Tag: play

The New Wonder Room: Icing on the Cake


“Hi, what are you doing?” I whispered as I crouched, on hands and knees, under the treehouse.

“We’re imagining there’s a troll living up there in the treehouse,” Marina shared.  “We’re the elves.”

“Elves are nice,” added Pilar.

I smiled and joined in the creative play with Lorena and her two daughters Marina and Pilar.  Together we wondered about the ambiguous glass sculpture.  Is it a girl or boy?  Is it human or elfin?  We pretended to be mermaids climbing rocks; we stacked up piles of bamboo stones. And then, Lorena and the girls crawled away to spy on the “mean troll” living in the tree house.

The Wonder Room is back in business.

After five hectic weeks of demolition and transformation, the Wonder Room is open again. Chock-full of birds and bats, trees and mysterious creatures, this experimental gallery now flaunts a woodland theme with all new hands-on activities and an eclectic selection of art.  Curious visitors of all ages braved cold and ice to come out and play with us last month during the Wonder Room preview weeks.

Lorena and her two daughters played for hours.


Daniel, Susan, and Shirley also came to check it out.  When I met this trio, they were huddled around the tree stumps, contemplating their progress.  Their goal:  to build an arched branch — one that would span both tree stumps — using the large cardboard pieces.  Susan played the role of a human support beam while Daniel experimented with different pieces to make the structure sturdy.  Shirley offered advice from the sidelines.

As always, I relished chatting and collaborating with these and other CMA families.  As always, I observed and documented some of their conversations and actions.  As always, I looked for evidence of collaboration and creativity in action.

Situated in the very heart of the Center for Creativity, the Wonder Room is intentionally designed to foster and provoke creativity.  But creativity, we know, is like a gargantuan, multi-tiered cake; we don’t expect to take in the entire confection at one sitting.  Instead we pick away at the layers at different times in different ways.  The Wonder Room takes a big bite out of the tiers of curiosity, imagination, experimentation, and storytelling. 

To set the stage for these creative experiences, we made countless intentional design decisions to promote creative play – play inspired by unexpected discovery and exploration, play that allows for experimentation and mess-making, and play that is prompted by sharing stories, make-believe, and imaginings.

What I first noticed about Lorena and Daniel’s families is their intuitive and urgent drive to play – to invent, to explore, to experiment, to pretend.  From across the room I first watched as Lorena and her family crawled into the dark crevices under the treehouse, discovered the sleeping sculpture, and took off on their adventure.  From afar I watched Daniel, his mother and girlfriend, make bird nests, draw trees, and then, set out to build the marvelous arched tree.

For good reason, there are very few signs in the gallery currently.  I’ve learned that people don’t seem to notice signs in museums, so I spent the first few weeks watching and listening to determine what kind of signs visitors of all ages would need to encourage their creative play — to give them permission to play.

I admit that even I am surprised at how much imagining, experimenting, and storytelling has erupted spontaneously here already.  And for me, that is the icing on the cake.








Day of Play

Day of Play

Last Saturday Raeanne brought her family to the museum to play.  CMA hummed that day with the 2nd Annual Global Day of Play Cardboard Challenge.  Raeanne (left), her family, and friends accepted the challenge with gusto.

If you aren’t already familiar with the Imagination Foundation and the inspiration for this yearly Cardboard Challenge, check out the compelling story here.

Armed with mountains of cardboard, masking tape, and utility knives, CMA visitors were challenged this year to “design for the future.”  I stumbled upon Raeanne and her family knee deep in cardboard.  Sophia (arm raised), Raeanne’s 8 year-old daughter, was the mastermind behind the construction project – a  5-foot futuristic convertible car.  But, the whole family took part in the making, including Nana who drove in from Newark to join in the weekend “cultural” activities.  While Sophia worked on the wheels, Nana and Yohannan (back) worked on the chassis.

Fresh off the soccer fields, the family already had a busy morning.  Yet, they heard about the Cardboard Challenge from Sophia’s school, and made time to schedule creative play into their Saturday.  Their friends Rhonda, Alexa, and Alia came later to join in the fun.

It sounds silly, somehow, to have to make time to play.  Our harried, overprotected, overstimulated, 21st century lives, don’t often allow enough space and time for play and its muses — imagination, curiosity, and wonder. At the Columbus Museum of Art, we celebrate creativity.  And we believe that play — with all its variations and disguises, its labels, classifications, and complexities — is essential to creativity and innovation.

Play is notoriously difficult to define.  While it has a reputation for the frivolous, juvenile, and inconsequential, play can also be intense, purposeful and momentous.

Varied educational and scientific research of the last 60+ years confirms that play is critical to the cognitive, social, and emotional development of animals from polar bears to chimps to humans.  And some of the greatest artistic and scientific minds of the last century attribute their successes and achievements to play. (See Sparks of Genius by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein)

I was delighted to meet two smart moms, Raeanne and Rhonda (right), who value play for their families — who make time for the structure of sports and art lessons in the morning, but allow for something else – the time for everyone in the family to consider, construct, and prototype a car for the future.

Visitors Stories and Conversations is a biweekly blog series highlighting the stories behind many of our delightful visitors.

Making Time to Play & Dream

Got a minute? Chances are, you don’t.  Who doesn’t feel rushed these days? And this is not a new thing.  Three decades ago, I was a young elementary school teacher in Upper Arlington when David Elkind, a nationally recognized child development expert and author of The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast and Too Soon, was brought in to speak to the community about the problem of rushing children. Looking back, I don’t think his talk has had much of an effect.  In fact, 30 years later, I suspect Dr. Elkind could write another book and call it The Over-Scheduled Adult.

About four years ago the BBC reported on an alarming study done by the United Nations Children’s Fund that used 40 different indicators to rate the well-being of children in the 21 richest countries.  “Well-being” was defined as a broad set of measures that included things such as poverty, health care, relationships with other children and adults, etc.  The Netherlands and Sweden came out as the highest (#1 and #2) “child-friendly” nations while the United States and the United Kingdom were at the bottom (#20 and #21 respectively).  This report led the BBC to ask: “So why are Dutch children so happy, and British children under so much stress?”

Part of the answer, in my opinion, is that children are experiencing too much, too soon, too fast. Speed is the enemy of quality, and over the years has resulted in an erosion of childhood just like good old Dr. Elkind warned us 30 years ago.

If all of this sounds a bit discouraging.  I’ve got just the antidote for you. Take a stroll through the Center for Creativity and the Columbus Museum of Art galleries. Occasionally, I use the museum for what I call an “artful loitering tour.”  On this self-guided “tour” I simply go to the museum with no specific purpose in mind and wander around to see what strikes me.  Something always does.  On one of my “tours” last week, I observed a father with his four-year-old son standing in silence gazing at a assemblage of metal objects attached to a magnetized wall in the Wonder Room.  They were at the beginning stage of creating a creature of some sort using one of the large metal heads in the room.

After scanning over the objects for some time, the boy excitedly said, “I know, let’s make the eyes with this.”  The “this” was a large, single piece of metal with a 30 ml spoon on one end and a 15 ml spoon on the other.  As his father watched, the boy attached the measuring spoon to the head.  The boy then stepped back, pondered what he had done, and looked somewhat puzzled, noticing that the different sized measuring spoons had made eyes that were not the same size.  He then said, “It’s OK, they’re not like my eyes, but we’re making this up, aren’t we Daddy?”  To which the father promptly replied, “Yep, we’re dreaming this up together.”

The two of them, together, continued to “dream” and make up various faces.  You have to appreciate what they were doing on many levels.  They were collaborating, making connections to themselves and the world (i.e. eyes are mostly the same size), using flexible thinking (but eyes don’t have to be!), pondering, reflecting on their work, and formulating plans.  Sounds an awful lot like 21st-century thinking skills doesn’t it?

However, what most impressed and inspired me was that they were taking their time.  No rush.  No preconceived notions of making things the “right” way.  They were playing.  They were simultaneously engaged and relaxed.  Just messing about together.  Creating.  Learning.  Valuing each other and the work they were doing.

No “hurried child.”  No over-scheduled adult.  I wish Dr. Elkind could have seen it.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Guest Blogger Fred Burton serves as the Education Scholar At-Large at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity, and is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at Ashland University.  For the past three years, he has served as a Fellow and faculty member for the Project Zero Classroom Institute in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.  Currently, his teaching and consultant work centers on the role that creativity, thinking, and the arts play in schools, museums, and business settings.

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.