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!