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Growing New Opportunities for Outdoor Play

By Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum

Providence Children’s Museum’s garden is closed for construction until June 11. Visit the Museum’s website and blog for behind-the-scenes stories and photos of the design and installation of The Climber and Underland.

PCM Climber model - web“Go outside!”  I can remember the exasperation in Mother’s voice and picture her flapping her apron at us as if we were a flock of chickens.  What were we kids doing in the house?  Fifty years ago, unless we were doing chores or homework or sleeping, children didn’t belong inside.  We were supposed to play and play happened outside, in the backyard, the woods, the streets.  We rambled, climbed trees, built forts, dug holes, organized elaborate pretend scenarios.  Things have changed, of course.  Now there are computers and more homework.  Kids are more often under an adult’s eye.  We are more concerned with their safety.

At Providence Children’s Museum, we still believe in the value of that active self-directed play that happens in the out-of-doors.  That’s why, 15 years ago when we were looking for a new location, space for outdoor play was high on the list of criteria.  Our new home at 100 South Street offered that potential and, in 2000, we opened The Children’s Garden,  a green oasis in the Museum’s industrial urban neighborhood.  With its bubbling fountain and shady trees, the native garden is the perfect place for a picnic lunch and staff have added all sorts of outside activities from hula hooping to bubble blowing.  But we wanted more “play value.”

To us, play value means there are lots of opportunities for children to make choices, to pretend, to challenge themselves, to pursue their own interests and ideas.  The outdoors is perfect for this kind of play.  There’s a freedom in being outside that fosters open-ended child-directed play.

PCM Underland insideSo we’re pretty excited about the changes coming to The Children’s Garden: two major new play and learning environments opening June 11.  The Climber — a 22-foot high, safe and challenging climbing adventure and a signature work of public art — will be the first major outdoor installation by artists/architects Tom and Spencer Luckey, well known for their climbers in children’s museums (including Boston) and other locations throughout the country.  With Underland, the other new addition, an 800 square foot “cave” will become a subterranean world where children discover critters burrowing beneath the earth, crawl through tunnels and pretend with a host of natural materials.  Talk about play value!  The garden will be filled with kids climbing up, wriggling through, exploring, pretending…  No one will have to tell the kids to go outside and play because that’s where they’ll want to be.

There’s another reason for making the garden into a destination in itself.  Providence Children’s Museum has long been known as “the best place for rainy day fun.”  That’s great — but, as numbers of visitors to the Museum continue to climb, we have to increase our capacity.  We’re making the most of available space to serve more families and to promote active outdoor play.  We look forward to the day (coming soon!) when families say, “It’s a beautiful day — let’s go to the Children’s Museum!”

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  • Thanks S and Marcia – we can’t wait either. Having the Museum Garden closed as spring arrived has been one of the hardest things in this period of fund raising, planning, designing, fund raising, digging, building, fund raising… We know the kids want to go outside – and so does the staff! Just one month to go. Special thanks to you and your son, Marcia, for your contributions and to all who have played a part! – Janice O’Donnell

  • We’re looking forward to trying this new area! These past few weeks, one fun activity we’ve been doing at the museum is dropping coins into the “help fund the Garden” container. My son’s had fun watching the coins drop and I’m glad he’s learned how to help the museum, which is one of his favorite places.
    All the new changes are wonderful.

  • so exciting, can’t wait to see it! Saw lots of kids with their faces pressed to the glass watching the construction of the “underland” last week and asking to “go outside”. I’m sure it will be VERY popular.