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Play Power!

After two months of extensive renovations — deinstalling and building exhibits, replacing windows, repairing brickwork, sanding, painting, recarpeting — the work has wrapped up and Providence Children’s Museum reopened and debuted Play Power, its newest learning environment.The major new exhibit celebrating the power of children’s play, Play Power gives kids plenty of opportunities for open-ended, unstructured play. They discover the awesome power of air by sending colorful balls and scarves winding and spiraling through giant air tubes and join friends to conduct a multi-sensory symphony at a one-of-a-kind pipe organ. At a curved metal wall, kids explore cause and effect as they form mazes from magnetic ramps, tracks and tubes and try to roll balls all the way to the end. They design vibrant patterns and pictures at a light wall that illuminates thousands of colorful pegs and build with translucent blocks on a glowing light table. Connecting hexagonal foam shapes and noodles, kids invent imaginary worlds and secret spaces in a new domed play structure.

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

I’m worried about children’s play. Their unstructured free time is dwindling. Schools, concerned about kids testing well, are eliminating or reducing time for recess. To keep them safe and give them extra opportunities, children are increasingly enrolled in structured out-of-school lessons and sports. Television and computer games, with their predetermined outcomes, claim huge amounts of kids’ time. Toys marketed to kids come with a Web or movie-based tie-in.

So I’m worried and I’m not alone. More and more books, articles, and research describe what is lost when children do not have ample opportunity to create their own fantasies, work out their own conflicts, make their own rules, and play just for play’s sake. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that child-driven play is essential in every way to kids’ healthy development. The New York Times notes, “If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life…’’ National Public Radio reported, “Playing make-believe actually helped children develop critical cognitive skills.”

Play DomeAt Providence Children’s Museum, we’ve always held to the conviction that play is essential as evidenced by our newest exhibit, Play Power. We envisioned an environment filled with open-ended, powerful play experiences for kids that would also have an important message about children’s play for adults.

To bring this idea to fruition, we paid close attention to the children playing around us. We watched groups of kids in Water Ways building channels and dams, calling out ideas and trying a variety of ways to control the flow of water. We noticed joyful explorations of sound at the junk music sculpture and careful experiments with blocks in Shape Space. The colonial cottage and the packet ship were scenes of constantly evolving pretend play. We saw kids set challenges for themselves — and achieve them. We were armed with cameras and clipboards but the kids were too absorbed in their play to care. When their parents noticed our noticing, they often joined us as fascinated observers, perhaps with an increased appreciation of their kids’ creativity and capabilities.

Musical PipesOur observations affirmed what the experts are saying. Those kids were solving problems, discovering principles of physics, creating stories with characters and plot, and mastering a wide range of skills while just playing. Just playing?
Play Power offers intriguing new ways for kids to engage in open-ended play: an artfully-designed pipe organ for playing with sound, giant air tubes for floating balls and scarves, a magnetic wall with moveable pieces for creating intricate mazes for balls to traverse. Especially for adults, there are books and literature about the benefits of play, plus the results of our observations on the “Notice Board” and video.

Our hope is that parents and other caregivers will find their children’s play as delightful and inspiring as we do and join us in ensuring that it is safeguarded and celebrated.

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).

Photo Credits:
Top: Children build with foam blocks and tubes in the Museum’s new Play Dome.
Bottom: Shawn Moison, age 4, of Woonsocket plays the musical pipes in Play Power.

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