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Story 03: Birth of Playspace

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Sidebar: Through the Looking Glass (1977-1979)

Written by Jeri Robinson

Running concurrently with Before You Were Three and the end of Grownups and Kids, was Through the Looking Glass. This exhibit, designed by Signe Hanson, encompassed about one hundred-twenty square feet or one-third of the front lobby of The Children's Museum Visitor Center in Jamaica Plain.

Key elements in this space were:

  • The Crow's Nest - a climbing structure with small, lighted exhibit boxes containing collections of objects, such as horned toads, an armadillo, and of course, a stuffed crow and nest complete with eggs and shiny objects;
  • Table top exhibit cases;
  • Cubbies with flaps that could be lifted to reveal artifacts from collections, such as dolls and masks.

Through the Looking Glass was an outgrowth of a museum-wide attempt to devise new ways to display and use its collections, encouraging children to discover objects while playing, in keeping with the philosophy of a participatory museum.

What Worked...

Continuing to use the collections exhibitions model, for the most part, the unstaffed "visitor discovery" concept of this exhibit went smoothly.

...and What Didn't

The Crow's Nest brought children too close to the ceiling light fixtures. Parents contributed to making it unsuitably hazardous by lifting very young children past the ladder designed to keep them at bay. This piece was enormously popular, however, and served as the forerunner to the Castle in Playspace where necessary adaptations were made to meet the needs of the preschoolers more safely.

On crowded days, this lobby exhibit became a real bottleneck. This problem was to haunt Playspace in its next two locations as well.

Next: Sidebar: Playspace - Take 1 (1978-1979)