Category Archives: learning environnments

Bainbridge Art Museum: Not Just for the Grown-Ups

Occasionally, you come across an unexpected treasure. Anticipating a fleeting look around the Bainbridge Art Museum with the children in tow, I was pleased when the assistant greeted the children warmly and entrusted them with a task.  The children were given a list of thirty animals that were hidden in Nancy Thorne Chambers’ ceramic installation ‘A Story Place’.  If they could find them all, they would be rewarded with a special prize.

A story place - Bainbridge art MuseumMotivated by the prize at hand they made their way to the exhibit.  They worked together to find the life-sized animals , studying every angle of the exhibit. They were captivated by the detail and wondered how something so delicate was made and transported to the museum.  The animals are reminiscent of  Beatrix Potter characters and took me back  to my childhood passion for those stories.

The story place mole and Beaver

My favourite piece was the mole wrapped up in the girl’s sock and the children loved the girl and boy mouse, huddled together with their tiny tea tray.

the story of the story place

A Story Place remains at Bainbridge Art Museum until June and is worth seeing if you are visiting Bainbridge Island with children.  Entry to the museum is free of charge so visiting this installation alone is worthwhile.

The children were equally compelled by the adult exhibits.  It’s easy to assume that children will find art galleries boring but their fascinated faces reminded me that children often find pleasure in unexpected places.

bainbridge art museum

They were mesmerised by models that fold into boxes by Nancy Smith-Venturi and wouldn’t leave until they had seen the slide show of the whole collection.

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The younger children wanted to understand  each of the models and read the descriptions with interest.

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‘What does this one say?’ asked my youngest pointing to a textile on the wall.  I read the description. ‘How does it look like wind?’ she asked. ‘It could be because it moves’ I replied ‘ but you might see something different, you don’t have to see the same thing as the artist.

The girls were completely absorbed by the museum and we spent a leisurely few hours there.  I think we may have discovered a new passion.

* Children aged 5,7 and 11.

Making a Play Table from an Electrical Spool

I find play value in everything.  This isn’t always an admirable quality.  My house overflows with strange objects and if anyone offers random things for free, I perk up like an eager child in class.   I’m certain it’s an occupational hazard and I’m not alone.

My latest acquisition was an electrical spool. Pictures can be deceptive and I hadn’t anticipated something quite as big, when I accepted it.  When my husband discovered this eyesore in the garden, I sensed he didn’t share my enthusiasm for my latest scrap heap challenge.

Electrical spool

Knowing it will be useful, doesn’t always equate to having  a finished product in mind.  Sometimes, I prefer to leave things as  loose parts  , so the children can find their own use for them but the weight of the spool prohibited them from moving it. I positioned it in front of the potion mixing station,  hoping it would be integrated into potion play but the children had other plans.

potion station I left  pavement chalk near the spool and they decorated the top in bright colours. We don’t have many suitable surfaces for chalking in the back garden, so I sprayed the top of the spool with blackboard paint.  I added hardware hooks around the edge for storage.  Choosing what to hang from the hooks is a work in progress. We currently have a basket holding bug catchers and magnifiers and another containing small world fairies, a cloth for wiping the blackboard, a cowbell and a crystal.

hanging baskets

The girls helped to paint the sides and my eldest painted windows and a door for the fairies.
painting an electrical spool

The bottom was decorated with old cd’s that we cut up and mounted with no more nails to make a rainbow mosaic
kids play table from an electrical spool.

I am eager to see how the children will use the new addition. I’ll keep you posted.

Other  ideas for spools can be found on my Reclaimed Materials  Pinterest board.

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

Water Play in the Rain

Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of enquiry, their motivation and interest explode.  – Loris Malaguzzi.

We’ve had a few rainy days so I decided to leave the lid off the water table to catch the rain.  We’ve had so much rain that it was nearly overflowing.  My girls looked out at the rain and decided to play in the water.  They know from experience that rain water is very cold so my youngest put on her waterproof gloves so that she could tolerate the cold water for longer.

I gave her a bottle and a funnel to add to the other materials.  I have recently noted her eagerness to transport things from one place to another and predicted she would probably use the bottle to empty the water from the table.  True to form she filled the bottle, carried it to the bench and poured the water through the slats before returning for more.

water play

Her sister is less eager to play outside but loves umbrellas so when I suggested she take her umbrella outside, she was out like a shot. Of course her sister needed her umbrella too.

I want to make an invention

What kind of invention?

Like we made before for serving drinks.

Last summer the girls had inserted a straw into a hole in a milk carton and made a drink dispenser. They worked out how to turn the tap off and where to place the tap so that they could drain the container of all the water.

What do you need?

A cup – this will be good (finding a coffee container)  a tube or something and some small cups.

I found a piece of plastic tubing and plastic wine glasses.

I need another pipe. One to blow into and the other one for the water to come out of.

I gave her another piece of tubing that her sister had been using to make a contraption the previous day.

It’s not working mummy, when I blow nothing happens.

Are there any bubbles coming when you blow.

No

The air isn’t getting through the pipe.

We put the container onto the floor so that she could keep the pipe straight without any kinks and still reach to blow into it.

I have to be honest I didn’t expect it to work but look what happened.

You have to blow so, so hard to make it work that it hurts your mouth, but that’s okay.

Meanwhile her sister was trying to catch floating objects with the tongs.

More fun

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More play activities for a rainy day

Ideas for Learning Environments Inspired by Children’s Museum of Tacoma

I’d never heard of a Children’s Museum before I moved here but as I entered the door I was greeted by a little bit of play heaven. I think I was more excited than the girls.  My 9 -year-old remarked

It’s not really a museum is it?

True not in the traditional sense.

According to Wikipedia, Children’s museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programs to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. In contrast with traditional museums that typically have a hands-off policy regarding exhibits, children’s museums feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children. The theory behind such exhibits is that activity can be as educational as instruction, especially in early childhood.

In essence it’s like walking into a really well- resourced nursery or pre-school.  I loved that many of the exhibits used simple, cheap materials that could be replicated at home, like a blackboard with a pot of water and brushes.  I particularly like these; they would be a great addition to a child’s bedroom wall, garden fence or in a toddler room at nursery.

The water area was a huge hit with my youngest. My favourite was a water bath with a transparent window so that you could see what was happening under water.

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Behind the glass is an area for art based activities – musical instruments, painting, movement with ribbon sticks and scarves and drawing.   The metallic walls made it so easy to dry and display pictures. What a great idea for a messy play room.

There were 2 light tables in the space with very different activities, the girls chose to trace and draw.

light table with maps and plans

My eldest loved  den building best of all.  The smaller structures were not very stable so she negotiated with the other children in the space to create a big den together.

More building – drainpipes and gutters

drainpipes and gutters

I’m so glad we discovered Children’s Museums and I’m looking forward to visiting the others in the area and sharing more ideas.