I always have a little trouble explaining what Cabinet of Curiosities is all about. If someone catches me off guard I usually say “Well, I really feel strongly that young children belong in museums. So, I do programs for kids like you would find in a museum…I just bring them to wherever the kids are!” All true statements, but what does it mean?
Museums, whether they are are, history or science, center around the objects. These tangible items bring to life the story that the museum is telling. To me, this is why they are perfect for young children who are such concrete thinkers. When I am not at a museum, then it is up to me to supply the objects and give the kids the context for the story like they would find at the museum. Wait, did that make it any clearer?
I think that you need a few examples! Here are some “toddler approved” activities that I have done either with me son or with one of the groups I work with. All of them could be done in a museum, but none of them were.
For my toddler class at Cub Run Rec Center, we spent a morning singing and reading about “Fall.” Since the Rec Center probably would have squawked if I brought in a pile of leaves for the kids to jump in, we scaled it back a bit. I laminated some colorful fall leaves and put magnets on the back. Then, when we read “Leaf Man” by Lois Ehlert, the kids could create their own leaf man on the cookie sheets.
My son has gotten really into colors and what they are called. For the times when paint and color mixing isn’t an option, I created a set of color cards for him. I went to my favorite home improvement store and picked out one for each color (I spend a considerable amount of money there so I didn’t feel too guilty taking six swatches).
I then stuck a magnet on the back of each and put them on the fridge. Now, he can mix and match them himself and I can also ask for certain colors. To go along with it we read “White Rabbit’s Color Book” which is one of my favorites.
Ask almost any preschool teacher and they will extoll the virtues of the felt board. They can be used by the kids themselves or to help teachers tell a story. They don’t take up a ton of space and are easy to create (even for the artistically challenged like myself).
For my train obsessed little boy, I cut out the cars from Donald Crews’ “Freight Train.” Now as we read he can get the pieces and we can do more color recognition and counting. With a group you could have the kids add to the board as they see their train car come up in the story.
A friend of mine recently started a group for museum educators who are also now parents (more on that in another post). We take turns hosting a play-date for everyone where we present a little story-time and activity. Sometimes it is at a museum but it doesn’t have to be. For my month, I took all the kids to Reagan National Airport.
They have a “historic lobby” outside of security that has huge windows overlooking the runway and plenty of space for the kids to run around without getting in the way of travelers). I brought copies of “Airplanes” by Byron Barton and a selection of simple paper airplanes (since these are toddlers I pre-folded them). The kids could read with me or their parents and throw the airplanes around the lobby.
So there you go, four examples of the kind of thing we do here. In each I try to be thoughtful about an age appropriate activity AND incorporate a tangible object so help the kids grasp what we are learning about. Hopefully that was clearer then my attempts to explain it earlier!
Oh! Side note, as you can see the other reason why “museum style programs” are so perfect for spaces like libraries is because museums have strict rules about making a mess. If I tried to bring glue and glitter into the National Gallery of Art, I would be thrown out on my ear! While I wholly approve of messy projects in their proper place (see my other post on bubbles) , it can be comforting to the parents, teachers and librarians if my projects treat the space we are in with the same kind of respect the museum demands.