By Robin Meisner, Director of Exhibits, Providence Children’s Museum
Most visitors know Providence Children’s Museums as a collection of experiences in which children and families learn through play and active exploration. One of the defining features of our exhibits is that they are rich in discoveries and stimulating for the senses. We incorporate unusual and ordinary objects to make learning tangible, and are deeply committed to surrounding children with beautiful learning environments.
One way we do this is by sharing the Museum’s collection of childlife objects, which includes tin toys, penguin figurines and a wonderful grouping of marionettes created by Betty Heustis (1901-1983). We also love sharing other people’s collections. This April, children and families can investigate intricate metal miniatures handcrafted by Cambridge, MA artist Abraham Megerdichian (1923-1983) and gathered and shared by his family, and colorful Chinese and Indonesian shadow puppets from the collection of Hilary Salmons, executive director of Providence After School Alliance.
Collections are fascinating – they tell stories about the objects themselves and the individuals and institutions that collect them. At the Museum, they provide tangible, powerful ways for children and families to engage in quiet moments of observation and reflection. And for individuals, collecting offers opportunities to build and share pieces of themselves.
From a very young age, children form attachments to things – favorite blankets or stuffed animals – and as they develop, they begin collecting objects that they enjoy in other ways, like rocks, stickers or postcards. Collecting is empowering. It allows kids to make their own choices about what to collect and how to display it. Their collections are their creations, which say something special about their identity and their world at a particular moment in time.
Museum staff shared some of their favorite childhood (and grown-up) collections:
What do you and your kids like to collect? There’s almost no limit to what’s possible!
These tin can robot kits reminiscent of Mr.Potato allow kids to create (and re-create) robots from recycled parts and magnets. All the "body" parts can be stashed inside the tin can, wrapped with a how-to label–perfect for a DIY party craft or gift.
Bonus: Make up a story about your robots.
Looking for something to do with your kids during this holiday vacation? Here’s the Kidoinfo Top 12 List of things to do — many are Free and Cheap. Check the Kidoinfo calendar and blog for even more ideas.
1. BUILD: With Legos, blocks, or boxes.
Build a castle, city or rocket ship using all of your Legos.
2. PLAY. Start with the basics.
Rediscover creative play right at home, including toys found around the house.
Pick one from Kidoinfo's Top 10 Favorite Toys for Kids.
3. CRAFTS: Host a crafternoon.
Have kids bring a shoebox filled with supplies including glue sticks and scissors.
Crafty ideas: Make castle, paper bead necklaces, collage bookmarks, and more.
4. GAMES: Plan a game night.
Pull out the non-electronic board games or playing cards.
Try Scrabble, Go-Fish, Twister or Chinese Checkers.
5. BOOKS: Plan a literary expedition.
Some of the best exploration is right around the corner.
Vacation is a perfect time to Book a Rhode Trip.
Visit a new library with your children–you may discover more than just books!
6. ANIMALS: Take a trip to the Zoo.
See what the animals are doing at Roger Williams Park Zoo. (half-price admission)*
7. SNOW: Make your own snow.
Build the biggest, best snowman ever outside or make your own snow inside.
8. EXPLORE: Explore your city.
Hop on a bus just for the fun of it, take a stroll through Federal Hill and have cocoa at Pastiche.
Play at Providence Children’s Museum, or discover a new park/playground.
9. EXPLORE: Rhode Island and beyond!
Take the commuter train to Boston. Plan a trip to the Museum of Science or
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see the latest exhibit or check out the regular collection.
10. MOVIES: Watch a classic.
Check out old movies from your local library or rent one from ACME Video.
Stay in your PJs all day, eat popcorn and watch Red Balloon,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Singing in the Rain, The Muppets or Charlie Chaplin.
12. BAKE: Carry on, start new, pass on baking traditions.
Set aside a time every Sunday afternoon; first Saturday of the month;
each season of the year to bake with family and/or friends.
By Providence Children’s Museum educators
Since planning for and opening our new ThinkSpace exhibit, Museum educators have been thinking a lot about great spatial thinking activities.Â Spatial thinking is an important problem-solving skill, and one that is fundamental for kids’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.Â Here are some of our favorite hands-on, open-ended toys that foster spatial thinking.
There is no better toy than blocks, the simpler the better.Â Unit blocks — basic wooden blocks shaped like bricks and half-bricks, cones and arches — belong in every kid’s childhood.Â Toddlers stack them, exploring triangles, squares and curves.Â Kindergarteners build fanciful cities.Â Eight-year-olds make raceways for toy cars and houses for dolls.Â Blocks help kids learn the fundamentals of shape and proportion, discover some basic physics, and build spatial thinking skills.Â Research has shown that block play heightens children’s use of spatial language and discovery of basic geometric principles.Â Studies show that high school students with these early experiences do better in more advanced stages of math and geometry and toddlers who play with blocks have higher language acquisition.
But blocks are much more than good for you — they’re fun!Â Open-ended and versatile, they spark imagination and inspire creativity.Â Susan Linn of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says, “The best toy is 10% toy and 90% child.”Â Unit blocks fit that description to a T.
Other Building and Design Activities
There are a variety of building and design activities that offer wonderful opportunities for spatial thinking.Â Colorful WedgitsÂ pieces can be stacked and nested in hundreds of ways; design cards challenge kids to turn 2-D representations into 3-D forms.Â KaleidographÂ die-cut cards can be rotated, flipped and stacked, creating billions of patterns that mirror the geometry of nature.Â Kids set up their own scenes with Deep into the Forest — part play theatre and part spatial thinking exploration.Â With Tobbles, young children experiment by balancing wobbly pieces to build dynamic towering structures.Â And don’t forget the spatial fun that cardboard boxes offer — design and build, stack and tear apart, make and remake cardboard creations.
Solving puzzles of all kinds helps build spatial thinking skills.Â For a young child’s first puzzle, simple, knobbed pieces with pictures underneath guide children to match shapes and images.Â Preschoolers love the large pieces in jumbo floor puzzles, such as Melissa & Doug’s USA Map Floor Puzzle, which also introduces early geography concepts.Â For older children, puzzles with more than one solution — like tangrams, mosaics and pattern blocks — offer multiple spatial challenges.Â These and other open-ended puzzles, such as Grimm’s colorful Spiral Puzzle, encourage children to think about patterns and the way shapes fit together.Â And completing a classic picture puzzle together provides old-fashion fun for the entire family.Â Try those made by Ravensburger, available with as few as 24 pieces or as many as 32,000!
Exercise spatial thinking skills and use logic and deduction to figure out the arrangement of hidden pegs in Mastermind and Battleship. Â Chinese Checkers challenges you to visualize different routes for your marbles as you maneuver from one side of the board to the other.Â A perennial favorite, Pictionary prompts you to transfer an image from your head to paper — in just 60 seconds!Â And a deck of cards is a must have.Â From finding matching pairs in memory to building a house of cards, this versatile plaything fosters spatial perception skills and is a great travel companion.
Melissa & Doug toys provide a rich place to start for craft kits and many other items that promote spatial thinking.Â Bead-lacing kits like Lace & Trace ShapesÂ and Lacing Beads in a Box help young children learn shapes and practice hand-eye coordination.Â For school-age kids, origami is a captivating choice and there are many excellent origami books filled with templates to follow, including Planet Origami, Underwater Origami and Horrorgami by Steve and Megumi Biddle.Â Kits for making paper airplanes, hand puppets, masks and more are also great hands-on options; The Land of Nod has several wonderful products.
The Museum’s Gift Shop offers a selection of educator-approved activities that foster spatial thinking skills, including a variety of puzzles and building and design kits, and an assortment of smaller spatial thinking challenges — wooden and wire puzzles, tangrams and brain teasers.Â And download the annual TRUCE Toy Buying Guide (by Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment), which helps parents choose toys that promote healthy play and avoid those that undermine it — especially important in an age of technology, media and marketing to children.
My friend Jason, co-owner of Rag and Bone Bindery, finds creative ways to play with and inspire his children to think outside the box.
The original plan was to make a city with his son out of toys, but one thing led to another and the city turned into a giant eye-spy game. His son calls it Toyville. I think it's amazing and a beautiful work of art.
Photo credit: Jason Thompson
Geek Dad shared what he thinks are the 5 best toys of all time on Wired recently. He lists items–things many of us may overlook as toys–that he feels no kid should be without. "All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one."
We agree these are wonderful play things and in fact have written about all of them before on Kidoinfo. We also love gadgets and gizmos but realize kids do not need all the bells and whistles in order to play and have fun. We are adding 5 more items to the list making it the Kidoinfo Top 10 Toys for Kids. No batteries needed for the toys listed, just some free time and a little bit of imagination. Assembly optional, not required.
Geek Dad's Top 5-list: How Kidoinfo kids have used these items
My boys rarely return from a walk or trip from the park without a stick. At home, they use them as light sabers, wands, or swords to reenact Star Wars, Harry Potter, Robin Hood, and The Three Musketeers. And if we are lucky enough to find them on a bridge near a stream, we play Pooh Sticks. Use sticks to make art Ã la Andy Goldsorthy and Patrick Dougherty or build a small fairy house. We spent hours playing in Dougherty's temporary stick sculpture at Brown University. This magical fortress reaffirms that kids play leads to magnificent things.
More fairy house inspiration: Build It and They Will Come
What can you do with a big box or bunch of little ones? A cozy house, a rocket to the moon, and a puppet theater are all within reach when you’ve got a box. ReadÂ how-to make your own puppet theater from an old refrigerator box or a submarine using 2 boxes .
In addition to Geek Dad's suggestion of using string to play cat's cradle, it can also be used to turn a stick into a bow (and arrow) or fishing pole. Use small sticks and colored string to make a God's Eye craft. And if you add a little paint, children can make string paintings.
4. Cardboard Tube
Tubes of all sizes are coveted items in our house as well. Small ones can be turned into rocket ships or used as a telescope. Tape two toilet paper tubes together to make binoculars or attach tubes to small boxes to make larger space ships. Long wrapping paper or poster tubes can be used for sword play or light saber duels. Tubes are much safer than sticks when it comes to dueling. Although we have never tried it, you can turn small toilet paper tubes into a kazoo with a few extra supplies easily found around the house.
More tube inspiration: Make a Valentine Crush Cracker
Perfect for building mountains or making caves. Add water and make mud pies.
More dirt and water inspiration: Marvelous Mud
5 More Kidoinfo Favorite Toys:
Freeze water in a small container to make icebergs. Paint the garage door with clear water. No cleanup necessary. Put water in a bucket and then test what floats. Dirt? Sticks? And as mentioned above, mix with dirt to make mud pies and more.
Add string or a clip and turn the blanket into a superhero cape or drape it on the ground for a stage or picnic. Cuddle up in it and tell stories.
With a little imagination, chairs are transformed into airplane or train seats or used as is for tea parties. If you have more than one chair and a blanket make a fort or a puppet theater.
Our house has an endless supply of scrap paper from junk mail or discarded sheets from the printer. Fold it to make origami animals or paper airplanes. Draw on it. Twirl it around a stick, add glue and make paper beads.
This is the only item on the list that is not free. However it's relatively inexpensive and offers endless creative possibilities from crafts to engineering fun. Our favorite way to use it? Make wall art.
More tape inspiration: Tape Resist Abstarct Painting
Hope this inspires you to to think of kids toys in a new way this year. What else would you add to this list?
I asked Jeff Dronzek from Learn All About It Toys in Warwick, Rhode Island to put together a list of some of his favorite children's toys. Toys are sorted by type along with price and appropriate ages. If you have a favorite toy, please add it in the comments below.
BUILD & CONSTRUCT
ARTS & CRAFTS
GREAT BEGINNINGS & PRETEND PLAY
Jeff and Jen Dronzek, Owners of Learn All About It Toys in Warwick, RI (Cowesett Corners Shopping Center).
Today Marcia Maynard interviews Jen Dronzak, co-owner of Learn All About It Toys and the mother of two children.
Marcia: Tell us about your decision to start a toy shop with your husband?
Jen: Before we started our store, we shopped at specialty toy shops for kids’ toys. Jeff has a background in business and retail, as well as having worked for an educational toy store chain, and as a speech-language pathologist I have the educational experience and viewpoint in toy selection for play, language, and developmental value. For a while we had wanted to start our own business. Jeff had written a business plan several years earlier, and we decided to combine his business skills with my educational experience and take a risk in starting our own business.
Marcia: Is there anything about your shop that you’re especially proud of and would like to share with readers?
Jen: When we set out to start the toy store, we had several goals in mind. We wanted a very family- and kid-friendly atmosphere with an open layout through whichÂ parents could easilyÂ navigate their strollers and that would permit them to see their children at play with sample toys, while also allowing for space to hold story time, instructional activities, and events. At the beginning of this year, we relooked at our floor plan, moved some bookshelves, and created a space to hold instructional activities and host birthday parties. We are proud that we have maintained our focus and continue to grow. We happened to open at a time when nobody could have foreseen such a huge economic downturn here and across the country.Â We have built a great base in the midst of a difficult economy and are proud we have managed to grow as things are starting to look better locally and nationally.
Marcia: Tell us about your children.
Jen: Our kids are really fun! Amanda is a very imaginative and creative 5-year-old.Â She is almost always smiling, has a great sense of humor, and loves to create and tell stories, play, perform, be with her friends, and spend time at the store. Danielle is 21 months and loves her big sister. She is very curious, loves pretend play, painting, andÂ playing outside, and she keeps very busy at home and at the store. They have both been great greeters when they are here at the store.
Marcia: How do you connect/combine your jobs as a speech pathologist andÂ toy store owner?
Jen: When I look at toys, puzzles, books, and games, I am always looking for an overall value in play, language, vocabulary, concepts, and multiple uses that stimulate and elicit speech, language, and children’s imaginations. Play and language are so important in child development. I have also been leading story time and language-based instructional activities, including “Story Comprehension” targeting understanding and recall of story details, sequencing story events, vocabulary building, as well as some critical thinking skills with making predictions and drawing conclusions. In “Early Language Enrichment,” the focus is on early learning concepts, vocabulary building, hands-on play with concepts, and a related craft activity. As an educator, I have had the experience of working with children who have different learning styles, so I try to tailor the stories, activities, and questions to the group as well as the individual as much as possible in the brief time frame.
Marcia: How do you manage a shop, children, and working outside the shop?
Jen: That is a great question!Â Some days I have it down, no problem, and other days . . . I frequently ask myself that same thing and have a difficult time trying to figure it all out.Â It’s also a frequent topic of conversation I have with my friends too. We have great help thanks to our parents who spend time with the kids while we’re both working, plus we try to plan ahead with groceries and meals and just work together, which we have done very well. We have very supportive family and friends who believe in us and have supported us in this incredible journey.
Marcia: What helpful hints can you give to other working moms?
Jen: Have fun, enjoy your family time, and make time to play and be with your kids. Time flies too quickly, as we all know.Â A friend of mine who is also a working mom gave me great advice: Work hard, but save some of yourself for your kids and family when you get home. After being so dedicated to work during the day, I sometimes come home feeling like I’m running on empty,Â so this advice really hit home. It reminds me thatÂ above all, my family comes first and I want to give the best of myself to them.
Learn All About Toys
300 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886
Marcia Maynard blogs about preschool activities at http://www.readandraise.com
Visiting the Cape during the shoulder season–right before and right after the summer months–means the weather is moderate, less crowded, better deals on lodging and most businesses are open. I also love visiting in the off-season from October through May when the weather is colder and the beaches are quiet but still great for hiking as well as during tourist season when everything comes to life on the Cape and the beach is the perfect way to beat the heat.
Here's a list of some of our favorite spots and what we did while in Provincetown, MA over Memorial Weekend. We brought our bikes and except for our trip to the drive-in movie theater, we used bikes as our only mode of transportation.
Destination: Provincetown (also referred to as P-Town), MA. Located at the Southernmost tip of the Outer Cape. Distance from Providence: 168 miles. Drive time: 2 Hours and 30 minutes (without traffic).
Time of year: Memorial Day Weekend
Lodging: Provincetown Inn provided beach front lodging for a third of in-season rates. Nothing fancy and a bit noisy from the LATE night party in the room below us but worth the deal and awesome location.
Now that it's summer and the price of lodging is higher, traffic heavier and a bit harder to park, P-Town is still worth the trip. We have made day trips to Provincetown from Chatham during the summer for years - we just plan on leaving early in the morning to avoid the traffic.
Rock Jetty (Pictured above, located next to the Provincetown Inn at the end of Commercial Street):Â Takes about an hour to walk the length of the rock jetty to Long Point on the other side. Worth the walk but check the tide first. Some of the rocks will be slippery or submerged during high tide. The walk takes longer than you think - especially with kids– so bring water and snacks. We were surprised at how much poison ivy was growing on the beach on the other side so we stayedÂ close to the jetty and flew kites before heading back across the rocks.
Hanging out on Commercial Street:
Lunch: I got a delicious sandwich to-go from Relish (Located in the West End) and brought it Spiritus where the boys had pizza slices. Coffee and ice cream also sold here. The lovely back garden has a bocce ball court. We play every time we are in Provincetown.
Ice Cream: We chose Lewis Brothers Homemade Ice Cream. Delicious. The friendly owner also shared his favorite coffee and food places in town.
Shopping (All stores located on Commercial Street):
Puzzle Me This, a game and puzzle shop is my sons' favorite store in town. They always bring their wallets and pick up cards or a game book for under $5. This trip they purchased Indiana Jones Playing Cards for $3.99 and a Movie Trivia book for $4.95.
Army Navy Store - This place has it all; clothes, shells, swords, fishing gear, games and more. Even if you do not need anything this is a fun place to poke around with kids.
Dinner: Napi's is a unique restaurant with International Seafood cuisine located on a winding street, a block away off Commercial Street. They have their own parking lot. Their eclectic decor includes works of local artists, antique stained glass and carousel horses. Friendly wait staff is always a plus! This place has been around for years and is still our top pick in Providence for dinner.
After dinner: Wellfleet Drive-In. ThisÂ is one of few remaining classic drive-in theaters. It still has the original large screen but now you can listen to the movie on your car radio. Playground, snack bar and bathrooms. Movies start at dusk. My boys were thrilled by the double-feature, Shrek Forever After and Iron Man 2 because they were still awake at the start at the start of Iron Man 2. By day the drive-in parking lot is home to a huge flea market of new and old stuff. Also worth a visit. Cost for double-feature is $8 per adult and $5 per kid.
Bike Trip: We picked up a bike map and bought sandwiches at the Gale Force Bikes and Beach Market (corner of Bradford Street and West Vine Street). This is also a great place to rent bikes if you need them.
We biked to Herring Beach (via the rode) and picked up the paved bike trail from there to Race Point Beach. This is a spectacular bike ride through the dunes in theÂ Cape Cod National Seashore.Â It takes about 2 hours to complete the 8 mile loop (without kids) so plan your trip accordingly. The trail is hilly and tends to be hot so bring plenty of water. Luckily for every hill you go up there is a hill you can coast down. We broke up the bike ride by spending the afternoon at Race Point beach where there are bathrooms and showersÂ but no snack bar. On our way home we took the bike trail by the visitor center back into town. The end of the route was on the main road with no bike path. Use caution.
Dinner: We ordered take out from The Lobster Pot. Although this a great spot to eat in over looking the water it can be crowded. We opted for take out and took it back to our hotel and ate on our balcony and played card games.
After dinner: Evening walk back to the rock jetty. The best place to watch the sunset. Amazing!
Before Breakfast: Early morning bike ride down Commercial Street before the tourists and traffic starts. It was pretty quiet except for a few other bikers, dog walkers and delivery trucks.
Low tide was 8:30am. We took a walk on the sand flats. Fabulous back view of Provincetown Harbor.
Breakfast: By this time we were starving and happy to have the complimentary breakfast (nothing fancy) at the hotel on the back deck.
Beach: Went to the beach on the back side of the hotel. No travel required. After a sword fight with the new wooden swords purchased for $2.50 at the Army Navy Store) the boys got into beach mode and found 14 hermit crabs. They built a sand aquarium for the crabs then observed their behavior before setting them free. We then watched some guys pick up horse shoe crabs by their tales. This did not look like such a good idea.
Lunch: Biked into town for more pizza slices at Spiritus so we could play a few more games of Bocce Ball.
Galleries: There are many places worth visiting along Commercial Street with changing art collections.
Bannister's Wharf: We walked down the wharf to check out the Whale Watch Tour boats and then watched one of the fishing boats unload their freshly caught scallops onto a truck headed for Gloucester. We peaked into the gift shop for the Whydah Pirate Museum run by National Geographic. Too late for a tour - maybe next trip. Museum Admission is $10 for adults, $ 8 for kids.
What we look forward to on future trips to Provincetown:
- Repeating our favorites from above
- Climb up the Pilgrim Monument on a clear day
- Whale Watch Tour
- Provincetown Art Museum
by Katy Killilea
In the beginning, the hot item in my bag of tricks was a container of Cheerios. Then along came a small spiral notebook and an Altoids box filled with crayons. Later it was an envelope of family photos and some stickers. Suddenly it seems only Andy Samberg SNL clips, played on my phone, will do for emergency entertainment. Yet we have not slid down the slippery slope into electronics completely. Books, for example, are still possible. And so are unelectrified games. Activities that are easy to bring along, without little pieces, and that will absorb a child's attention while waiting at a restaurant are musts for a parent's bag of tricks.
Dice are easy to keep in your bag or a coat pocket and are somehow magically entertaining. "First person to roll a ten" evolves into "first person to roll ten sevens" becomes limitless rolling toward goals as complicated, suspenseful, and random as time allows. The caveat here is that dice are easy to lose--stolen by a dog or camouflaged among crumpled dinner napkins. Luckily, they are inexpensive to replace and can often be found in large quantities--by the bagful--at Savers stores.
The portable game we've beenÂ playing lately is Slamwich. It is simply a deck of cards that look like bread slices covered in assorted fillings: bacon, lettuce, melted cheese, tuna, gummy bears. There are a few special cards--Munchers and Thieves--to watch out for. This game is very easy to learn and combines luck with quick reaction time--like slapjack, but with a tiny bit more attention required and fun illustrations. Best of all, it is one of those great games where adults can try their hardest to win and still lose, a delightful situation for any family waiting around for something to happen. New this spring from the same maker is Dweebies, a fast and twisty matching game with silly characters in smashing colors. Both of these games come in sturdy tin boxes, so cards are easy to corral when dinner arrives.Â (Both from Gamewright: Slamwich $10, recommended for ages 6 and up; Dweebies $11, recommended for ages 8 and up.)
For something totally old-fashioned that feels fresh, how about aÂ round of modern bingo? KnockKnock now offers bingo cards for families out on the town and on road trips. The Kids' Night Out bingo cards include a child in one of those ubiquitous wooden high chairs, sugar packets, and a drinking straw. (How did KnockKnock know we're going to Newport Creamery?) Sold in packs of 12 perforated cards, these are sturdy enough to use repeatedly. The items to spot are common enough that the game moves along at a happy clip. (From KnockKnock, $8. Also available with Baby Shower, Bar, Airplane, and Cafe themes.)
The best low-tech travel game may be a partnered hand-clapping game like Miss Mary Mack or One Potato Two Potato. All you need are hands. Or better yet: Rock, Paper, Scissors. Only one hand is needed.
What do you keep in your bag of tricks? Share your ideas with us by posting comments.
Editor's note: Game publishers provided review copies. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for product recommendations.