In 2022, the Museum continued to innovate in school readiness and early childhood development programming, continuing to engage children in playful learning experiences in the Museum, in school, in the home, and in the community. The Museum’s work reached children and families both inside and outside the Museum. Highlights of this work were:
- In a new partnership with Horizons for Homeless Children, Museum and Horizons staff co-created and piloted resources and programs for families that build on the power of play. The first program to come out of this partnership, which is generously funded by Eastern Bank, is the Powerful Playtimes program—a five-week playgroup developed for children ages birth to five and their parents. With the aim of building parents’ confidence in playing with their children, Museum and Horizons staff piloted the program with families in three Boston area shelters during the summer. Families left the program with a full basket of toys, books, and tip sheets with ways parents might engage with their children. Next steps for the team include exploring ways to revise the Powerful Playtimes program based on parent feedback, and beginning to develop a new program model and additional parent resources.
- In the spring of 2022, the Museum’s Child Development and STEAM teams combined forces to bring tinkering to children, families, and educators in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Museum staff trained 53 educators across five sites in the basics of tinkering, delivered 35 huge classroom-sized kits of materials, and offered activity sheets in six languages for Lawrence families to continue the tinkering at home. Museum partners in Lawrence included a mix of organizations that support children and families in the Merrimack Valley, including Community Day Care of Lawrence, Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Merrimack Valley YMCA, US Taekwondo Academy, and YWCA of Northeastern Massachusetts.
- After a break in programming, due to the pandemic, the Museum was delighted to host Boston Public Schools (BPS) Countdown to Kindergarten staff and families from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan for playgroups in the Museum’s Countdown to Kindergarten exhibit. Museum and BPS staff co-led these bilingual (Spanish/English) school readiness programs, filled with stories, songs, and hands-on activities. Approximately 30 families participated, and all were new to the Museum.
- The Museum again hosted the fun and inspiring Boston Public Schools Countdown to Kindergarten Citywide Celebration event for Boston children entering kindergarten. This Citywide Celebration was the first since the start of the pandemic. Together with BPS, the Museum welcomed over 400 excited kindergartners and their families who played in Museum exhibits, danced with a DJ under the tent, explored a real school bus, and chatted with staff from BPS, the Massachusetts Department of Health, and Boston University Dental Students. And, as always, kindergarteners were very excited to receive new backpacks filled with school supplies from Cradles to Crayons.
- The Museum’s Morningstar Access continued to provide an opportunity for families of children with disabilities and other special or medical needs to explore the Museum at a time when there are few other visitors. After pausing the program due to the pandemic, it was restarted with changes to maximize health safety while adapting to the unique needs of each family. The Museum implemented two versions of Morningstar Access—one that requires masks for everyone age two and above, with no exceptions, and the other with more relaxed mask rules. These options allowed families with differing needs to enjoy family outings at the Museum, which is something that many were unable to do during the pandemic. The Museum also experimented with offering Morningstar at different times, in the mornings and evenings, and on days when the Museum is closed to the general public, including some holidays. Starting in February 2022, the Museum has been offering the program in the morning on first Saturday of every month, along with occasional evening sessions. During the year, 926 people participated in 15 Morningstar Access sessions.
- The Museum’s Child Development and Community Engagement teams presented a school readiness professional development workshop for 85 infant, toddler, and preschool teachers at Catholic preschools across Massachusetts. The in-person, five-hour workshop was based on the Museum’s Tools for Tiny Hands fine motor and Me.You,We social emotional resources developed through the Museum’s Linking with Libraries project.
Building a National Network of Museums and Libraries for School Readiness
Through a Cooperative Agreement funded through 2022 by the Institute of Museum and Libraries Services (IMLS), the Museum is engaged in the Building a National Network of Museums and Libraries for School Readiness project. The goal is to amplify the strength of organizations serving children and families by forming coalitions that ensure all children in their regions, regardless of socio-economic or linguistic background, have the skills needed to enter school prepared for success.
Over this past year Museum staff worked with state teams in a variety of ways to support their museum and library partnerships as they engaged in outreach efforts to reach families and to provide opportunities for them to access the exhibits and program being offered by both organizations.
Museum staff conducted in-person two-day site visits with each state team. During these visits, staff worked with participating organizations as well as partners, to support them in developing strategies for listening to families, then using what they learned to cater programs and services to meet the needs of families. Staff also visited specific communities being targeted.
Technical assistance was provided through monthly state team calls. These sessions allowed states to discuss both successes and challenges; and to problem solve around the challenges of reaching families, institutional barriers, and other factors impacting their work.
Museum staff held a virtual leadership institute for all states, which was an opportunity for them to share within and across state teams learning and capacity building around building and sustaining networks, and increase access and opportunity to high-quality, informal learning experiences for children and their families.
The program is currently working in the following cities:
Charleston, South Carolina
Children’s Museum of the Low Country
Charleston County Public Library
South Carolina State Library
Iowa Children’s Museum
Coralville Public Library
Lynn Meadows Discover Center
Harrison County Library System
Children’s Museum of Richmond
Richmond Public Library
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe Children’s Museum
Santa Fe Public Library