CHS Kids’ Choice Awards

Summer programs bring a lot of activity to CHS! By the end of August, we will have offered fourteen Story &Crafts at the Museum programs for toddlers and their caregivers. This has given me a lot of time to delve into the minds of 2, 3, and 4 year-old museum visitors. In an unofficial poll, I have created a list of the top 5 stops that are unavoidable if you and your little one(s) come to CHS for a visit.

#5 Magnet Boards in Making Connecticut

A young girl admiring her magnet-board “town”

A young girl admiring her magnet-board “town”

Sometimes after a program, I will head upstairs and the two magnet boards that we have in our Making Connecticut exhibit will be completely covered with ALL of the magnets – there will not be any empty space left on the boards. There is no rhyme or reason as to why magnets have been put in a particular spot and the board certainly does not, in anyone’s definition, resemble a town or community. (Yes, sometimes they do look like a town, but I thought that this version was more interesting to share).

For our youngest visitors, the magnet boards seem to be a place where purpose and order abound (take first magnet, stick it on, take second magnet, stick it on….). Toddlers can easily identify the images on the magnets – houses, animals, cars, trains, barns – and they like this recognition. The two magnet board areas are an instant target for some of our more reserved young visitors who do not want to venture into the busier interactive spaces.

#4 Dress a Bust in Try it! Connecticut Places, People, Collections & Me

This is not just a popular spot with CHS’s young visitors. We often see many adults dressing up the statues and themselves in this space. We recently added new props which you can hold up to change the appearance of your body – they were drawn and designed by a very talented, local artist named Sam. Also newly added to this space is a camera so visitors can snap a picture to take home and then snap another to add to our wall of fun photos!

#3 Colonial Kitchen in Making Connecticut

Our very hands-on colonial kitchen

Our very hands-on colonial kitchen

The colonial kitchen consistently earns marks as a top-stop for visitors to CHS. Kids (and adults) can step inside the kitchen and dress-up in reproduction colonial costumes before cooking and serving a meal (“Where is the microwave, stove, and sink?”). If you ever come across a group of young visitors in this kitchen, don’t be surprised if they ask you to come in and join them. Be prepared though – the most common meal served seems to be onion, corn, and apple soup.

I have also noticed that this space is great for younger children – it encourages them to play creatively with other children whom they have only just met and, for the most part, it works! I am always impressed at the sharing (yes!) that takes place in our colonial kitchen.

#2 Native American Canoe in Making Connecticut

A group of slightly older visitors enjoying the canoe

A group of slightly older visitors enjoying the canoe

“Wait, we can actually sit in the canoe?!?” This is a question that we often get asked and the answer is a resounding, YES! I believe that this is what makes the canoe so fascinating to our young visitors. Children are often told not to touch and definitely not to climb all over things in a museum, but we actually encourage this at our canoe stop. Because they can get so up-close with the canoe, toddlers begin to explore this object in a way that is more thorough than they would an object behind glass or plastic – they become excited to tell you what it feels like, what color it is, and lots more. Just ask!

During a recent Story & Crafts at the Museum program, a little girl was exploring all of the exhibit spaces, but kept coming back to the canoe. All she wanted to do was get inside, lay down, and stare at the ceiling. During the course of our conversation, she mentioned that the canoe was more comfortable than her bed (hmm……), which was, surprisingly, not the first time that I have heard that from a young visitor. Doesn’t this make you want to come into the CHS and try it out for yourself?

And now for the #1, kid-approved stop……

#1 Modern Kitchen in Making Connecticut.

One little boy sets the table, while another apron-clad visitor does some cleaning in the corner of our modern kitchen space.

One little boy sets the table, while another apron-clad visitor does some cleaning in the corner of our modern kitchen space.

The modern kitchen is not all that modern – lots of families say that they have a kitchen that looks VERY similar at their own home – so perhaps it is the familiarity that young kids can connect with. Mixed with the familiarity comes a few unexpected twists. As one young visitor exclaimed while standing with the rotary dial phone receiver to her ear, “What do you mean I can’t walk around and talk at the same time??” Others have looked in amazement at the television (try explaining that none of the toddler-geared channels of today – Playhouse Disney, Noggin, and PBS Sprout – existed). Adults will recognize and remember almost everything. This presents parents, grandparents, etc. with a great opportunity to being telling stories about their childhood and what it was like when they were growing up.

The part that shocks me most about this ultimate fan-favorite is what our young visitors enjoy doing here – cleaning! Sure, setting the table and pretending to make a meal is fun, but they LOVE putting on the gloves and “washing” the dishes, tying on an apron and sweeping the floor, and making sure that the dinnerware is all neatly put away in the cabinets. It is the one area that I rarely have to go back through and pick up after a group leaves. Parents can learn valuable insight about their children while at this interactive – the modern kitchen is proof that, although kids might not always want to or like to clean at home, they definitely are capable of a good clean-up!

So, there you have it – the top five, toddler-approved spots of summer 2013. Visit the CHS Calendar for more information on upcoming family programs and then bring the family in to find your #1 CHS spot.

Have your own favorite part of CHS? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Erin Strogoff is the Coordinator of Youth & Family Programs at the Connecticut Historical Society

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