30pm. We’ll be learning about Julie and her life in 1970s America!

A simple toy spawns chaos!

This month, for Cool Science, we are playing with magnets and pendulums.  A pendulum is simply an object that can swing freely back and forth.  An everyday example is a swing on a swing set.  By adding a magnet to the bottom of a simple pendulum, and putting magnets on the ground near where it’s swinging, the path of the pendulum changes in unpredictable ways.  In fact, I claim that the pendulum’s path becomes so unpredictable that every person has a nearly equal chance of guessing its movements a few seconds before they happen.  Its movement is chaotic, meaning that it’s different every time, depending on the exact starting positions of the magnets below the pendulum, and the pendulum itself.  A packaged toy called a “ROMP,” which stands for “Random Oscillating Magnetic Pendulum” accomplishes the same experiment we’re doing here.

This “Random Oscillating Magnetic Pendulum” is similar to the experiment Hannah leads during Cool Science.

Pendulums and magnetism are both classic physics topics many kids will study in school as they get older.  Besides being fun to play with, swinging things and magnets provide the hands-on experiences that are at the heart of truly grasping these concepts in physics.   Perhaps more importantly, the magnet portion of this program is an opportunity for inquiry-based guidance, which means that when I lead the program, I’ll give kids toys to play with (the magnets), and ask questions to encourage them to learn from their experiences.  We might make piles of things the magnets can pick up, and things the magnets can’t pick up.  For this sort of sorting, I might ask “What’s the same about the things in these two piles?  What is different?” This past weekend, a young boy told me that magnets can’t pick up other magnets, only metal: magnets repel other magnets.  He then proved his own statement wrong by using a magnet to pick up an object he identified as another magnet.  These moments of proving oneself wrong are what being a scientist is all about.

Plus, the complex, chaotic movement of the magnetic pendulum swinging near other magnets is bizarre enough to evoke curiosity and wonder no matter how old you are: that’s why it qualifies as cool science!

Join us this month for Cool Science: Pendulum Play on Friday, July 16 at 3:30pm and Sunday, July 17 at 11:30am and 3pm.

How Does it Teach: Art Through the Ages

Our newest art program series called “Art Through the Ages” is a tribute to all art past and present. This program is designed for our visitors young and old to achieve a more in-depth contextualization of art’s place in our life. At the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine we strive me make all of our topics fresh and vibrant and we do so by structuring this lesson as ‘hands-on history.’

Paint like Pollock!

A typical program will begin by looking at a piece of art while listening to a vignette of a specific artist’s life. I’ll then pose questions about formal elements of art such as color, composition, material and subject matter and segue to the more abstract and individualized concepts such as feeling and mood of a piece. Finally we’ll create our own masterpiece, whether it be inspired by Piet Mondrian’s geometric and primary color paintings or Monet’s almost monochromatic water lilies.

At times it may be difficult to understand certain works of art. Culture and time distance us from subject matter that is unrecognizable in our daily lives. By dissecting these works, children and adults alike can gain new insights including acceptance of matters that seem so vastly different that what we know and understand in our own worlds. By having this dialogue, children are given a greater appreciation of the past and can apply that to their every day interactions.  By simply understanding man’s progress from past to present day, art teaches us about solving problems and progressing towards the missing links.

Get to the point like Georges Seurat!

From the early cave art of Lascaux, France to contemporary conceptual artists, like Alex Katz, the works we study in “Art Through the Ages” provides an unparalleled view of culture and history. While the relationship of art to culture, history and religion may seem obvious, if we look deeper we understand art is also a reflection of science and mathematics. This is perfect considering our new exhibit, SmartArt which explores the connection between science and art.

Join us for “Art Through the Ages” (most) Tuesdays at 3:30 and let learning history be your springboard for creativity. Click here for the full list on our calendar.

Let your child take the stage!

Whether your child is a natural actor or a wallflower, creative play and theatre activities will inspire your whole family to play together.  The benefits of introducing your child to dramatic play at an early age are numerous.  Dramatic play improves cognitive development, social skills, communication, motor skills and emotional development. Young children have vibrant and  active imaginations;  do you play a role in your child’s imagination games?  You can!

Begin with your favorite book.  Read it out loud a few times over the period of a week to get a feel for the story.  Younger children will learn key dialogue moments just from repetition.  Older kids might enjoy the task of adapting the story, and writing out the dialogue.  Ask the question, how can we act this out?  Brainstorm ideas together.

The next step is to act it out.  Pick characters.  Parents should definitely play roles too. If there are too many characters, have each actor play multiple roles.  If there aren’t enough characters in the story for your family, add some more.  Theatre teaches us to be team players and problem solvers.  How can everyone take part in the story?  Make sure to listen to your child’s ideas, and try them out.  You may have a budding director on your hands. Rehearse your story a few times.  Like anything else, the sillier you are by changing your voice, exaggerating your movements, the freer and exaggerated your child will be.  Theatre can teach us communication skills.  Ask questions like, “How can you use your voice to tell the audience about your character?” “How can we use your body to tell the audience what happened next?”

Now for the flourishes; dig though your closet to find something that signifies the character.  You don’t need to go overboard, use common items you can find around the house!  Set the stage.  How can you transform your living room rug into a duck pond?  You could even invite your friends and extended family to come watch the play in your living room!  Make posters and tickets!  Imagine how confident your child would be after putting on their own show for family, friends or neighbors.  After bowing to that applause they’re sure to be a few inches taller!

Cultural Cuisine: How does it teach?

My parents have a video (quite a few videos, actually) of me “helping” my dad make bread on Christmas Eve. The year is 1989 and I am three years old, kneading the bread by lying on top of it and occasionally sticking my chin into the dough. We make this bread every year in our house – Russian egg bread flecked with golden raisins. The smell of it baking and the taste of it, toasted and buttered, will always remind me of Christmas.

Food is one of those things that everyone has in common. In my “Cultural Cuisine” program, I share a simple drink or snack common to another country with museum visitors. Recently this was Moroccan mint tea, with a little added brown sugar. In Morocco, tea is a part of life. It is an offering to houseguests, a cause for an afternoon break, and something that has been consumed there for centuries. I tell our littlest visitors that it’s OK not to like it – it’s just great to give something new and different a try! I can usually get even the most hesitant kids to take a sniff, and eventually a shy little sip. Their eyes widen: “This is good!”

Of course, there are children who don’t always like everything I offer, but this is to be expected. The goal is about exposing them to food (and, therefore, a piece of a culture) that is outside their realm of familiarity. The more comfortable children are with the idea of different cultures’ foods, the more comfortable they become with each others’ cultural differences – and more aware of what we all have in common.

Make a kid-friendly version of Moroccan mint tea at home!


  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1-2 handfuls fresh mint
  • 2 Green Teabags
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Pour the boiling water over the mint, green tea, and brown sugar in a heat-proof container (large Pyrex measuring cups or a teapot both work great). Stir until combined. Pour and enjoy!