Go ahead and mess with the museum exhibits

PlaySpace in the Boston Children's Museum, designed for the very young, was created specifically to spark exploration and creativity.
PlaySpace in the Boston Children's Museum, designed for the very young, was created specifically to spark exploration and creativity.PHOTO: PRISCILLA GOY

With kids roaming around and no "do not touch" signs, it is easy to forget that Boston Children's Museum is actually a museum.

Its activities and exhibits emphasise hands-on learning through experience, using play to develop foundational skills and spark creativity and curiosity.

Last week, 24 Singapore pre-school heads visited the museum as part of Principal Matters, a leadership programme led by the Lien Foundation.

Boston Children's Museum is the second oldest such museum in the world. Founded in 1913, it inspired similar museums in Belgium and the Philippines.

It is mainly for children aged up to eight and its exhibits across three floors focus on science, performing and visual arts. In one, children learn the laws of motion by rolling golf balls along tracks of varied shapes and lengths.

Singapore has a smaller version - the single-storey Children's Centre for Creativity, run by non-profit group Playeum. Sited at Gillman Barracks in Telok Blangah, it caters to children aged up to 12 and has activities that encourage them to learn through play.

Boston Children's Museum president Carole Charnow said: "So many museums are oriented around content. Since our inception, it's been about the audience."

Ms Jeri Robinson, vice-president for early childhood programmes at the museum, said it also serves as a resource for parents.

Its highlights include a model kindergarten classroom. Children can practise skills such as sitting in a group to listen to a story. Parents can ask "teachers" about the registration process and how to prepare kids for kindergarten.

"We want to connect with families whose children may be at risk for not having what they need to be ready for formal schooling," said Ms Robinson.

But with children spending more time in front of screens and more mothers working, the museum has had fewer visitors in recent years.

Ms Charnow said it has been making activities more enjoyable for families, such as holding more programmes during holidays: "Once here, they'll have the richness of the education we provide."

Priscilla Goy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'Go ahead and mess with the museum exhibits'. Subscribe