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!”

Cardboard + Community + Creativity = Pop-Up Playscapes

Facebook event graphic

Remember Caine’s Arcade, the video that went viral about a 9-year-old in East

Caine Monroy with his Arcade. (Image credit: Caine's Arcade)
Caine Monroy with his Arcade. (Image credit: Caine’s Arcade)

L.A. who built an amazing arcade out of cardboard? Now imagine dozens of kids like Caine meeting up in one spot with tons of cardboard and permission to build anything they can imagine. What do you think they could create if they worked together?

We’ll find out this summer! We’re inviting all of Portland to join us for Pop-Up Playscapes on Monday, July 22nd at Kennedy Park and on Saturday, August 31st on the Eastern Promenade.

At these FREE, first-of-their-kind events, people of all ages will meet up to build the ultimate fort-meets-sculpture-meets-homemade-playground. We’ll have a huge supply of recycled materials, like cardboard boxes, old

Picture this... only HUGE!
Picture this… only HUGE!

books, tubes, fabrics and more. You – that means kids, grown-ups, everyone – bring your imagination and sense of adventure. Artists and Museum & Theatre staff will be on site to help make your vision a reality. At day’s end, we’ll take down the structure and recycle it. All kids take home a bag of recycled building materials to keep dreaming and creating long after the event is over.

If you visited us last summer, you may remember the “Box City” we created on the second floor of the Museum & Theatre – dozens of buildings made from recycled materials. There were homes, a library, a school, a garden shop – anything our young builders could imagine! I’m so excited to make that concept way bigger and bring it out into the community so all kids can contribute their ideas, inventions and creativity.

3 Pop Up Adventure PLayground at Canadian International School of Egypt
A cardboard building project at the Canadian International School in Egypt.
Image source: http://popupadventureplay.blogspot.com/2013/04/playing-around-world.html

A project like this is tons of fun, of course, but there’s also a lot to learn from it. When kids engage in open-ended play like this – a project where there’s no one right answer – they get to solve problems and direct themselves. They’ll hit road blocks, then come up with solutions that none of the adults could have devised. They’ll build the skills that will make them great problem-solvers and creative thinkers – and that’s not just good for kids, that’s good for all of us! What community couldn’t use more creative problem-solvers?

We’re grateful to everyone who made these events possible! Pop-Up Playscapes are funded by the Cumberland County Community Building Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. We’re also getting help from some great community partners: City of Portland Recreation and Public Services; Ecomaine; No Umbrella Media; The Root Cellar; and Ruth’s Reusable Resources.

Coming to a Pop-Up Playscape event? RSVP on Facebook and share it with your friends!

 

Inspired by pal and puppet, Bridget created Visual Impairment Awareness Day

Bridget (second from right, with Reynaldo) and her fellow Kids on the Block puppeteers.

Bridget Fehrs, an 8th grader at Lincoln Middle School, has been a puppeteer with Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Kids on the Block puppet troupe for nearly three years. (If you come to our theatre productions, you’ve probably seen her on stage there, too – she’s been acting with us for years, and just appeared as Country Mouse in our latest show.) The Kids on the Block puppets each live with a different disability or special need, and the young puppeteers who bring them to life are responsible for learning all about each puppet’s disability and being able to answer questions from the audience. Bridget is one of several puppeteers who got to know Reynaldo, a puppet who is visually impaired; she learned how to operate the puppet’s cane and answered dozens of questions from children curious about blindness.

Actors/volunteers Hannah and Jane received a sighted guide training from The Iris Network.

Inspired both by Reynaldo and by a friend who is blind, Bridget approached us with a thoughtful proposal for a Visual Impairment Awareness Day, an event to help kids “better understand what children who are blind encounter in their day to day activities.” To organize the event, Bridget and I worked in collaboration with The Iris Network, a Maine non-profit serving the visually impaired. With financial support from Unum (a longtime sponsor of the Kids on the Block puppet troupe), the event will take place on Saturday, April 27th here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

Events will include Sighted Guide Tours, during which visitors can put on blindfolds and be guided by Kids on the Block puppeteers (trained by The Iris Network), a Braille scavenger hunt, and a Q&A with Cammy, who works for The Iris Network assisting the visually impaired.

Events will take place from 11am-4pm. Get all the details on our calendar of events. All the Visual Impairment Awareness events are free with admission!

Art exhibit showcases the talents of children and teens on the autism spectrum

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Show and Tell Gallery opens on April 13 with a special party for artists and their families. The exhibit, which features paintings, drawings and sculpture created by 27 local children and teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), opens in April in honor of Autism Awareness Month, and will remain on display through August 2012. The show was developed to highlight the talent and capabilities of these children and teens while educating the public about the prevalence of autism, especially in Maine.

“Conversations about autism often focus on what these children can’t do,” says Louisa Donelson, a Museum educator and the show’s curator. “The Show and Tell Gallery sheds light on all the things they can do – and do well!”

The gallery includes sculpture as well as drawings, paintings and mixed media works.

While this is the third year that Donelson has curated an exhibit like this for the Museum, the 2012 Gallery is part of a larger project funded by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maine. The project, entitled Play Our Way, included a series of free, private playtimes for autistic children and their families, and a series of therapeutic after-school art workshops at the Museum for a small group of children with ASD.

Autism and other spectrum disorders are among the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the US. Last week, the Center for Disease Control reported that spectrum disorders now affect 1 in 88 children. Despite the prevalence of these disorders, at present there is no known cause or cure.

The Show and Tell Gallery will remain on display at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine through August of this year. Play Our Way private playtimes will be held on April 15 (10am-noon), May 18 (5:30-7:30pm) and June 3 (10am-noon).

For more information about Play Our Way or the Show and Tell Gallery, please contact Louisa Donelson at louisa@kitetails.org.

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.

Noah on Skates (not the kind you think!)

Noah's hard at work this summer!
Noah hard at work in his lab.

Every weekend during the school year, and most days in the summer, we are joined by high school students who want to teach science. Known as “Youth Rangers,” these high school students are a variety of ages and backgrounds, but all have a common interest: teaching science to children. One of our Youth Rangers loves teaching about dinosaurs, while another likes to focus on marine mammals. They all lead Star Shows and Tide Pool Touch Tanks, and they do a great job! 

If you’re familiar with these science-teaching youth, you might have noticed the absence of Youth Ranger Noah during your summer visits. Where is Noah? Noah has been away for a fellowship at the Mount Desert Island Biological Lab, doing molecular biology experiments and gene expression identification. He is working with the little skate “Leucoraja erinacea.”

But it’s not just scientific inquiry that has kept Noah busy – he’s also been continuing to teach by leading family science nights about the reproduction of skates inside Mermaid’s Purses. We look forward to his return at the end of August and to hearing about the findings from his fellowship work!

Greetings from the Greenhouse!

Hi, I'm Becky!

Hello, I’m Becky Gall, one of the Greenhouse Education Interns here at the Museum. During the fall and spring, I’m a student at the University of Maine, Orono, studying Human Nutrition and Dietetics. I’m lucky to be part of such a great team this summer, working outside sharing what I know about nutrition and gardening with you and your children. I’m writing to give you an insider’s perspective of what’s happening inside and outside of the Greenhouse (located in the Shipyard).

Currently, Corrine (the other Greenhouse Intern) and I have been keeping ourselves busy by maintaining, harvesting, planting, and composting. If you have visited the Greenhouse recently, you may have had the chance to taste some of our ripe strawberries, touch the pea pods, and design your own vegetable garden drawing.

Inside of the Greenhouse right now, the cucumber plants are flowering, the melons are flourishing, the peas pods are maturing, the tomato plants and other plants are looking good. Outside of the Greenhouse, the beets are starting to uproot and the broccoli heads are beginning to crown.

Art inspired by our vegetable garden.

This summer, I encourage you and your kids to come explore and ask us questions to get a better understanding of food. Corrine and I look forward to meeting you as we venture through the lifecycle of fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. I hope that you will participate in many of the Museum’s Greenhouse activities.

Big Plans Ahead!

Stacy Normand is a Cultural Programs intern at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. She is blogging about the Youth Imagine Project. Read her previous posts here.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks! It’s SAT weekend for high school juniors (good luck to all you wonderful high schoolers who are taking them!) and it’s finals week at USM. Needless to say, both the Youth Imagine volunteers and I have been extremely busy!  Despite our hectic schedules, we had a successful meeting at Portland High School this week. Here are some things are wonderful Youth Imagine volunteers are doing:

  • Elfriede is about to start work on her painting. It will detail all of the different vegetables and fruits in our greenhouse. Isn’t that awesome?
  • Munira and Hindia are going to work together to do a theatre/storytime program about bullying and culture – more updates later on!
  • Samia is going to help out with some tea programs that we have at the Museum. She knows how to make Sudanese and Egyptian tea. Make sure to come in this summer when she is doing these tasty programs!
  • Alias is going to help in the putting together of our new greenhouse.
  • Suzan wants to do a language program about Arabic. We are thinking she might write a visitor’s name on a piece of paper for them in Arabic, which they can then decorate.

This last week the Youth Imagine volunteers have been participating in a professional development workshop about job applications and resumes. It’s the time of the year when high school students are looking for part-time and summer employment. Do you remember what it was like to get your first job? Wasn’t it exciting? Sometimes the process of finding a good job in high school can be confusing. How can you tell what an employer is looking for? How can you market yourself when you don’t have any job experience? These are some questions we tried to answer on Tuesday.  We cruised around some online job listings, and discussed what types of jobs were appropriate for high school students, and what types of companies hire seasonal employment. Next week, we will be focusing on resume writing. Some of our kids have already gotten a head start on their resumes, which is awesome! We hope that these types of workshops will help our kids enter the job market. It’s a tough thing to get started in for a lot of high school students! 

I also hope that next week we can start picking dates for our students to come in and do their programs with our visitors, or work on the projects that will be displayed in the Museum. I can’t wait to see how all of their projects turn out!

Have you thanked your pet today?

Animals bring so much joy to our lives that it’s so important to take some time to celebrate them, and to say thank you! During Be Kind to Animals Week, the first week in May (May 2 through the 7), we hope you’ll join us here at the Museum & Theatre to learn more about how to be kind to our animal friends. I’ve arranged a week of extra visits by live animals and humane educators who can teach you how to understand the subtle messages pets and wild animals send us. This event was inspired by conversations with humane educator Lona Ham of the Animal Welfare Society and humane educator Kathleen Fobear of the Animal Refuge League (check out the Linkage Project to learn more). 

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” 

~Sirius Black in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Although “inferior” is not the word I’d personally choose to describe any kind of animal (insects, for example, are vastly more abundant and arguably more powerful than humans), this is one of my favorite quotes from a very quotable series of books. What Sirus is trying to say is that a good man will treat those who are voiceless, targeted, or lacking some sort of power, with just as much kindness and respect as he treats somebody he hopes will help him. “Voiceless” is often the word used to describe pets and very young children just learning to communicate with words. I’m much more likely to trust a woman who’s kind to earthworms, hamsters, or puppies than one who will brush aside or even hurt a creature that’s smaller or slower than she is. This doesn’t mean I don’t swat mosquitoes… that’s self-defense, after all. It does mean that I pay a lot of attention to how people, both kids and adults, treat the animals in their lives.

Animals have messages to send us, and our awesome community partners can help you learn how to decode them. We are so lucky to have regular visitors from the Animal Refuge League (ARL) and the Animal Welfare Society (AWS). Their programs are a great way to introduce young child to furry (or sometimes scaly!) pets. The ARL and AWS have moved their visits to earlier in the month to coincide with Be Kind to Animals Week, but usually they visit on the third Thursday and Saturday of each month, respectively (check out our calendar for upcoming visits from ARL and AWS). Our ongoing schedule includes regular programs featuring Maine’s own David Sparks, who helps many families relocate skunks, bats, flying squirrels or other creatures who take up residence in their homes. During vacation weeks and occasionally throughout the year, David comes for a Sparks Ark Special Show – your ticket ($2 for members) guarantees a seat and helps cover the cost of this awesome show. Be Kind to Animals Week will feature David’s other program, Animal Friends with David Sparks, which allows for an up-close and personal visit with a single animal. (Last time we met two adorable baby pygymy goats!). 

A big thank you goes out to Kathleen Fobear of the Animal Refuge League of Westbrook for joining us for extra visits during this special week! Join us for How to Hear Your Pet “Talk” on Thursday with the Animal Refuge League and Saturday with the Animal Welfare Society. Or you can help make toys for pets at the Animal Refuge League’s shelter (and meet a real, live pet too!) on Tuesday during Animal Fun. During Be Kind to Animals Week you’re also invited to bring in a picture or photo of your pet or a wild animal you love, and attach it to a thank you letter you can write while you’re here! We’ll choose some of these letters to get post in the Vet Clinic exhibit. On Friday and Saturday you can make a sweet sticky bird feeder to take home and hang up to attract wild animal friends a treat. And don’t forget to sign up for Animal Yoga with Jamie if you’re here Tuesday morning! 

Visit the Calendar of Events for a complete list of our Be Kind to Animals Week programming.

For more information about our partners and presenters, visit them on the web:

American Humane Association

Animal Welfare Society

Animal Refuge League

Sparks Ark

We’re Going Through Some Changes!

Stacy Normand is a Cultural Programs intern at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. She is blogging about the Youth Imagine Project. Read her previous posts here.

Last week Jamie and I sat down and really discussed how we can make the Youth Imagine Project more accessible and convenient for both us, the administrators of the project, and for our students. We also wondered how we could streamline the drafting process of student projects, and make it more structured.  So, two lattes and a lunch break later, Jamie and I feel we have come up with a few new adjustments that will make this project even better for both students and the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine!

1)      Location, Location, Location

We have found one of the biggest troubles we are having with this project is the location. While the Children’s Museum & Theatre is awesome for playtime, there is very little space for a group of 10-12 teenagers and two adults to sit down and actually discuss new ideas. Thus, we are hoping to move our meetings to Portland High School. The Program will still run at the same time, but it will be easier for our students because they will only have to walk down the hall to meet with us, instead of having to walk a few blocks. Also, PHS has a lot more space for us to meet in!

2)      Structure

We’ve found that the actual projects that the students are creating need a little more structure than we had initially planned. While our students are brilliant, they need a little more guidance than a blank page. We are now hoping to structure their projects around cultural programs that can be done with visitors at the Museum. So many of our students have expressed interest in sharing their culture with others that we feel this will be a good fit for both the students and for us, as we are trying to create more culture focused programs.

This has been a learning process for sure, but we are so glad that our students have been patient with us and are so brilliant! They always bring something new and awesome to the program to share with us, and we hope that these changes will benefit them! Stay tuned for new updates next week!