Story 03: Birth of PlayspaceStory | Print | eMail | Related Media | Archives
Written by Jeri Robinson
In 1971, the exhibit Grownups and Kids was installed at the museum's Jamaica Plain site to provide preschoolers with creative learning experiences involving arts and crafts, science or cooking, and to give their parents ideas for trying similar activities at home using low-cost, easily found materials. Parents and young children could participate in drop-in activities with or without staff help.
Grownups and Kids was situated in a small, semi-enclosed area on the lower half of a split level space. Designed as a prototype for afterschool daycare centers' arts and crafts programs, this exhibit made use of tri-wall (a triple-layered, corrugated cardboard), and recycled paper tubes to create inexpensive moveable components, including: a central circular activity table, continuously staffed, with seating for 10-12 children on paper tube stools; a bulletin board; a magnetized blackboard; a floor length mirror; exhibit modules with changing activities, such as puppets, a lock box, a stacking toy, tic-tac-toe grid, tangrams, mirrors, magnets, and puzzles.
Grownups and Kids provided focused activities with tangible results for adults and preschoolers. Repeat visitors welcomed the changing agenda. The exhibit also provided opportunities for staff to interact with visitors and try out new ideas. Many of the activities (some presented on take-home "idea sheets") developed during this period continued to be used in subsequent exhibits and workshops. They also provided the basis for Jeri Robinson's book, Activities for Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere.
The seven-year longevity of this exhibit attested to its popularity with its intended audience of parents and children between the ages of three and five. Grownups and Kids also drew considerable numbers of older and younger children.
...and What Didn't
This exhibit was sometimes very crowded, messy and demanding on staff. A lack of running water in the area made cleanup more difficult. The activities consumed large quantities of materials. Some projects had to be left to dry and picked up later or carried around for the rest of the museum visit.
Staff often had to overcome adult reluctance to participate. Parents accompanied by more than one child needed a safe place for a baby or toddler to play or rest while they joined their older children in an activity. In response, the museum built a four-by-six-foot plexiglass playpen near the activity table. The pen was carpeted, gated and stocked with toys. Visitors began watching the new "baby exhibit."