Friday, December 18, 2009

Learn Through Play

What children take away from their play experiences is endless! Through rich and varied play experiences, children gain many learning benefits. In a Young Children article (September 2007), Dr. Alice Honig offers 10 ideas about what children learn through play. Let's explore one of her ideas and see how it relates to playing at the Museum and playing at home.

Play Enhances Dexterity and Grace (Honig, September 2007)
Play offers opportunity for practicing and learning eye-hand coordination. The ability to place an object inside or next to another object takes time and practice. Through manipulation of objects children enhance their hand dexterity. This child is using her small motor movements to manipulate the Magnatiles in our Math Connections neighborhood. Her movements will become more controlled over time.

Learning to control body movements in space is another important skill learned through play. When your child connects the beads in Math Young Explorers or uses the mallet to create sound on the Amadinda (large xylophone) in the Room for Rhythm room, she is developing confidence in her ability to control body movements in space.

To promote whole body gracefulness, visit the Multisensory Room and invite your children to move their bodies as they explore the lights, color, sounds and textures in the room; or attend one of our Tiny Great Performances, where children can sing or dance along with our performers.

At home, you can boost your child's early learning by spending some time outdoors. When children use their bodies in ways that encourage moving their legs and feet, such as riding a tricycle or playing a sport, they are enhancing the coordination of those muscles and developing control of their body movements.

Stay tuned! Next time we'll look at how play prompts children's reasoning of cause and effect, another power boost for children's early learning, as suggested by Dr. Honig.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Play to Learn

What many of us have known all along, that play is crucial to learning, has captured the attention of others , including doctors and scientists. Alice Sterling Honig, PhD, professor emerita of child development, Syracuse, New York, says, "Children gain powerful knowledge and useful social skills through play" (Play: Ten Power Boosts for Children's Early Learning, Young Children, September 2007). Dr. Honig suggests 10 ideas about what children learn through play. During the next few posts we will look at some of her ideas and offer some "Play at the Museum" and "Play at Home" tips that benefit children's learning.

In the meantime, explore the links provided in this post and be sure to visit our Web site and Family Resource Center, located on the second floor in our Museum. In both of these places you can find some of our favorite resources related to our current focus, Play to Learn.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Question, Predict, Try, Analyze, and Retry

The exhibits in AirWorks allow children to use the scientific method involving questioning, predicting, trying, analyzing and retrying. In the last post we looked at the first misconception children have about air - that is children didn't understand that wind is air that moves. They thought air to be magical and unpredictable. Because air is invisible, children may not think or ask questions about it. However, the exhibits in AirWorks provide the freedom to use misunderstandings about air as powerful starting points in constructing new and more accurate knowledge.

During the development phase of AirWorks, we also discovered other common misconceptions about air. Some children showed confusion about the interplay between objects in air. How do objects move in air? There was confusion about why air moves and what air pressure is. A common denominator with air play is that children were learning that air has power. This became a good starting point in developing experiences for children.

Play in the Museum
These children are using powerful air "wands" to move parts of a kinetic sculpture. Not only can they observe the movement, they can also discover that a strong air pressure makes a noise. They can feel the force of the air if they put their hands in front of the air wands.

How strong does the air flow have to be to get an object to float? This child is experimenting with light and heavy objects and making discoveries in our Wind Tunnel.

Research and Redevelopment Never Ends At DCM
Visit AirWorks to see our newly designed Wind Garden. Here children can observe and experiment with how size, shape, and surface impact how objects move in air. We're not done yet! We're still doing observations to see which types of materials have the greatest impact on children's inquiries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Do You Know about Air?

If someone were to ask you what you know about air/wind, what would you say? Depending upon your experiences, you might answer that air is invisible, unpredictable, soothing, or playful. You might also predict that wind can be powerful or destructive. These comments are based on your feelings about air and wind. A basic concept, often overlooked, is that wind is actually air that moves.

We asked adults and children questions about what they know about wind and air during the development phase of our exhibit, AirWorks. What we found is that understanding air concepts can be challenging, even for some adults. Our research showed that in addition to not understanding that wind is air that moves, children often hold other misconceptions about air. The first misconception we found through our research was the theory that air was unpredictable, some believing that it originated from fans.

So how do you explore the science of air with children when most children view the complexities of their world as magical? How do you show that air is predictable? A key component in understanding the basic science of air is the opportunity for repeatability when experimenting with air. You don't need to know a lot about wind and air to observe it.

Understanding air and wind begins with feeling air on yourself and then on objects. As children explore, they begin to form hypotheses about what air is, where it comes from, and what it can do. Our research showed that for most children, by the end of the preschool years, they understood that wind is moving air and can be powerful.

Play at Home
Have any ping pong balls at home? Take a straw and have your child blow the ball around on a table or floor. How far does the ball move if you blow softly? Does it move farther if you blow as hard as you can? What else can you use to blow the ball that will turn air into wind? Try an empty squeeze bottle, like an empty dishwashing detergent bottle.

Play at the Museum
Find one of our Air Tables and place a ball on top of an air source. What happens to the ball if you cover the other air sources? How far does the ball float in the air? What happens if you change to a smaller ball?

Stay tuned! In our next post we'll explore other misconceptions we found through our research. We'll look at additional ways children can explore the complexities of air and wind.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exploring the Science of Air

Children's science inquiries are often based on their curiosity about their world. Exploring air is a natural science inquiry process for children. Their curiosity becomes the starting point to discovering what air and wind can do. Science for children under 6 years of age is more about how and what children feel when interacting with objects or their environment, rather than learning facts.

Air is all around us! You can't see air, but you can observe what air can do. You don't need to understand air in order to experiment with it. Wind and air can be powerful enough to evoke positive or negative feelings. How does it feel to have air blowing your hair? Wind in our faces evokes one type of feeling on a warm summer day, compared to a cold wintry day.

You can learn a lot about air by just playing with it. DCM has an entire exhibit area devoted to exploring air. AirWorks debuted in 2001. The research to develop this popular exhibit was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Eight years later, we are still observing children's experimentation with basic air concepts and fine-tuning our air exhibits to invite their curiosity as they construct knowledge about what air can do.

Over the next few posts, we will look at some of our own active research about children's exploration with air and wind (moving air). In the meantime, do some research of your own. Here are two air explorations you and your child can do together at home. These simple activities can spark your child's interest and promote practice with basic scientific processes.
What do you see on a windy day? Find a flag flying in your community and try to observe it often. Is the flag blowing fast or slow? Is it blowing in the same direction as it was yesterday? Talk about what you see with your child. Every time you drive by the flag, ask your child, "What is the flag doing today?"

Feel the air. Collect empty squeezable bottles. Rinse them well and let them dry out. Have your child squeeze the bottle onto his arm and feel the air being forced out of the bottle. Ask your child "Is there anything in the bottle? What are you feeling on your arm?" (Source:

Be sure to make connections to your "at home" air and wind explorations the next time you visit the exhibits in AirWorks. Stay tuned! In our next post we'll look at some concepts about air and what you and your child can discover together.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Continuing to Support Families

In previous posts, we shared stories about the Wakanheza Project, launched at the Museum a year ago. This past week we revisited some of the principles and tips that help to support an adult visitor in the Museum. Our morning meeting was used to discuss how to apply Wakanheza tips such as using empathy and non-judgment, offering verbal encouragement, and appreciating the job of parenting by helping our visitors.
One of our "revisiting tasks" was to look for a visitor, for whatever reason, might get ignored Here's what one of our Play Coordinators shared:
There's a man who visits the Museum weekly with a young boy. He rarely makes eye contact or speaks to Museum staff or other visitors. Wanting to start a conversation, I decided to put the focus on the young child. "He likes to start his day here," I commented. The man replied, "Yes," and then proceeded to tell me he gives the boy lots of choices of where to visit, but he always picks the Museum. It was a great conversation starter, which hopefully will lead to future conversations during subsequent visits.
Although we are pleased for the visitor's choice, the point of this "revisiting challenge" was to help remind us that all people have similarities and differences. Even if you share similar cultural experiences with someone, you often find differences between you, too. Saying kind words, offering to help, and showing understanding are just some of the ways we can reach out to all our visitors to demonstrate a welcoming environment.
During the discussion about applying empathy towards our visitors, another Play Facilitator shared this story:
One of our visitors came to play with two children, a toddler and a 4-year-old. She took the toddler out of the stroller. The 4-year-old boy wanted her undivided attention as her toddler was running out of sight. She attempted to play with both children for about 15 minutes and then put the toddler back in the stroller. I walked by and said to her, "It can be challenging to keep track of two children!" She smiled and agreed with my comment.
Sometimes we can't fix or change a situation. What we can choose to do is show a little empathy towards the situation. This facilitator's empathetic comment may have helped alleviate some tension felt by a mom keeping track of two children on a very busy day in the Museum.

The staff agreed that Wakanheza Week was a good reminder about the many ways we can support children and families in our Museum. We had a good time sharing our stories and reminding ourselves about all the ways we support families in the Museum.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Supporting Families and Children

The mission of the Museum has always been about supporting the adult-child learning partnership. Last year we took our mission one step further and embraced the Wakanheza Project. Wakanheza is the Dakota word for child, literally translated it means "sacred being." The central focus of this project supports the idea that if we regard children as "sacred beings" and if our actions reflect this, our communities will be far more welcoming and supportive of families and children.

Understanding that families sometimes experience stress in public places is one of the guiding principles of the workshop. To help develop empathy, we ask our staff to role play a scenario that may be familiar to them. A family is in the grocery story, at the checkout line, when the child decides to take her boots off. Oh, by the way, did I mention that in the scenario there's an impending snowstorm and the grocery store is full of anxious customers? By repeating the scenario and practicing some of the Wakanheza tips, staff are able to gain an understanding of an escalating, and sometimes challenging, situation from the perspective of each participant - the child, the parent, other visitors and co-workers.

To better support families in our Museum, we recognize that it is important to suspend judgment in order to reach out and help others when they are having a difficult moment. We try to consider the effects of environment and culture on the way an interaction develops. One of our Play Facilitators shared this story with us:

I noticed a mother was talking on her cell phone during most of an interactive parent-child class. Remembering the Wakanheza principle of non-judgment, I decided to support the parent by interacting with her child during one of the activities instead of passing judgment on her lack of support in her child's class. Later, the parent thanked me, as the phone call was from her husband who was serving in Iraq. It was her job to call the other wives to update them about their husbands' unit. So even though it may sometimes be annoying to watch parents talk on their cell phones rather than play with their children, you never know the reason for the phone call!

Stay tuned! We'll share more stories and activities with you from our Wakanheza week. Visit the Wakanheza Project blog to hear stories from many other public places.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lending a Hand to Parents

The Scenario
You are a parent visiting DuPage Children's Museum. It seems like it's been raining forever, so a trip to the Museum is a good plan. The boys build an elaborate structure with blocks. "Wow," you think, "one of them might just become an architect." As your thoughts drift to their future, you suddenly realize the boys have disappeared. You feel your anger rising as you begin searching for them. What seems like forever, you finally find them in the Young Explorers area, engaged in a "sword" fight, with paintbrushes. To add to your dismay, there's a Play Facilitator approaching the boys. You're a little worried someone in the Museum is going to judge your parenting, so you quickly grab each boy by his shirt and yell, "you boys have to stay with me or we're going home and never coming back here." Feeling embarrassed by your boys' behavior and your outburst, you're actually thinking about leaving when the Play Facilitator surprises you by smiling and saying, "Rain, rain go away so these boys can go outside to play." Suddenly your worry and anger dissolves into laughter. The Play Facilitator suggests that the boys might enjoy crawling around in the Tunnel, which they do, after the boys put the paintbrushes back in their designated area.

Lending a Hand
Understanding that families sometimes experience stress in public places is one of the guiding principles of a project launched at DCM last year. The Wakanheza Project, developed by staff at Ramsey County Public Health Department in Saint Paul Minnesota, was created to keep children safe by lending a hand to parents during challenging situations. With a generous grant from the McCormick Foundation and help from the Minnesota Children's Museum, 90 staff and volunteers completed the four-hour intensive workshop. During the workshop we discussed - and practiced through role-playing- principles such as empathy and non-judgement and understanding the role of environment, powerlessness and the role of community. Everyone felt they had gained more insight and understanding into the challenges parents and caregivers sometimes experiences in a public setting.

Stay tuned! We'll share some of our Wakanheza moments with you over the course of the next few posts. In fact, we're getting ready to celebrate our continuing commitment to the Wakanheza Project. For an entire week, staff can participate in activities, role playing and games to remind ourselves to take time to review and appreciate what we have learned in the last year.

In the mean time, visit these sites to learn more about the Wakanheza Project at Saint Paul - Ramsey County Public Health Department and Minnesota Children's Museum

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Early Introduction to the Performing Arts

Our new Interact with Art Gallery, The Play's the Thing, has been open for almost a month! Visitors explore the dramatic arts and stretch their imaginations through the use of props, set designs, puppets, costumes and storybooks. For younger children, this exhibit spurs ideas for pretend play. For older children, who are ready for or excited to try a performance, the gallery provides a venue for their imagination.

Even with no background or experience in theater arts, the National Endowments for the Arts advocates that parents and caregivers capitalize on children's natural tendency to pretend. The new exhibit is just the place to do that! Using authentic props and hand-made costumes, you and your child can explore play themes based on home, woods, animals and the ocean. The backdrop, puppets and some of the props and costumes will change during the year based on one of the four themes. Our observations in the Museum show that children will intuitively use these props and costumes for pretend play. The stage, set designs and familiar Cat's Tower and You Drive exhibits give children opportunities to expand their pretend play into performance.

Stop by the gallery on Mondays from 9:30 - 10 am and you can meet Kristi V.K. Bramlett , a teacher from the School of Performing Arts and adjunct professor from Columbia College. Through the use of pretend play, storybooks, puppets and even a song or two, Kristi invites children to participate in all aspects of theater. Through her "Storybook Studio," children practice skills needed for self-expression, language, memorization and socialization.

Recently, Kristi read the book, I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis as a way to explore what emotions look like and validate all feelings as important. Throughout the story children were asked to show what their face might look like for varying emotions. At the end of the story they were invited to illustrate a facial expression.

Next, at a child's request, they moved to the You Drive, where they pretended to be very happy about driving to the zoo, which led to the reading of another story, Put me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire.

Playing together = Learning together! Stop by the Play's the Thing and see where your and your child's imaginations will take you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finding Science in Play

Humans are Born Curious
Pick up a dropped spoon for an infant in a high chair and suddenly the classic game "I drop it and you pick it up" becomes a lesson about cause and effect, a basic scientific principle. When the baby shakes a rattle, he makes the discovery that the rattle produces a sound. He shakes it again; the sound happens again. The infant is learning to make predictions, another scientific skill. While these games are not sophisticated science, they are the child's earliest introductions to learning in a scientific way.

Seize the Moment!
Science is more than a subject in school! When children discover why and how something is so, they are behaving like scientists. Discovering science, exploring science and applying scientific principles can happen anywhere, including play opportunities in the exhibits and programs at DuPage Children's Museum.

Science at DuPage Children's Museum
Our job is to ensure that your child has many opportunities to explore and experiment through play in the exhibits and programs at DCM.

This child is discovering that the air coming through the tube has an effect on the scarf. The air is moving around the scarf so fast that the scarf stays partially inside the tube - a scientific principle known as the Bernoulli effect. When children make connections with air and wind through play, they often recall these connections when they learn about scientific principles later in school. Children (and adults) who play with this exhibit use ideas about air as starting points in constructing knowledge.

Water play leads children to ask questions (Chaille and Britain, 1991).
What does water do? How can I change the flow of water? Curiosity leads to experimentation, which provokes even more curiosity to challenge a child's interest. At DCM children have two large water tables to explore in Water Ways.

In our Art Studio children explore art, math and science through facilitated, planned activities. This child is making paper. The process involves mixing ingredients and noticing an observable change. Experienced Play Facilitators guide the process by asking questions to help the child notice the change from pulp to paper, which can then be used to draw upon.

To find ways to nurture your child's understanding and natural curiosity of science concepts, visit the Family Resource Center and our Web site to view parent and caregiver resources about the current focus, Making Connections to Science.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Very Busy Museum

It's been a busy time here at the Museum the last two weeks during our annual shutdown for facility deep cleaning and new exhibit installation. As some of you may know, every September we close for two weeks for our annual refresh. We are almost ready to show off our freshly painted walls, sparkling clean exhibits, and our brand new exhibit, The Play's the Thing.

Here are some pictures of what it has looked like during this busy time getting ready for our reopening on Monday, September 14.

Thanks to our many staff and volunteers who work to spruce up our exhibits, you will have freshly painted walls to enjoy.

Even though all of our manipulative pieces are cleaned daily, during shutdown they are taken outside, where each piece is scrubbed or power washed.

Our water tables in WaterWays had a major deep cleaning. First we sanded each table, which roughed out and filled in all the crevices. Then we painted them with an epoxy paint, which made them look very shiny. All of the floor mats were power washed and set outside to dry. These procedures contribute to our committment to keeping WaterWays exceptionally clean!

Our refresh is almost complete! We're looking forward to welcoming all of you back!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Play at Home

The Museum is closed August 31 through September 13 for facility deep cleaning and new exhibit installation. We will reopen on September 14th. Next week, we'll post pictures of some of the activities happening here during our annual shutdown.

In the meantime...learning never goes away. There are many Play at Home activities that support your child's growing brain. Here's some useful information about boosting brain power and some Play at Home activities to try, no matter what your age.

When you come back to visit us after September 13th, check out these two related brain-based learning exhibits in the Museum.

For our younger visitors, explore the Trace Around Exhibit in Build It Young Explorers or the Mini Rollways exhibit in Make it Move.

Both of these exhibits provide experiences for eye-hand coordination, visual tracking and crossing the midline; useful brain-boosting activities that support later skills needed for reading and writing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Pretend Play?

One way children learn is by imagining and doing. Have you ever seen a child pick up a block and pretend it's a phone? Young children are just beginning to understand the difference between the two.

Pretend play gives children opportunities to realize the differences between reality and fantasy. When children pretend to be someone else, they have the experience of "walking in someone else's shoes." Through these repeated pretend opportunities and maturation, children will begin to see their world from another's point of view. It's the way we as humans can develop empathy.

Children delight in the adult's perception of or participation in their pretend play. Through these repeated pretend opportunities, they begin to see the power of language. Recognizing what language can do is an important pre-reading skill. Children learn that words create the story. They begin to see the connection between written words and the spoken word.

From playing "make believe" to making plays, children will take center stage with a new exhibit at DCM, The Play's the Thing, which opens Monday, September 14.

Click here for more information about our new exhibit, The Play's the Thing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Did You Guess Right?

Did you guess where this is in the Museum? It's the fan in the Wind Tunnel in the AirWorks Neighborhood. Have you ever explored properties of air in the Wind Tunnel?

The Wind Tunnel allows children the opportunity to experience the force of moving air. The large fan allows children time to "research" where air comes from and how wind forces objects to move. In the Wind Tunnel you might see a child:

  • Standing inside to feel the moving air blow against him

  • Flying a parachute

  • Holding streamers in the wind and observing which way they blow

    • As your child's play partner, take time to enjoy your young scientist's discoveries. As she shows delight with the way the ribbons are blowing, offer a comment such as, The wind is blowing all of the ribbons towards the middle. Add to her discovery by suggesting a challenge. You might say, What happens when the balls are down on the ground? Which way are the ribbons blowing now?

      Your child's discoveries about air are derived from self-directed interactions with the objects in the Wind Tunnel and the connections she makes with you, as her play partner!

      Thursday, August 6, 2009

      Can You Find this in the Museum?

      Here's something to do next time you visit the Museum. Look around and see if you can discover where this object is located? Stay tuned! I'll share the location in our next post, as well as some learning opportunities and facilitation tips with this object.

      Friday, July 24, 2009

      Cultivating a Storyteller

      Children can be great storytellers
      "By the age of four most children can tell complex stories. You would be surprised to learn, however, that the beginnings of storytelling can start much earlier. As early as age two, children begin to tell stories as a way to organize their experiences, hold on to their memories and understand their culture" (Storytelling, Story Acting, and Writing: Essential Language Experience for All Children from Many Paths to Literacy: Language, Literature, and Learning in the Primary Classroom by Rebecca Novick;

      Adults support children's growing storytelling abilities through everyday conversations about past and future events. Using photographs or pictures from magazines can serve as story starters. Very young children enjoy hearing and participating in stories related to everyday events. Creating stories that involve movement will also keep a young child's interest. Preschool-age children will be interested in using their imaginations to tell stories about animals, friendships, and stories about daily events. "Being a hero in the story affirms a child's abilities and creates a sense of adventure," says our volunteer storyteller, Joanne Chase.

      Story blocks
      Here's a unique storytelling opportunity you can enjoy at the Museum. Story blocks are part of the storytelling experience in the Family Resource Center on Wednesday and Friday mornings. For each story, two to four children are asked to choose a block. Each of the blocks has a familiar picture that children might recognize, such as types of transportation, animals, vegetables, ice cream, etc. Our storyteller uses suggestions for the story from the children who chose the blocks. For instance, Joanne suggests having the children name the animals or describe what the animals can do. This keeps the child involved in creating the story.

      Some of our visitors have mentioned wanting to create story blocks to use at home. We purchased unfinished 2.5 inch hardwood blocks online at Wood and Shop Inc. First we rounded the corners with an electric sander. Then we developed a list of pictures that children might recognize. You can use stencils or draw and paint familiar subjects such as animals, favorite foods and things found in nature. The blocks were then coated with a clear wood veneer finish. Joanne has made a set of blocks for each one of her 5 grandchildren. "They have become quite a family tradition," she says. They are sure to last for future generations.

      Start a family tradition by visiting the Family Resource Center on Wednesday or Friday mornings for story telling with these creative story blocks.

      Friday, July 10, 2009

      Enjoy A Good Story with Your Child!

      We all know that reading or telling stories is an essential learning opportunity for children. All humans share the universal activity of reading or telling stories. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making reading and storytelling a part of your family's activities. Not only is reading good for brain development, but it also promotes a strong emotional relationship between you and your child. Sharing and creating a common experience through storytelling aids in the development of a child’s ability to interpret events beyond his immediate experience.

      Some benefits of reading and telling stories follows:
      • Develops a child’s listening skills

      • Introduces a child to language patterns

      • Develops a positive attitude on the part of the child for books and reading

      • Contributes to the social and cognitive development through shared experiences

      • Develops imagination

      • Entertains and amuses

      • Aids in the development of an ethical value system

      Story reading and Storytelling Drop-ins
      Related topical books are available in every neighborhood in the Museum. For example, your child may enjoy reading a book about using tools while waiting in line at the Construction House.
        Come join us for Imagination Hour in the Family Resource Center on Monday mornings for reading stories and wearing silly hats.

        Oral storytelling comes alive on Wednesday and Friday mornings in the Family Resource Center with the use of story blocks, puppets and musical instruments (Wednesday mornings only).

        Play at Home
        Read to your child often. Be as lively and animated as you can. Read slowly and with lots of eye contact. Use storytelling to share a life experience from your life or your child’s younger years. Children love to hear stories about people who are near and dear to their hearts. These stories become part of your family history. Make up stories with your child about their favorite stuffed animals or dolls. Use the “story to be continued” method, extending the story during prescribed times such as bedtime, waiting for appointments, car rides, etc. Make up “echo” stories where you provide a line or two and the children echo back words, motions or sounds during prescribed times of the story.

        Stay Tuned
        In our next post we'll tell you how our story blocks are made and suggest some hints for cultivating your child's storytelling abilities! Have you visited our Museum during one of our story drop-ins? We'd love to hear from you. We'll share the story of your visit in a future post. Leave a comment on our blog or drop me a note at

        Friday, June 26, 2009

        Creating Sculptures with Packing Peanuts

        A Creative Sculpture You Can Do at Home

        A recent Studio drop-in activity, Zoo Art, invited participants to create an animal sculpture with biodegradable foam packing peanuts. Families with children of all ages had so much fun creating our Museum Zoo that we thought we would share the process so you can try it at home too!

        You will know your packing peanuts are biodegradable if they dissolve when they get wet. The Styrofoam packing peanuts will not work for this activity. Save your packing peanuts from packages received in the mail. Our packing peanuts were ordered from a large mailing supply company to accommodate the number of visitors for this week long activity. When individual pieces are moistened on a damp sponge, the cornstarch is released, which causes the packing peanuts to stick together.

        Children were asked to create an animal to join our zoo, a large sheet of paper designed with green, blue, yellow and white spaces for the animals. Some children wanted to create sculptures which resembled walls, rocks and food for the zoo. Such creative minds at work!

        Many zoo type posters were displayed to inspire some ideas, including the poster Coming to Water by Bo Newell. You can support your child's creative endeavor by asking questions. "What parts of the animal are you making - tails, legs, fins?" Suggest what else your zoo may need - tire swings, pools, trees, etc. Not only does this activity support your child's creative endeavors, but working with solids in three dimensions is also the basis for understanding geometry. Children typically think only in two dimensions, so this activity helps them think spatially. "Even on a simple level, sculpting a zoo animal invites critical thinking about the animal's anatomy, environment and habits," states Marcia MacRae, our interdisciplinary arts specialist, who plans the free drop-in and pre-registered creativity programs in the Studio.

        Check out our calendar for other planned Studio activities! View our summer newsletter for descriptions of these free activities with Museum membership or admission.

        You too can be creative, learn and have fun with biodegradable peanuts.
        One of our creative Play Facilitators made this sculpture. Can you name the famous statue he replicated?

        Friday, June 19, 2009

        School’s out …but Play Never Goes on Vacation!

        (Parts of this post were originally published in the June 2009 issue of Positively Naperville)

        Play, it is assumed, is a natural part of childhood. Yet most educators would agree that play is disappearing from children’s lives. How children learn is as important as what children learn—and what children learn and take away from play experiences is endless!

        Recently you may have seen the NBC5 news feature, The Pleasure of Play. When interviewed, Dr. Barbara Bowman, professor at Erikson Institute, states that in an age of jam-packed to-do lists filled with scheduled events, it's important to mark out a chunk of time and simply put "PLAYTIME" on the calendar.

        How about putting “PLAYTIME at DuPage Children’s Museum” on your calendar? Designed for children up to the age of ten, DCM offers more than 150 exhibits with virtually endless interactive, open-ended, fun experiences for everyone! From the exhibits within our seven neighborhoods to our free 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. DCM exhibits and programs empower children to set their own pace, transcending age and experience. New summer hours began June 1!

        Looking for more reasons to play? Check out our Just for Grown Ups resource, Ten Reasons to Make Time for Play . Quoting experts and recent research, this paper supports the importance of play to a child's overall development and achievement.

        Friday, June 12, 2009

        An Accessible Evening the Entire Family can Enjoy

        DCM is dedicated to being accessible to all children and adults and makes a special effort to accommodate our visitors with special needs. Our exhibits offer ways to work on language development, social skills and purposeful play.

        The Third Thursday evenings from 5- 7 pm are a special time for all families, especially families of children with autism spectrum disorder,visual impairments and/or mobility impairments. Cindy Miller, our Community Access Coordinator, acknowledges that for some families, Third Thursday has been a bridge. "Once a child's or family's comfort level within the Museum increased, they started visiting the Museum at other times," she stated.

        Here are some experiences you will find on Third Thursday evenings:

        Visit our resource table for information on issues and services related to autism, visual impairments and/or mobility impairments. We are pleased to bring resources and information to our visitors such as upcoming community events, service providers, and support organizations in the community. Visitors can find recommendations for using our exhibits for therapeutic benefits. We also offer to parents wanting to connect with other parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, visual impairments and/or mobility impairments a discreet, voluntary ID system.

        While parents explore the community and informational resources, children can explore the contents of our sensory box, filled with items for visual, auditory and tactile stimulation. This sensory box is available during other visits, if requested, for extra support with visual, auditory or tactile play.

        Regular Third Thursday volunteers are Casey, the therapy dog, and his owner Janet. A new development for Third Thursday is the addition of a volunteer with experience in supporting families of children with special needs to staff the Resource Table. "We are very excited about our new volunteer joining us because with her education and experience, she is yet another great resource available to our Third Thursday visitors," commented Cindy Miller.

        Use our visual communication systems. Visitors can learn about our Photo Book, which is a visual communication system of Museum exhibits and environment. The Photo Book assists parent and child with structuring their visit and can help ease transitions from one activity to another. They can also borrow specific picture schedules (compliments of Illinois Autism/PDD Training and Technical Assistance Project), which are visual aides to support a child's communication skills during play in the exhibits. Children can also complete an art project in our art studio with an accompanying visual system.

        Browse our Explorer Store. The staff would be happy to assist you with suggested toys for children with specific needs. For instance, toys that stimulate visual interest, sensory experiences, patterns, visual tracking or toys with cause and effect features may benefit children on the autism spectrum. A family with a child with a visual impairment may want to look for toys that use touch, sound and texture. Toys that encourage body movement and use available motor skills can be useful for children with mobility impairment.

        Get to know well-trained staff. Staff is trained to recognize when a family may benefit from using some of our adaptive equipment, sensory items, visual communication systems or Photo Book. Staff may offer materials by asking the adult family member, "Do you think your child might be helped by using sensory items," or "Does your child use a visual system at school?" "We see the benefits from offering these opportunities," stated Sue Kessler, one of our Play Coordinators. A recent synopsis by Sue for our staff summarized a rewarding experience for both the staff member and the visitor:

        One of our Play Facilitators, Rachel, pulled out the sensory box for a young lady in a wheel chair in the Good Show Gallery. Rachel started to show her the items to see if one could help both the young lady and her two teachers. When Rachel clapped the sand blocks together, the girl in the wheelchair started to smile. The teachers were pleased and mentioned that a smile was rarely observed for this child. Later, Rachel, the two teachers and the girl in the wheelchair played together in our Make it Move neighborhood with similar results. The teachers mentioned that they were going to make sand blocks for the girl when they returned to school.

        Mark your calendars. Even though our summer hours have changed, our commitment to Third Thursdays stays the same. We will have weekday evening hours during summer only on June 18, July 16 and August 20. For further information about Third Thursday, please contact Cindy Miller, Community Access Coordinator (

        Thursday, June 4, 2009

        Making Connections to the Arts

        Did you know?
        The arts can make you smart! Recent research demonstrates a correlation between the arts and higher academic performance. In the report, “Learning, Arts and the Brain,” seven universities presented several studies discussing how visual arts, music, and dance training and skill impact learning (The DanaFoundation, 2008).

        The focus for the Family Resource Center (FRC) for June, July and August is Making Connections to the Arts. To find ways to nurture your child's connections to the arts, visit DCM and its FRC (Family Resource Center) on the 2nd Floor. Inside the FRC and throughout the Museum, we offer many parent books and resources related to Developmental Concepts, Play at the Museum, and Play at Home. View our summer calendar for information about free drop-in storytelling and music programs in the FRC.

        Explore Art in our Studio
        Studio Drop-Ins –Activities in the Art Studio are FREE to DCM members and with admission. No pre-registration is required. Activities are on-going during each drop-in session and will explore alternating math-, science- and art-related discovery projects that support a different learning theme each month. Some sessions provide the opportunity to take something home with you. All sessions allow you and your child the opportunity to explore and experiment with a variety of materials.

        Thematic approach for June – Fins, Furs and Feathers
        June 7 - 13 Got You Covered, Science Discovery - Make a collage with furry, feathery and textured fabrics to create an animal illustrations.

        June 14 - 20 DCM Zoo, Art Discovery - Sculpt 3-dimmensional animals and help the DCM zoo grow.

        June 21- 27 Fish Scales, Math Discovery - Improvise with oil pastels and watercolors to create patterns with die-cut rhombi. Take them home or add them to an enormous tessellated fish.

        Friday, May 29, 2009

        Puzzle Learning

        Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle? Puzzle play, at no matter what age, not only is entertaining, but can also provide a variety of learning opportunities.

        Puzzles exercise memory. Notice how a child delights in remembering how to put together a familiar puzzle. Children will often verbalize or talk about how pieces go together. The use of verbalization with themselves or a play partner is a way to aid with memory skills. Zbigniew and Matthew Michalewicz in their book, Puzzle -Based Learning: An introduction to critical thinking, mathematics and problem solving, categorize this type of learning as the "Eureka factor."

        Puzzles help develop fine muscle movements. The control of fine muscle movements develops slowly and is dependent upon a great deal of practice. Fine muscle skills aid in such activities as writing, self-dressing, using a keyboard, etc. Puzzle pieces should be large enough to accommodate small hands.

        Puzzles help eye-hand coordination. Children look for visual cues such as patterns and colors to help match pieces together. This strengthens the coordination of the eyes with the hands and thoughts with actions.

        Puzzles increase mathematical awareness and problem-solving skills. A puzzle can teach a child how parts fit together to form a whole. Problem-solving skills can be supported by using verbal directions such as, "All the red pieces go here" or "This piece is curved." The opportunity to practice a skill over and over again enhances problem-solving abilities. The problem solver may feel a sense of reward for solving the puzzle.

        Children enjoy puzzle exploration with or without the help of an adult or another child. Very young children will enjoy putting in pieces and taking them back out just as much as they will enjoy fitting them into the right spot. As they grow and learn to rotate pieces to match holes and find pieces that fit, they can handle increasingly complex puzzles. Because most young children are tactile learners, the physical puzzles are especially good so that children can reap the learning benefits by manipulating the pieces in their hands. For all of us grown-ups, puzzles are a great challenge-driven learning opportunity. Try this one; you may recognize your favorite children's museum once completed! (Hint: Be sure and give this puzzle a few minutes to load on your computer.)

        Friday, May 15, 2009

        The Art of Eric Carle

        A recent weeklong drop-in program in our studio, The Art of Eric Carle, gave our visitors the opportunity to explore the pictures in Eric Carle's books and posters. Children recognize his familiar stories and acclaimed works, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle's illustrations are distinctive and easily recognizable by his collage technique using cut-up painted papers.

        Children created their pictures by using bits of recycled artworks left at the Museum as collage materials. These paper scraps of cut-up paintings took on a look of their own when children began to create their own illustrations. The bit of paper becomes grass for the new picture or fur for the animal in the child's drawing.

        Marcia MacRae, the Museum's Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist, says this type of art process serves multiple educational benefits. "Children develop higher order thinking skills. They can imagine something else from the recycled bits of artworks. When you take a material out of its original context, it becomes abstract. Children then use higher order thinking skills to create something concrete from an abstract concept. Children learn that artists can create something from items other than crayons or paint," noted MacRae. "This technique also reinforces that materials can be recycled for other uses."

        Drop-in programs in our Art Studio are always free with admission to the Museum. The Studio is open every day from 10 am till 12pm and 1 - 3 pm (Thursday - Sunday). Please check the Museum's calendar for the monthly drop-in schedule in the Studio.