Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exploration and Play: From Staff to Visitor

As staff of a children's museum, our jobs not only allow us the opportunity to experiment and play, but also often require we do so! The many great examples of what our experimentation and play have generated can be seen in each of our neighborhoods and exhibits. However, the fun doesn't end once an exhibit is on the floor. The experimentation and play continue as we add and alter these exhibits to enhance the learning experience for our visitors.

At DCM, exhibit staff generally follow a process in which they collaborate with the Museum's early childhood specialist and interdisciplinary arts specialist to discuss developmental goals and outcomes before brainstorming prototypes, observing their use, reviewing the model and offering a final product. But what happens when they want to improve or maintain an existing piece?

Mark Wickart, Manager of Exhibit Fabrication and Maintenance, states that since he began working for DCM seven years ago, "Everthing here we have made stronger." Existing exhibits need to be maintained, fixed or sometimes altered to enhance visitors' experiences.

One recent example of an exhibit which we have some fun revisiting is our Baby Wind Garden, inside the Build It Young Explorers neighborhood. The exhibit is designed to introduce infants and toddlers to the concepts of air, shape and surface. Young children experiment with cause and effect, trial and error and the sensory experience created by wind spouts and the many manipulatives (small balls and scarves) provided.

Staff noted that although the Baby Wind Garden exhibit did indeed introduce these concepts, it was not attracting visitors. It was at this point that Wickart began to brainstorm permanent manipulatives that would be immobile but draw attention and interest to this exhibit. Prototypes using plastic bottles of different kinds and ribbons, yarn and pompoms of different weights were created and observed by floor staff. Wickart drilled several holes in bottles and jars in an attempt to adjust airflow and alter materials' movement to create maximum visual stimulation.
This trial and error process continued until a plexglass cylinder containing one pompom was placed over a wind spout in the garden. Staff observations demonstrated increase in interest, the brightly colored pompoms' movement drawing attention to the exhibit. The prototype was a success! From there, the stronger, more durable and larger model currently in use was created. Able to now hold more pompoms, once over the wind fountains the contents create a "popcorn" movement - which draws infants and toddlers attentions to explore and interact with this exhibit.

Look What I See! See What I Learn!

These young children toddled over to take a peek at the "popcorn" jars in Baby Wind Garden and were soon giggling and laughing, enjoying the sensory experience of playing in the "wind." Mom then picked up a small ball and demonstrated the Bernoulli Effect (objects floating on streams of air). Soon both boys were experimenting with balls, large and small trying to create Bernoulli Effects themselves. Mom did a great job modeling vocabulary like air, wind, and float during their time in the exhibit.

As a museum professional, have there been times where you have found yourself using play and experimentation or trial and error to make improvements on an exhibit? Share these with us!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Summer Stop for Everyone!

Designed for children up to the age of ten, DCM offers interactive, open-ended, fun experiences for everyone! Whether it is the exhibits within our seven neighborhoods or our daily drop-in programs developed around the integration of the arts, math and sciences, there are many shared experiences for multiple age and developmental levels within your family.

Whether it is your first visit or a returning trip, if you are a family with school-aged children, here are a few ways to explore a children's museum:

No Agenda Necessary.
Overwhelmed by overscheduling? Too many camps and classes? Children's museums offer a place that does not pose an agenda. Children can explore and problem solve whichever of the over 150 exhibits they choose.

Empower active investigation.
Older children begin to understand more complex vocabulary and concepts related to specific subject matter. Older children are also often more attentive and can stay at a task longer. They may enjoy exploring familiar materials, but seek out challenges and opportunities to problem solve.

At DCM, the exhibits empower children to set their own pace, transcending age and experience. The following is one example of how exhibits provide learning opportunities for the entire family from the Museum's neighborhood, Make it Move:

An older boy experiments with ways to extend a ramp at Ramps & Rollers, while his infant sister sits nearby with Mom. The sister puts her hands in a bucket of balls and dumps them out on the floor. “Mom, watch!” the boy says. He places a golf ball at the top of his ramp and together they watch it move down and finally off the bottom onto the floor. It rolls past the infant, who begins to then scoot over towards it, but stops. She reaches for it. Together, the boy and mom laugh. “How could you make the ball roll closer to Jessie?” the mom asks. The boy then rotates the ramp and adds another section to the end to extend the ramp closer to his sister. He then leans a few plastic cards from the Maxi-Rollway against the wooden ramp pieces, as if to create even more of a barrier to further position the ball’s path toward his sister. Mom rolls a golf ball in the infant’s direction as she watches the boy construct his new plan. She then offers her daughter a lighter whiffle ball to explore. “Where do you think the ball will roll now?”

The questions asked by the mother above provided the boy with a challenge and provided him with an opportunity to practice using his problem solving skills. All the while, she was able to facilitate play with her infant. Here are a few more questions you might ask a school-ager:

What could we make using all of the (Giant Tinker Toys, blocks, ramps)?
· Can you make a bubble inside another bubble?
· Do you think we could draw a family portrait in Glow Art?
· Why do you think a foam ball floats on the wind spout, but not a yarn ball?

Check the DCM Calendar or What's Happening? sign.
Daily Drop-in programs, including storytellers, musical guests, and Studio projects are some of the many arts programming planned throughout the summer. These special programs are meant to be interactive for the varying age groups that visit the Museum. One of the many benefits your child will receive from arts programming is the opportunity to use and understand symbolic communication.

Enjoy the memories.
Hands-on activities, like those found throughout the Museum, can nurture children's learning at any age. "When you are part of what you are learning--you are going to remember it better," says Chris Barry, School Programs Manager. "To memorize that a cube has six sides is one way to understand its dimension. However, to touch and create a 3-dimensional, six-sided shape is another." This kind of hands-on exploration creates memories. “Children learn the most from memorable experiences." She states that children reference pleasurable experiences they have had, throughout their lives.

As you and your family have fun and learn together, notice the achievements, developmental milestones and concepts being grasped and new skills being mastered. Remember: Talk about what you do together! You might be surprised at what your children have discovered!

How do you interact with older children while at the Museum? Let us know! To join the conversation, click on "comments" below!

Check This Out!
We want to know: Who's reading the blog? Let us know by clicking on the poll found at the top of the How Learning Comes in to Play! site. You can also always let us know by leaving us a comment anywhere throughout the blog. We hope to hear from you soon!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Growing Minds:

Families that Play Together, Build Brains Together

An Evening with Dr. Jane Healy

On Thursday, October 23rd DCM welcomes award winning author, Dr. Jane Healy (Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds--and What We Can Do About It, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do About It), to discuss intelligent play as a foundation for learning skills, emotional resilience and social competence. This special evening program will provide parents, caregivers and teachers ideas on how to encourage the development of children's creativity in a fast –changing electronic world.

To register for this event, call (630) 637-8000 ext. 0

For more information, click here.
This presentation is being sponsored by:

Do you have any questions for Dr. Healy?
Post your questions by clicking "comments" below. These questions will be answered by Dr. Healy following her presentation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Math Comes in to Play Every Day!

Did you know that almost everything we do relies on some form of mathematical thinking? Think about when you serve a meal or set a table. How do you know where to set the plates or glasses or how many to use? To complete this task, we rely on our understanding of patterns, counting and estimation skills. Imagine riding a bicycle without understanding distance, balance, or spatial orientation. Without these skills, many of us might still need training wheels and a guide!

Math Connections = Play and Learning
At DCM, we understand how often math comes in to play throughout our lives and that it is important to provide opportunities for children to investigate, practice and reflect on math. According to the position statement, “Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings,” by exposing children to math concepts and models early on through hands-on explorations, experimentations and literature we better prepare them for the opportunities that await them! (National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2003)

To best provide children with opportunities to explore, experiment, discover and enjoy math concepts at their own pace, the Museum recently reopened its Math Connections neighborhood. Generously funded by the Tellabs Foundation, part of the neighborhood’s redevelopment included Museum staff consulting with math education experts and concluded with more than ten new exhibits.

The following are just a few of these new exhibits:

Crawl Through Kaleidoscope
Children discover multiplying patterns and symmetry as they climb or peek inside. Share how their reflections change as they move.

Wandering Loom & Twisting Loom
Ponder patterns of color as children weave or thread beads on each of the looms. "Count" out the pattern they have made by repeating each of the colors (red, black, red, black) or use the alphabet to describe them (ABAB).

Large Beam Balance

Children explore equality, comparison and measurement through large motor play. Ask questions like, Which side weighs more? or What happens when you put another block on the other side? Make sure to model safety by saying, Go slowly or Sit on your bottom.

Each of the exhibits in Math Connections addresses one or more of the following math concepts:

  • Measurement and balance - understanding size, length, width, capacity, weight, quantity, and equality
  • Algebra - understanding "patterns, mathematical situations and structures, quantitative relationships, and change" (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000)
  • Counting and estimation - understanding numbers, one-to-one correspondence
  • Geometry and spatial understanding - ability to visualize relationships of objects in space; understanding words like: up/down, more/less, around, top/bottom, etc.
  • Sorting and classifying - understand categorization of things with shared attributes, understand same/different
    Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 2000. Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM

How Can I Make the Most of My Visit to Math Connections?
As you explore the new Math Connections neighborhood, be sure to talk to your children about their experiences. Research affirms that even seemingly trivial instances of "math talk" can demonstrate improvement in preschoolers’ math skills. Don't know where to start? Talking about math is easier than you might think!

On your next visit to Math Connections, try to:
  • Use descriptive words related to quantity, size, space or number. You might try using the words: more/less, large/small, tall/short, wide/narrow, few/many.

  • Reference the signage found in each of the Math Connection areas. Each sign provides visitors with information on the exhibits and how to nurture children's connections to math as you play.

Source: Klibanoff, Raquel S.; Levine, Susan C.; Huttenlocher, Janellen; Vasilyeva, Marina; Hedges, Larry V. “Preschool children's mathematical knowledge: The effect of teacher "math talk." Developmental Psychology. January, 2006. Volume 42(1). 59-69.

Stay Tuned!
DuPage Children's Museum is enjoyed by visitors young and old! In a future post, we will discuss some ways to challenge school age children and nurture their development throughout the Museum's neighborhoods. We also will share some ways to extend the fun that happens at DCM to home.

Share your ideas on how you make the most of your visits to DCM! Join the conversation by clicking on the word “comments” below!