By Karen Lambe
Early Childhood Developer
“Mrs. Lambe, we need photo paper for the darkroom.” “How did the artist make the hand look like it was coming out of the paper in that poster?” As an art teacher of upper elementary and middle school students for 11 years, I learned what was developmentally appropriate for 12- to15-year-olds and what materials and ideas interested my students.
Then in 1985, after a few years spent raising my own young child, Providence Children’s Museum hired me to develop and lead educational programs for all ages. And some of the children were three years old! Not a part of my formal teaching experience, preschoolers were a bit mysterious to me with their short attention spans and their wide-eyed questions about the world. Not many 15-year-olds would seriously ask, “Mrs. Lambe, what’s that stuff coming out of the worm’s tail?” as they examine a fascinating, long, slimy Lumbricus terrestris under a magnifying glass.
I quickly learned the importance of providing concrete, hands-on experiences for very young children. A program about air? I had to figure out how to make the invisible stuff tangible by inviting the children to watch and listen to air bubbles come out of a soda bottle as it’s submerged in water, or by making our own “air pillows” by blowing though a straw into a plastic bag, then quickly trapping the air by zipping the bag closed. A celebration of the color green? We’d better touch green things, mix green paint, read a book about green and eat something green, too!
In the 1960s a professor of mine said, “One of the most important things you can do as an educator is open the doors of the world for a child.” This advice became a guiding principle for me and had more and more meaning the longer I taught. Her encouragement helped me understand the importance of learning about the children I’m teaching. What captures their attention? What do they want to talk about, look at, do? How can I provide them opportunities for meaningful learning experiences? That’s what the Children’s Museum is all about: providing an engaging hands-on environment that gives children a chance to explore, discover, mess around with objects and be their own guides.
I’ve learned that preschoolers love to laugh. When we dance like the monster in “Abiyoyo,” feel the icy cold of a snowball on our cheeks, get tickled by the tongue of a sweet snake named Hershey, we laugh. And in that shared laughter, we walk through doors together. To all the families who have given me the honor of spending a short time each week with their amazing children, thank you. It has truly been a joyous journey.
Karen Lambe retires from Providence Children’s Museum in August after 23 years of extraordinary service to children, families and teachers.
News and Notes from Providence Children’s Museum: Occasional posts about things to do with our kids – from places to go, things to make, ideas to think about, and ways to explore.
Providence Children’s Museum – 100 South Street, Providence, RI. 401-273-5437 (KIDS)
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