Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Counts?

Who’s counting? Is it the toddler who pulls a sock on each foot? The three year old who cries “Eight, seven, ten! Here I come!”? The preschooler who announces that there are eleven racing cars when there are really only ten? Or the kindergartner who carefully and correctly counts a long row of pennies?  The truth is, all three of them are counting. They’re just at different points along the way.

In fact, it’s now known that even fairly young babies are aware of numbers.  Some research has shown that babies can tell when the number of objects they’re looking at has been changed.  Toddlers, too, are beginning to figure out mathematical ideas. They might be too young to say counting words, but they clearly understand that valuable math concept called the one-to-one principle.  They realize that you can only put one shoe on each foot. And you might see them give a knowing grin when they wave a toy in each fist. Older toddlers often enjoy handing one cup to each person in pretend tea party.  In the preschool years, you’ll probably hear your child using number words.  But at this stage, as anyone who has ever played hide-and-seek with a young child knows, they often don’t have a clue as to the order to say them in. 

Herbert Ginsburg in his book Children’s Arithmetic writes that one of the problems in learning to count is that “...people are very fussy about how you say these words. You have to say “four, five, six”; you cannot say “four, six, five.”  Children become confused: what’s wrong with “four, six, five?” Aren’t they exactly the same words as “four, five, six?” Ginsburg compares it to learning a song with meaningless words. From a young child’s viewpoint, the whole thing is made more complicated by what happens as soon as they’ve figured out “four, five, six.” Along comes “seven, eight, nine.” Then “ten, eleven, twelve.”And on and on, all in a particular order.

Every young child starts out by counting in a mixed-up order.  Rather than worrying about such typical mistakes, expect them, and continue to have fun counting aloud together.  Your child will eventually pick up on the standard order just from counting along with you, over and over again. After a while, children begin to make the connection between the number words they’re saying and objects to be counted. Your child watches you count and realizes that often you touch things as you say the words. So she tries it, too. Sometimes she skips an object, though, and sometimes she touches it twice. All young children make these mistakes. Figuring out how to attach numbers to things takes lots of time.  Years, in fact. Counting ten red triangles is a lot more complicated than finding two mittens for your two hands.  But maybe that’s why children find it so interesting.
The best thing you can do is support that interest. Remember that children will keep on trying when they’re not worried about making mistakes. Give your child lots of informal and playful opportunities to count along with you. Count the stairs at the Museum as you go up or down. Count blocks while you build or balls as you roll them down ramps. Count the buttons on his sweater as you fasten them.

Who counts? Your children do--no matter what their ages are. So wherever your child is in the process of learning to count, enjoy it together.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Get Those Duck in a Row

Maybe your child’s got her stuffed animals all lined up from biggest to smallest. Or maybe he’s told you that his best friend can jump almost--but not quite--as high as he can, and that another friend can hardly get off the ground. If so, you’re an eyewitness to the emergence of an essential math skill, one that your child will have plenty of opportunities to explore at DCM: seriation.

Seriation means arranging items according to how much of a particular quality they have. We seriate by size, weight, volume and many other characteristics.

Why is it important for children to develop seriation skills? Seriation builds young children’s understanding of number concepts: Which item comes first? Which comes second? It helps children make sense of math by learning to think about information in a systematic way and to understand patterns.

It’s something adults do automatically, but young children have to figure out. It takes time. Children who have just grasped the whole idea of size, for example, will find the concept of degrees of size pretty complicated. If they see four red blocks of various sizes, they’ll be likely to pick out only the largest and the smallest at first. In fact, many very young children understand size seriation best in familiar terms—daddy, mommy, big kid, baby. Gradually, with time and experience, arranging objects in serial order becomes easier.

On a visit to the Museum, you might see your child investigating seriation as she fits one cup inside another while playing in WaterWays, listens to louder and softer sounds in the Room for Rhythm or compares his shadow to yours in the Shadow Playground.

At home, there are lots of everyday opportunities to explore seriation with your child. As you sort laundry, your child might decide how to arrange three socks from shortest to longest. Add more lengths as he becomes better at it. Then suggest arranging them from longest to shortest. If your child is having fun with the idea of seriation, you can also play with:
  • Height: Line family members up from tallest to shortest.
  • Color: Pick up sheets of paint chips at the hardware store. Cut them in strips and play a game of arranging them from darkest to lightest.
  • Thickness: For a snack, slice a banana in varying thicknesses.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More About Those Amazing Unit Blocks!

Blocks and Science
In a world of plastics and other synthetics, children rarely have the opportunity to understand where their toys originated. Unit blocks, however, are made of wood. And wood, of course, comes from trees. It’s the kind of simple scientific fact that can be as amazing to a young child as, say, realizing that carrots grow in the ground or that hens lay eggs.

Blocks also give children experience with scientific knowledge that’s more abstract. Remember from the last blog that “slanty-thing” the horses needed for walking in and out of the barn? It’s a simple ramp, of course. But the concepts discovered while playing with a ramp aren’t nearly so simple. Like all block play, they include complex ideas like gravity, force, balance, and energy. In a word: physics. Along with the unit blocks, DCM’s Ramps and Rollers Exhibit in the Make It Move Neighborhood allows further exploration of these concepts.

Blocks and Math
What’s a child to do when she runs out of the size block she needs to finish her horse’s stall or castle or house? She can’t call up the block store and order more. What she does do is reach for another size, quickly realizing that two half blocks are the same length as four quarter ones. Like any competent builder, she’s working with counting, addition, measurement and, of course, fractions.

The math learning doesn’t stop there, however. There are geometric shapes--squares, rectangles, triangles, half-circles, and even cylinders in a complete set of unit blocks. They give children a chance to experiment with part-whole relationships, and other important math concepts such as patterning, ordering, and classifying.

The next time you’re visiting the DuPage Children’s Museum, take a closer look at the wooden blocks in Make It Move and the Block Area. You’re looking at a set of learning tools. Simple, plain, and solid. But definitely powerful. And fun.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Plain Blocks = Deluxe Learning

A toy not decorated with TV characters or bright colors? No blinking lights? No microchip? Nothing that wiggles or twinkles or giggles? Why would kids want to play with something like that? And yet, they do. They play with blocks. Plain, wooden ones. Many early childhood educators say wooden unit blocks are the one piece of play equipment they wouldn’t do without (e.g.

For many children, exploring the Block Area on the second floor is one of the highlights of visiting the Museum -- complete sets are usually too expensive and large for home use. A good set of blocks and another child or an adult to enjoy them with is an unbeatable combination. Here’s why: When kids are constructing something with blocks, they’re also constructing knowledge. The result? An increased understanding of language, science, math and much more.

Blocks and Language
Watch a small group of children building a barn for toy horses. As with most construction projects, problems arise:

“We don’t have enough of this size to finish the stall.”

“We need a place for our horses to get a drink. It’s called a trough. I saw a real one once.”
“Yeah, horses need stalls, and troughs, and a slanty-thing to walk on.”

Talking about their structures stretches children’s language abilities. New words, like “trough” and “stall” are tossed back and forth with ease. And because it’s necessary, they find words to describe problems. They listen to each other’s suggestions. Clearly, conversation thrives in the block corner.

But talking isn’t the only way that blocks encourage language development. The barn made of blocks represents a real barn. It’s a child’s way of translating an idea into something visible, a symbol of a barn. Playing with blocks can help children strengthen their ability to use other symbol systems, too -- such as written language. In fact, it’s not unusual for children to want written signs on their block buildings. Sometimes they invent their own, and other times they seek an adult’s help. “Horse Barn: Cows Keep Out!” was the warning these barn builders asked their teacher to print.

In addition to language skills, children who are building with blocks are also building a foundation for understanding science and math. More on this topic next week!

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A FREE talk for parents and educators this weekend!

A FREE Talk for Parents & Educators
What do you do with the MAD that you feel?
Helping children with their angry feelings

Anger is a natural and normal emotion. Learn how you can help the children that you care about understand their feelings and develop self-control that will help them for the rest of their lives.

Do you have a question for Hedda Sharapan? Please post your question here on the blog so that she can respond during the talk on Sunday. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gender and the Brain

On September 12th DuPage Children's Museum welcomed area educators for an evening of hors d’oeuvres, networking and sneak peeks at our 2011 Educator Open House. The main presentation was titled Reaching the Fullest Potential for Boys and Girls in Math & Literacy by Lise Eliot, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science.

Dr. Eliot explained to us that many of the claims in the media of hardwired brain-development differences between girls and boys are based on flawed studies or on exaggerated research findings. As she did her own extensive review research studies, she found that the similarities in development are much more striking than the differences. Although in some areas, like language development, there is a difference between boys and girls, it is a very slight difference. She added that in any case our brains change as we learn, so the experiences we provide and repeat for children can strengthen or diminish that early small difference.

The largest difference that psychologists have found between the sexes is in the area of toy preferences. What starts as a slight preference may lead parents and caregivers to reinforce it by limiting the child’s exposure – for example, buying only those toys for which the child has a strong interest. She encouraged us instead to expose our children to all types of experiences so that the minor differences that do exist between the sexes don’t become larger (learned) differences. For example, you may want to spend some more time talking to boys, as well as finding creative ways to engage in reading and writing to support their language skills. Playing piano, using tools and playing games like checkers can bolster girls’ spatial skills.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Eliot’s research, you can read her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps- and What We Can Do About It.

Thank you to all of the early childhood educators that came out to hear Dr. Eliot and spend an evening with friends in the Museum. We loved having you here!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Instructions not included

Have you ever noticed that many adults want to see the instructions to make something work? Kids are more likely to jump right in and see what happens. And that’s exactly what DuPage Children’s Museum is here for – to support children’s growing creativity skills and their confidence in trying things out. The next time you are at the Museum and not sure what you are “supposed to be doing” with the exhibit, just watch your child take the lead and follow along. We are confident you will both learn something along the way!

DCM is designed to help children play with a process to expand their understanding or express themselves -- with assistance from the exhibits, from you, and from our staff. We want them to feel confident enough with the exhibits to ask “What else can I do with this?”

For example, this wonderful work was produced by a 3rd grade girl working in the area of our loom exhibit. She created a large weaving made from the black and red strips used to weave on the large loom on the second floor of the museum, but it was on the floor! With no rules or specific instructions, she set her own creative goal and achieved it. What if there had been instructions? Would she have felt safe enough to use these materials in such a different way?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Homes for our feathered friends

It has been a wonderful summer filled with learning and fun in the DuPage Children’s Museum Preschool Summer Camp. “Let’s Build” was the theme of this, our last, week.

The children were surprised and delighted as they discovered many different types and sizes of houses reading Ann Morris’ and Ken Heyman’s book titled Houses and Homes. The book shows houses that are made out of mud and straw. The children thought about whether those houses would have electricity like our houses? The children also read Wow! City by Robert Newbecker and built their own city with construction paper houses on a city block. There were many opportunities for scientific, mathematical and social-emotional learning as they explored the similarities and differences in houses for people and animals in our world.

For our blog this week we are sharing photographs of the project our preschoolers worked on all week… wren houses. These houses were built little by little over the course of the week. They are absolutely beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Transformations and Extra Sparkle for DCM

DuPage Children's Museum will be closed from August 29 through September 11 for new exhibit installation and facility deep cleaning. Although we do clean and sanitize all the manipulatives in the Museum every night, during shutdown we take the cleaning to a whole new level. We pull just about everything off the floor, steam clean, power scrub, paint and repair the building and our exhibits. You’ll need to wear your sunglasses when we re-open…it will be so clean it will sparkle!

Remember that The Play’s the Thing- Act II is closing in Monday, August 22nd. Be sure to come into the Museum in the next two weeks to experience this popular exhibit before it is removed to make room for our NEW exhibit. Get back on track when the Museum re-opens on Monday, September 12, when Trains – Get on board! pulls into DuPage Children’s Museum.

So while you are thinking about what you will do while the Museum is closed for two weeks, take a few minutes to watch this wonderful video from Dr. Christine Carter, titled “Get Out and Play.” She talks about how play helps children in so many ways. Think about what you like to do or what you enjoyed doing as a child. Revisit those activities with your child and see what fun you can share together. Go ahead, get your play on!

Submitted by Carrie Abbott-Walk, Master Early Learning Educator and Marcia Z. MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist

Friday, August 5, 2011

Did I ever tell you the story about the…..

Stories. Children love to hear stories. We often think about the importance of reading storybooks with children, but oral story telling is another wonderful way to communicate and connect with each other. The next time you are faced with 15 minutes to wait in line with a child at the grocery, think of a fairytale, a folktale or a story from “real life” to share with them. Often times you can begin with, “Do you remember the time we...”

You don’t have to memorize a children’s book (although you may have many memorized!). A simple story of a funny thing that happened to you “in real life” could become a favorite story to your child. Take a moment to think about the great stories of your life and share them with a child today.

Storytelling provides school readiness skills by building a child’s emotional and social skills as well. “Oral storytelling is a great vehicle to enhance children’s academic learning. Storytelling promotes children’s language and literacy; in the social-emotional domain, storytelling promotes children’s self-identity, social-emotional reasoning, and problem solving.” (Young Children, NAEYC, September 2006)

Stories don’t always have to come from you. Your child probably has many stories just waiting to be told. Write down the stories that your child wants to tell. Save them and use them to start new stories over and over. Having this shared story will create a very special family narrative that may last for years and years.

Ideas to get you started:
Your first day of school
Fairytale with the child as the hero or villain
What it was like when you were a kid
A time when you did something embarrassing
A time when someone helped you
A favorite family vacation that you took as a child

You might want to check out this book too:
The Parent's Guide to Storytelling: How to Make Up New Stories and Retell Old Favorites by Margaret Read MacDonald

Monday, August 1, 2011

Active learning through play in summer preschool program

Highlights on active learning through play in the DCM summer preschool program this week: Our theme this week was Color, Light and Shadow.

What would you expect from some paint and curious mice? With this “feet-on” activity the children were able to be actively engaged with the concept of color as they listened to the story Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. The children walked along the paper with red, yellow or blue paint in order to see what colors THEY could make. What a wonderful way to experience the process of making new colors with your friends and your FEET!

Light and Shadow:
The power of connecting light and shadow to ME! To provide our campers with real opportunities to play with light and shadow, we used a projector to cast a shadow of each child on butcher paper. The children were then able to take their paper back to the table to draw all of their unique features and characteristics.

Many times during the course of our planned activities, the children will start on their own course, making sense of the topic in their own way. This picture shows the product of this child’s idea of making a shadow puppet to bring with her as her shadow was captured by her teacher. When we encourage children to pursue their ideas, we make the way for powerful learning!

Color and Shadow---TOGETHER!
What a simple way to give children choices in their investigations with color and light! Simply using paper cups with the ends replaced with colored cellophane gave these campers the power to change the color of the light coming out of their flashlights. This activity gave them another opportunity to discover the ways that light and color work.

Volunteers Support Emergent Literacy:
Some of the most powerful learning moments in our lives come from simple moments like the one captured here. The simple act of reading with a child is one of the most important things we can do as caregivers. This moment was provided by one of our valuable Museum volunteers. These volunteers make so many learning opportunities possible every day at the Museum. Thank you!!

Submitted by Carrie Abbott-Walk, Master Early Learning Educator and Sue Kessler, Play Coordinator

Friday, July 22, 2011

Imagination and Make Believe Week

How did the Preschool Summer Camp find room for a movie theater, a pet store and a car wash that young motorists could drive through? No, the studio did not get larger to accommodate all of these features, but imaginations did grow each day. During this special week, counselors brought in the most powerful tools of imaginary play – cardboard boxes.


Stacking them up just right created a counter area. On Monday, a sign designated it as a movie theater and the children determined what was needed to finish the scene. Looking carefully at their freshly made tickets, they anxiously took on the role of ushers. Counselors heard, “You have a two on your ticket; this is your seat.” Foam peanuts became popcorn and sitting down to watch footage of the previous week’s camp got thumbs up from the critical crew.

A few days later children arrived to a new sign on the structure. It was now a pet store! Smaller boxes with strings over an open end made convincible cages. Staff provided stuffed animals rather than asking children to bring in their own toys. This helped the children focus the pretend play on buying, selling and animal care rather than playing with their own personal toys.

Using the sides of large boxes, staff cut out car silhouettes. The children carrying these around had no problem imagining that they were driving complete cars! Attaching long strips of shiny Mylar to the box structure changed it from a pet store to a car wash. As campers “drove” through the silvery strips, they connected with the drive-thru car washes they experience with the family. It was so much fun to get “dried off” after emerging from the imaginary wash that they drove through again and again.

Thinking of how bored her child would be without camp over the July 4th break, one parent was inspired to see how the boxes changed throughout the week. She declared, “Why, I could do that!” Imaginary play connects with all ages.

Submitted by Marcia Z. MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist and Sue Kessler, Play Coordinator

Friday, July 15, 2011

Science and Art: A Firecracker of a Combination

Paint exploded, balloons burst and learning took place last Thursday as children ages 7-9 practiced the scientific method while experimenting with velocity and trajectory in the Fireworks class. Three hundred (300!) water balloons filled with water or paint were thrown using comparative techniques, including overhand, underhand or with a slingshot. Children observed which technique made the biggest splat! When all the balloons had finally burst, we asked the group, “Why do you think the balloon from the slingshot did not make a bigger splat?” Answers varied between one boy’s, “Because it was cheap from the dollar store,” and a girl’s thought, “We could not pull it back as far as we could pull our arm back, so it did not get as much force.” Other children hypothesized about throwing techniques and examined ideas about force, angle, energy, trajectory and motion.

Science experimentation continued inside the Museum, adding art into the mix. One of the favorite activities combined paint with centrifugal force to fashion a Jackson Pollock-like creation. Children used the force of their hands to spin a brush that caused paint to spin “firework” images across a page. They also experimented with light and color using fluorescent oil pastels. After drawing a picture of fireworks in the classroom light, the children took their work into the Museum to watch it glow under a UV light. Once they observed which colors glowed the brightest, they raced back into the Studio to craft more pictures of fireworks.

Playing with the beauty of fireworks was a perfect merge of science and art. This group of older children really dug deep into the scientific method while still having a blast!

Submitted by Amelia Blake, Programs Intern and Marcia MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Art of Summer Camp

Preschool Summer Camp started with Art Explorers week but the development sparked in the studio went far beyond art processes. Certainly children practiced skills, but DCM counselors kept fun and creativity at the heart of these serious explorations.

Big discoveries happen when children apply dozens of types of paint in hundreds of ways to myriad surfaces. Each process provides new understanding of how materials behave. Blending explorations about color theory with artistic genres, the campers took magnified looks at Pointillism through the works of Seurat and Signac. Using oil pastels and dot bottles filled with watercolors, they could examine spot filled works from near and far. Bundling together primary colored markers, children could see from a distance that yellow and blue dots visually mixed to appear as green. Light boxes drove home the impact of light on color and added new dimensions to art making. Highlighting literacy, numerous books on the creative process were introduced at group time and kept in the room for independent looking. Children hypothesized about new colors while mixing paint and listening to Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Other books included:

Art by Patrick McDonnell
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle
A Day with No Crayons by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Chad Cameron

The dynamics of Museum playtime switched from routines established with family members to the fun of playing with 20 peers. While counselors are not the same as parents or other caregivers, they are still strong and caring adults. Additionally, their experience with Museum exhibits allowed them to open the children’s eyes to new ways of playing.

Take a look at the video of Art Explorers week. Upcoming blogs will highlight Camps on Pretend Play, Water and Bubbles, Color, Light and Shadow and much, much more. It’s a busy and creative summer at DCM.

Submitted by Marcia Z. MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist and Sue Kessler, Play Coordinator and Lead Counselor

Friday, July 1, 2011

Safely Explore the Dazzling World of Fireworks!

Exciting new ways of exploring science and art are exploding onto the scene this July. Fireworks provide fantastic connections to these important areas of development. The Museum is offering a Creativity Class for 7-9 year-olds that will investigate velocity, gravity, symmetry, centrifugal force, light and more; and the beginning of July is the perfect time to do it. Concentrating on the visual aspects of fireworks, rather than the truly explosive, images seen at July fourth celebrations will be fresh in all of the children’s minds.

Fireworks are great introductions to the principles of light and color. Students will design their own fireworks scenes on black paper using fluorescent oil pastels that appear to glow out of a night sky under UV light. Employing the scientific method (identify the question, make an observation and formulate a hypothesis, test, analyze and make a conclusion), children will experiment with forces to discover what provides the largest circular splat of colors – a water balloon hurled by hand, dropped off a balcony or launched with a slingshot. Watercolors dripped in front of a fan will spatter on paper, suggesting how wind would affect the outcome of the children’s art. Paint whirling through salad spinners brings centrifugal force into the art process.

These are just a few of the spectacular experiments planned for this group of 7-9 year old children. Check back in two weeks to see how creativity exploded in this scientific exploration of fireworks!!

Submitted by Amelia Blake, Programs Intern and Marcia MacRae, Interdisciplinary Arts Specialist

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You’ve got to rip a lot of paper to paint a masterpiece

QUESTION: Do you know what happens when a painter gets their paper really, really wet with paint?
ANSWER: It rips.

I did not learn that fact in graduate school, preparing to work with children. I learned it many years ago as a frustrated young artist with a ripped painting. We frequently hear warnings about this in the Museum art studio but, as with most things, humans learn best through their own trial and error.

Paper often gets too wet, red pastels are drawn on red paper and too many colors get mixed together resulting in multiple bowls of brown paint. While children may give an accurate answer to the eternal question of, “What do you get when you mix yellow and blue?” they don’t really learn what will happen until they sit down with the actual paints.

While experimentation may not result in masterpieces, real discovery about colors, materials and art processes happen everyday. The experience of ripping a painting by using too much paint results in learning to use less paint, and, ultimately, the ability to turn that experimentation into a real work of art.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fun and Learning for Children with Special Needs, part 2

Universal Design refers to producing buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to everyone - those with and without disabilities. This concept was key to planning the layout of the Museum and is at the forefront when considering updates to exhibit areas and the exhibits themselves. For example, the Bubble Booth has been a favorite feature for children and adults alike for many years, giving visitors the opportunity to encase themselves in a giant bubble.  Thanks to a generous gift from Walgreens, the exhibit was completely re-engineered a couple of years ago, making it wheelchair accessible.  It’s equipped with ramps to get on and off an ample-sized platform (room for a wheelchair user and assistant if needed) as well as a “pass through” design allowing an easier and safer exit.

DCM also makes available adaptive tools so that children with and without disabilities can work side-by-side on the same projects and challenges.  Several adaptive tools are available in the Studio and also for certain exhibits.  One visitor expressed her pleasure: “I was thrilled to find the adaptive equipment [for the Room Of Rhythm].  My daughter has the use of only one hand and she loved being able to use the velcro percussion cuff to make music with both hands.”

One of the pieces of equipment available in the Studio is a Light Box and it made all the difference for one young man using it during his art process.  Marcia MacRae, DCM’s Interdisciplinary Art Specialist, recalls, “He came into the Studio and started to leave right away as if he thought there was nothing for him to do there.  I noticed he appeared to have low vision so I invited him to join in and offered the use of the Light Box with his project. That made all the difference!  Using the Light Box, he stayed quite awhile, engrossed in his work, exploring, creating and beaming.”  Marcia also commented that part of the idea of Universal Design is having the Light Box and other adaptive equipment available all the time.

View the complete list of adaptive equipment and materials we have to offer.  In addition, when you’re looking for gift ideas for a child with special needs, our Explorer Store offers many great choices!  Stop by and browse the large selection or if you need a little help narrowing it down, request our list of toy/gift suggestions for children with special needs.

For more information about this topic, contact Cindy Miller, Community Access Coordinator, or 630-637-8000 x4800.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fun and Learning for Children With Special Needs

DCM’s open-ended exhibits offer meaningful activities for people of all abilities, including a wide variety of sensory and therapeutic opportunities. In addition, we offer a range of adaptive equipment and materials for our visitors with special needs to help enhance their Museum experience. For example, a child experiencing challenges with verbal communication or processing, may benefit from our visual communication systems such as the Photo Book and Picture Sequences for Studio activities. One of our frequent visitors, Sara, has incorporated the Photo Book into her “Museum routine.” Her mother states that Sara finds comfort in simply checking out the Photo Book and using the photos even though she “no longer actually needs it” to communicate her wants. What a success!

For visitors accompanying a child with therapy needs, we offer our Therapeutic Play Guide. A collaborative effort, the guide was developed by a variety of therapists, and it provides recommendations for using many of our exhibits for therapeutic benefit. DCM’s exhibits include sensory and motor experiences, allowing children to explore, discover and experiment with color, light, texture, sound and movement. Additionally, exhibits offer ways to work on language development, social skills, purposeful play and more. Sheri, a physical therapist, shared that she frequently brings her clients to DCM for therapy sessions. “It’s very effective in getting kids to cooperate with therapy because it’s such a fun and stimulating environment. One of ‘my kids’ took her first steps [walked] at the Museum!”

Speaking of therapy, we also offer the unique experience of pet therapy. One of the most popular faces at DCM is Alex, a 2 ½ year old Sheltie who specializes in simply sitting still, being cute and pettable. Alex and his owner, Janet Hoff, volunteer at Third Thursday, 5 – 7pm, as well as the second and fourth Fridays of the month, 11am – noon, in our Family Resource Center.

Stay tuned for a post on adaptive equipment and the physical layout of the exhibits and Museum environment.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Our “10-Year Staff Celebration” Continues

We’re continuing some reminiscences of our last 10 years in Naperville. Here are the memories of four more staff who have worked for DCM for more than 10 years! 

Paul Gooding, Museum Floor Manager, 5/7/2001
Paul began as a Play Facilitator, was promoted to Assistant Museum Floor Manager, and then in 2005 to Museum Floor Manager.
Last winter, I was near Visitor Services when a father was signing up for a membership.  His son, about 2 years old, was hanging around, a little bored, because his father was asking questions about the Museum, the exhibits, classes, membership, etc.  I sat next to the boy who was sitting on the red bench very patiently and started talking with him about the Museum, asking if he’d been here before, and such.  He was kind of shy and wasn’t talking much yet, so I started explaining about Bubbles, the Shadow Playground, and other exhibits I thought he would like while his dad was finishing up at the VS desk.  When he finished, he told his son that it was time to go into the Museum.  Figuring my job of entertaining was done, I told them to have fun in the museum. Then the boy just took my hand and started leading me toward Creativity Connections!  I guess he wanted me to come with him and his dad!  We walked over to Creativity Connections and started hanging “fish” on the Calder Fish, and then moved on to two or three other exhibits. His dad seemed to really enjoy watching us interact too, and he was able to ask me questions about the exhibits, the Museum itself; I got the feeling he was also watching my interaction with his son so he would get an idea of how to participate himself.  Then they were ready to go and see more of the Museum so I asked the boy if he thought he could get his dad to play too, figuring this was a good transition for it. As I was putting my hand out to give a high five, the boy grabbed me and gave me a huge hug!  The dad thought this was great, and said I must have really made an impression on him.  It was a great moment that I was able to be such an important part in a dad and son’s first outing to DCM. On their way out, I happened to be at the desk again and I got another big hug before he left. It’s these kinds of personal interactions that are the most rewarding thing about working at DCM.

Shane Castilo, Play Facilitator, 11/23/1999
Shane began working on the Floor in Wheaton. He is currently a Play Facilitator and helps coordinate Museum Rentals.
One of my fondest memories from the Museum is with a boy named Mason.  The first time we ever met he walked right up to me and said, “Come on.  Let’s play.”  He had one of the most vivid imaginations I had ever seen.  We played together for a long time, and I wondered if I’d ever see him again. Weeks went by and finally one day I saw Mason come in with his mom.   We picked up right where we left off. Sometimes I might not see him for week or even months at a time, but every time he sees me he runs up, gives me a big hug, and says, “Come on.  Let’s play.”

Sue Rainey, Education Bookings Coordinator, 5/10/2001
Sue began working as a Play Facilitator and currently works with School Programs.
I have worked in many areas of the Museum from Play Facilitator in the exhibits to Program Facilitator in the Studio. Now I’m in School Programs as the Educational Bookings Coordinator. Having had jobs “all over the Museum”, I have realized that every individual -  the volunteer greeters at the door, the Play Facilitators, the Lab Rats, the Exhibits and Programs team and various others make contributions that count toward the overall success of the Museum. The community, members and visitors are also part of the DCM family. The result is a great place for children to grow and play.

Sherry Johnson, Visitor Services Specialist, 9/25/2000
Sherry began working in Wheaton on the Floor. When the Museum moved to Naperville, Sherry worked as a Play Facilitator and a Visitor Services Specialist. She currently helps keep the Visitor Service experience running smoothly.
I worked the final day at the Museum in Wheaton before we moved to Naperville. Late in the afternoon I check-in the last member family. The kids were very sad to learn that the Museum was closing.  Their mom and I explained to them that the Museum would be re-opening in a few weeks but in a different location. I immediately got the third degree from the kids.  Will there still be the Construction House? What about the Water Table?  Is the Boat going to be there?  Yes to all the above.  They were satisfied and went on to play and enjoy their final visit at the Wheaton location. As they waved good-bye, they said “see ya’ soon”!! By the second week of re-opening, there they were, bubbling over with excitement, ready to explore the new exhibits and revisit beloved old ones. Just think -- those kids are starting college this year. Time flies when you’re having fun!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Museum celebrating 10 years in Naperville

On May 19th, DuPage Children’s Museum celebrated 10 years in Naperville.  As we reflect back on 10 busy years in our current facility, we are delighted to note how many staff are celebrating 10+ years working for DCM.  Memories build up pretty quickly with 300,000 visitors a year over a whole decade, but we asked our long time staff to share in a few words some of their thoughts and favorites.

Kathy Connor, Visitor Services Cashier, 5/15/2001
The Best experience for me at DCM is seeing the faces of the children light up when they come in to play. It’s a great feeling seeing them enjoy themselves while learning new things as they explore the Museum. 

Diane Linden, Visitor Services Cashier, 5/8/2001
My most memorable experience with visitors would have to be two grandparents that used to bring their grandchildren to visit on a weekly basis. I even remember their member number!  Once their grandchildren moved to Ohio with the parents, the couple still came in on occasion to volunteer. They were the sweetest, nicest people and were like family.

George Peklo, Play Facilitator, 5/24/1999
My best experience in the last 10 years at DCM would have to be right now, because visitors are remembering me by name now and the children look for me in the different exhibits and it’s a great feeling!

Friday, May 20, 2011

From Prototype to Reality!

In a third post about our Museum's prototyping process, Peter Crabbe, Associate Director of Exhibits and Design, shares how we use observation during prototyping experiences at DCM.

We’ve been prototyping a new large-scale Roller Coaster with tubes and tunnels that children can create and modify in the Museum’s Make It Move Neighborhood. In the last post on “Using Observations to Modify Exhibits,” I wrote about the overall process and what we hoped to find out. Well, we’ve completed our observations. So what did we find out from observing our prototypes?

First, it was obvious from eleven observations, each lasting one half hour, that older children were engaged and challenged by the free-form, tube-building opportunities the prototypes afforded. They stayed with it and tried different configurations. Success! On the other hand, it was just as obvious that the large clear flexible tubes were a little too large for some of the younger ones to manipulate, join, and position. We also observed many younger children still using the simple fixed-wall ramps that have been a staple in the Make It Move Neighborhood since it was first installed in 2001. Based on these observations, the new Roller Coaster area will include some simpler, separate activities for younger children, for example rolling balls down a fixed-ramp configuration to experience how they build speed and momentum. Some of our observations also showed us that our youngest visitors enjoy just holding a single flexible tube in their hands, then dropping a ball down the tube while they peer down inside to track where it goes. So, of course, we’ve made sure that there are small lengths of tube to do just that!

Observations also showed us that visitors sometimes did not intuitively know what to do. Making sure of that “intuitive” feeling is very important in our open-ended environment, and the Museum doesn’t rely much on signage. So exhibit staff added a fixed-ramp element to one of the new components as a more overt inspiration for further engagement. They made this element a different color so it would stand out and be noticed.
Not surprisingly, we read many comments in the field notes that indicated the importance of how the exhibit looks for it to be successful. For example, the unpainted prototypes with hoses hanging from them tended to make people think they were giant vacuum cleaners! The final exhibit components will be finished instead with bright colors. And while we started with cylindrical towers to build on, we’ll be adding some different-shaped towers for more variety – open, angular forms that you can walk between. We even switched to brighter colored balls based on our observations because the wooden balls we used at first were still a bit too hard to see through the transparent flexible tubing.
And the observations are not over even now. When the new components open to the public in June, we’ll do observations again to see if our prototype adjustments worked. So exhibits are never really “done.” Stay tuned…

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sensory Play

Our senses provide us with important information about ourselves and our world. Infants’ or toddlers’ primary source of taking in information is through their senses. A tactile toy offered in our Creativity Connections Young Explorers (CCYE) area invites children to touch, manipulate and explore different textured materials mounted on pieces of curved wood. The pieces were specifically designed for small hands to pick up and manipulate.

The picture on the left shows the new version with its marvelously different textures mounted on the wall. Underneath is a smaller version that has been part CCYE area for a while. The larger choice offers a toddler's developing coordination greater opportunities to explore his senses using a full body experience. Mark Wickart, our Exhibit Fabrication Manager, along with Dave Dumford, DCM volunteer, collected the varying textures from unrelated items around the shop. Dowel rods glued into place create quite a bumpy and, at the same time, a smooth texture to explore. Mark and Dave also found plastic rope, carpet pieces, sand paper and rubber stair tread. Mark, a sculptor and wood craftsman in his spare time, took a piece of kitchen counter-top and carved it into a series of hills and valleys for one of the sensory pieces. He also carved an intricate design out of some scrap wood. All of these unique pieces allow children to explore a variety of textures and expand their vocabulary as they talk about or are asked to describe what they feel.

Next time you're in the Museum come and explore our new Sensory Table in Creativity Connections Young Explorers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Strength and Endurance Play for Toddlers

Have you ever watched a toddler unexpectedly lift something heavier than anything they had experienced before?  Part of a toddler's developing physical awareness and motor development is carrying objects. Most toddlers will experiment with how to hold things in different ways and eventually carry them around.

We recently designed and created a heavier version of a classic push-pull toy for toddlers. This popular toy in our Young Explorer area had to be replaced often due to the amount of usage it was receiving. Although it was intended as a pushing or pulling toy, our young visitors liked picking it up, and when they inadvertently set it down, it would crack. Mark Wickart, our Exhibit Fabrication Manager, was given the challenge to build one that would last longer than the lighter-weight version. He crafted the main body out of Baltic birch plywood and the trim from scrap pieces of butternut, oak, walnut, pine and maple woods.

Yes, children can push and pull the new version! They still attempt to pick it up and they sometimes succeed. Even at such a young age, children show determination to carry it and pride when the task is accomplished, even if only for a few seconds. Physical activity is critical for healthy brain development and cognitive functioning in children.

Pushing, pulling and carrying objects also strengthen a child's muscles and joints. The fact that toddlers will inherently challenge themselves for greater strength opportunities in play tells us the importance of physical movement. Our role is to provide the right materials for them to challenge themselves!