From Amateur to Expert

Amateur to ExpertWe are used to the idea that kids need time to go from amateur to expert. We don’t expect them to roll over…then get up and run around the room. We even have a buzzy education word to describe helping kids move from stage to stage “scaffolding.” Just like in construction, we build a scaffold of skills and information so they can move from developmental step to another.

This concept is important in areas beyond the development of physical or mental skills. Kids also need to be able to build up the skills they need to handle different situations and expectations. If you are hoping to take your kids to a museum on a regular basis, you need to help build that foundation so they can become experts in what they are supposed to do.

It might start as simply as going for walks in the area near the museum. Especially if you have a class of kids you are bringing they need to get used to navigating as a group, what the walk is like (Traffic? Distractions? Busy sidewalks?). Getting out into the community and back with limited tears and tantrums is a perfect step one.

After that, you can move up to using outdoor areas around the museum. If the weather (and landscape) cooperates you can share a story, have a snack, do an activity near the museum. There may still be different rules and expectations, especially if there is outdoor art, but it will still be a familiar arena.

Once you all have a handle on that (and I do mean all, the adults have to be ready as well!) go ahead and venture inside. Maybe you start by just doing a little walk through and leaving again. You can move up to visiting a specific object, then sharing a story or doing an activity. The visits and walks can get longer until you find that you are all feeling like experts.

Don’t worry if you have to stay at a particular “step” for a long time….or if your particular group never gets all the way to the “top.” All that matters is the experience they are getting and the comfort they are building with new and different environments. There is no right or wrong, just the one that works for you.

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Little Golden Books: How to use them?

Golden Books 002I recently wrote about the treasure trove of Little Golden Books that we were given by my Godfather. As part of my “museum origin story” the focus was on how their history and connection to the past was so exciting.

Now that I’ve spent more time with the books, there are even more interesting questions coming up. The first is about how you should use (or not) a historical object like this. These were given to my son for him to read. They were not intended to be handled with white gloves…but is that right? Some of these are WWII era with all the pieces intact. Although my son is extraordinarily careful with his books, he is still two and things will happen. So, should they be used? Or protected? If used how do you convey that they are something special to a toddler? If they should be protected, what does that look like for the average civilian (with no museum attached to their house).

I’m sure questions like this come up all the time, but people may not frame it in terms of “museum vs. use.” That special piece of jewelry, the antique china, the toy from your childhood. When do you hang on to it and when do you let it be used for its purpose? How do you preserve the stories even if it is being used?

As I paged through the books I also realized that some of them present a very real problem of cultural representation. While I can appreciate the place they play in history, where does that leave me when I read them aloud? I can screen out the ones that we are just not ready for or should only be used as historical context, but there are some that are borderline. The role of women in the stories, the way African-Americans are portrayed in illustrations (or left out completely)…this comes up even in the most bland stories like “The Taxi that Hurried

What is my role as a Mom? I can make sure that his bookshelf is more balanced and that these books only play a part, but it doesn’t feel right to let it pass completely without comment. After all, when the little boy is bouncing all over the seat because he isn’t buckled in…I mention that! This is a conversation that will grow and change as he gets older, but it is especially difficult at this age. It goes back to feeling like I don’t have the right words or explanations that are age appropriate.

This is not a post with any answers, just more questions. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Slowly but surely I’ve been taking on Twitter. I’m following folks, I’m making lists…and now I’m even helping launch a weekly chat.

#MuseumEdChat (Thursdays, 8:00pm EST) is for anyone in the museum world, and especially those that think about education and the visitor experience. Each week has a different theme and the moderator poses questions with professionals from all over adding their opinions. We’ve chatted about the definition of “families,” social media and the museum and how to keep the conference “fire” going after you return.

To follow along just search for “#MuseumEdChat”and don’t hesitate to jump in with your thoughts! Tonight’s chat is all about internships. The #MuseumWorkersSpeak conversation (that I first heard about at the American Alliance of Museums conference) has been talking a lot about the role internships play in museums and, perhaps, what role they SHOULD play. So, we are going to delve into all of that, plus some “tips” for interns AND supervisors.  Should be a great conversation, hope you can join us!

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“Starting Small”- Article in “Museum” magazine

I’m very excited to share that I have an article in the May/June 2015 issue of “Museum” magazine (published by the American Alliance of Museums)!

The article is called “Starting Small: How Museums Can Engage with Their Youngest Visitors.”In it, I try to be as straightforward as possible with the things that I have found (and that other caregivers have told me) are the “make or break” factors for successful museum visits with young children. We talk candidly about breastfeeding in there, and the importance of your front line staff.  Check it out!

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Museum Education: An Origin Story

Golden Books 002“How did you get into museum education?” It is probably the 1st question I get asked when I start explaining my work. I’m sure I’m not alone and many of my Museum Ed colleagues talk about inspiring teachers, memorable internships or a “need a job” that turned into “found a career.”

My narrative spins from a love of history to not feeling like classroom teaching was the right fit and ends with a flyer I saw posted on during a college visit for a “Museum Education Minor.” At least, that is how my museum education EDUCATION narrative goes.

Really though, my “origin story” goes back to stuff. Old stuff, historical stuff, stuff that connects you to the past.  That was brought into sharp relief as I opened the two boxes my Godfather had sent down for my son. Inside were rows of Golden Books, inscribed with his name and dates from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. I got so excited getting to touch those books that…well…I sat down and wrote about it!

This is the history I am drawn to, the one represented through objects. Where better to immerse yourself in that then museums? I know I’m not alone. So many visitors to museums go there for the stuff.  Some because it reminds them of their own experiences, some because it is the clearest way for them to connect with something they don’t understand and others because just being close enough to (theoretically) touch the objects is a thrill.

I get that! I am like that too…and I think it makes me a better museum educator. I can use that spark when I am writing and teaching programs and help guide reluctant museum goers towards a personal experience with objects.

I think knowing WHY you “got into” museum work is key to helping you create stronger experiences for others. Whether it is because you can share their thrill and build off of it, or be on the lookout for your own bias and preference. Continue to explore new ways to connect with visitors, incorporate the new media and teaching methods and keep up on the latest research…but also trust that what makes it exciting for you is probably whey some of the visitors are there in the first place.

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Outdoor and Environmental Education: A Toddler’s Guide

Outdoor and Environmental Education sounds so formal…but it doesn’t have to look or feel that way. Over and over I’ve talked about embracing “science moments” as a way to make the science come alive for young children, without being overwhelming and intimidating for you. Kids and nature go naturally together, all you have to do is introduce them to the language and help them discover how they problem solve.

Most of the people I talk to who say they “can’t do” science really are saying they feel like they don’t have the vocabulary or the ideas (or energy) for complicated experiments. Luckily, that doesn’t matter and the real foundations for your toddler are when you take the time to explain to them what is happening and what they are seeing.

For example, my son picked up an acorn the other day and asked “What’s this Mama?” Instead of just saying “an acorn” I told him it was an acorn, which was a type of seed and then point out the oak tree to talk about what that seed could grow into. Only a few extra steps but now he knows that much more about it. LucyAceMaggie 003

If you don’t know the answer to something, tell them that! Maybe you can collect the item and look it up when you get home (we watch a lot of YouTube videos on everything from nebula to anthills). Or, you can just speculate together about what it might be and look for clues that give you an answer. Not knowing is OK since the process of discovery and problem solving is an important science skill!

Need a few more examples to get you started? May I present a picture gallery of outdoor/environment education…the toddler’s version.

Easter2015 053A place to dig doesn’t have to be fancy, and a garden doesn’t have to be big. Our small backyard gives us enough room to plant a few vegetable seeds to see how things grow. Containers also work great, as does a seed in a sandwich bag taped to the window. You can work with whatever space you have. (This year we left half the garden open for “digging” so that the plants stand a chance!)

Water…dirt…sticks…what else do you need? I think the trick to exploring the outdoors is being OK with a mess. When they are “messing around” in the dirt or building piles of leaves and sticks, remember, what it really shows you is the problem solving they are doing.  What happens when things combine? How do I move things where I want them to go? What if I do this?

ErdmansNats 005STEMECE 002

Of course, one of the biggest benefits of being outside is the chance to learn about nature and how to take care of it and respect it. Whether you have exotic wildlife visiting your backyard, or just the chance to observe some bushes as they start to grow leaves, you can have conversations about the world around you. We watch the bees (and talk about how to be safe around them), rescue worms from the sidewalk and put them in the garden, track the growth of our plants…all from the steps of our house.

LucyAceMaggie 010 STEMECE 005 STEMECE 003

I promise, I am just as busy and tired as you. I’m not trying to set you up for more work. It might take a little practice until it feels natural, but you can slip these moments into your everyday life. So, forget Pinterest and the carefully curated nature experiments. Don’t worry about whether you have “enough” or the “right” kind of nature nearby. Let go of any doubts you have about whether you can “do” science.  Just tell yourself that for today you are letting them take another step towards learning how to observe, discover and problem solve. Then, open the door!

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Invitations to Play

InvitationtoPlay (5)InvitationtoPlay (4) InvitationtoPlay (3) InvitationtoPlay (2) InvitationtoPlay (1) “Invitations to Play” is a buzzword I didn’t even know existed until I joined Pinterest. Now, I scroll through hundreds of blogs all linked to this idea.  Basically, an “invitation to play” is a set of materials that you set out to encourage your child to play. It is usually very open-ended, but can lead towards encourage science or literacy exploration or any sort of interest or skill that your child has (this blog had a nice little explanation).

Here is my secret, I am really bad at creating these.  Or, so I think when I compare myself to the stylish tables of natural materials that flash across my computer screen.  These are amazing, I’m sure the kids have a blast and they certainly support open-ended, investigative play. However, they are not the ONLY types of “invitations to play” that you can do. As I looked back through pictures I realized that some of the things we do naturally can help support the spirit of this idea.

Oh! A quick note. I have a basic rule, which I noted in my process centered art post, about play…the set up should not take longer then the play. So, if I am going to put together an “invitation to play” I want the actual play to be longer lasting and more complex then putting it together!

Now!  Here are a few of our “invitations to play”

* Rotating Toys: This seems simple, but it is a big one! Bring out toys they haven’t seen for a while, put away ones that have been on the shelf but not used too much. Just switching up what is around will re-energize their imaginations! Intelligent Nest has a lot of great ideas for toy rotation and display that can get you started.

* Uncommon Pairings: One of my FAVORITE ways to create new play ideas is to group together toys that don’t normally belong. One of the easiest places to do this is with blocks. Put some doll furniture in a bin nearby, add a bunch of cars and trucks, leave books or pictures to the area, even put in some play food! Anything you add can be incorporated into their play and will change things up. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to blocks if you need more ideas!

* Change the location: Sometimes just changing where your child plays with something makes it so much more interesting! When we put a basket of blocks up in my son’s room he suddenly was spending an hour building…when before he had barely noticed it. Building a blanket fort and bringing cars inside makes it seem brand new. If you and your child “always” play in one room, try carrying materials somewhere else!

* Sensory Trays: If you have access to snow, sand or water….bring a tray of it inside! Just like with the blocks you can add art materials, cars and trucks or figurines and the play will take on a whole new dimension. Yes the clean-up can be a bit of a pain, but when my son played with a tray of snow for 45min…on his own….I considered it to be well worth it!

* Painters Tape: I go through rolls and rolls of painters tape. Not only does it lets me put up artwork without fear for my walls, there are so many other things you can do with it! Use it to create roads on rugs, couches and even walls! Tape out letters, numbers or shapes and make an indoor hopscotch/obstacle course. Mark out the boundaries for games or other gross motor “challenges”

* Crepe Paper: Trapped inside on a cold day we hung streamers all over our hallway. My son played cars and read books in it and used it like an obstacle course to try to get through without knocking them down. A friend who came over was enamored by the “Jungle” we had created and set up her own imaginative play.

* Felt: Felt sticks to felt, so you can create new play opportunities with felt shapes! When my son was little I cut out the trains from Donald Crewes “Freight Train” for him to use. Just recently he has been obsessed with letters so we got an inexpensive set of felt letters so we can sound out words. You can use it to tell stories, illustrate play or even make felt food of all descriptions! You can buy almost anything or get your own colors at a craft store. They also make felt boards that stand up on their own or, once again, you can create your own!

* Art Materials: Art can be the ultimate invitation to play. Just put out the materials but with no expectations of what they will do. To switch it up I like to change where we do our art. Sometimes I put the paint at the big counter and he gets to stand on a chair. Other times I hang paper on the wall and he can color like he is at an easel. You can also let them paint on snow, mix colored water and drag toys through paint! Just be putting together new combinations of art materials it can open up all kinds of new ideas.

* Playdough: Along with blocks, I am a HUGE fan of playdough. Not only is it a really great activity to develop hand/arm muscles (which they need for writing!) but it just stretches the imagination. Like blocks, adding things to the playdough experience can expand the play. Tools from a play kitchen, vehicles and figurines or pieces of paper with letters/numbers/shapes drawn on them that they can “trace” with their playdough. If you need a recipe I have been so happy with this one, she uses different scents in it but I tend to leave my plain.  It works either way! The playdough has a great texture and lasts really well.

So there you go!  Nine ideas for creating “invitations to play” that won’t keep you up until midnight trying to pull them together.  Can you help me think of number ten?

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