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A touching visit with the Ronald McDonald House

By Heather Lee
Education Intern at CCM

Last week the Ronald McDonald House spent an afternoon at the museum. I had the pleasure of introducing and guiding them around the museum and as a fairly new education intern I did not know what to expect. It turned out to be the most touching and personal group visit I have ever had and I do not think there is a better way to experience a group of kids with illness. They are braver and more courageous than most kids and adults combined. What we forget is that kids with illnesses are still kids first and foremost. They become this symbol of fragility that we have to pay attention to and that we have to compliment in order to make them feel good about themselves. Really what I have learned is that all they want are the same things as regular kids.

Parents of sick children are strong. They are worrisome, and sometimes they might feel inadequate or weak but I see them as beautiful and capable.  Their children teach them to be emotional and understanding. They teach their parents to treat them with the same amount of discipline and with the same amount of tenderness. Surprisingly and beautifully, these kids don’t request for extra attention because of their illnesses. Discipline and tenderness are key factors for parent’s sanity. One amazing parent discussed with me the heroism he found in his son because he was able to withstand multiple kinds of cancer before the age of 10. A girl can have multiple heart transplants and not be affected by the amount of sadness around her. I found it astonishing, surprising and eye-opening that these kids do not ask for more attention. They enjoy the little things like making a mask out of felt, or making a clay figure, or just how marching up the stairs makes them laugh and giggle. These are the rewarding moments that make the staff at the Children’s Creativity Museum want to come to work everyday with smiles on our faces.

Almost every week I get asked by a parent or guardian if I enjoy working here. I always say yes and smile with enthusiasm but then we go into discussion about the pay, the benefits and the experience. Most parents are surprised when I tell them that I am not being paid and that I volunteer my time to be here because I believe that it’s worth the experience. They also ask me what kind of benefits we get from working here and I have never been able to pinpoint the benefits but at a certain point it just becomes overall enjoyable and rewarding. Some days are more rewarding than others. Some days are faster and slower. Sometimes kids touch your heart in a figurative way. Enjoyable and rewarding are the only benefits I’ll be happy with. If I happen to pick up any others than that is rewarding as well.

Experiences like these do not come everyday and most people do not get to work with kids like these but when you do it becomes the only thing in your day that makes you feel like you did something worth while.

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YOU Are Creative, But You May Not Know It Yet

Written by Education Intern, Alicia Bucks

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” -Picasso.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, be it through regimented school curriculums or the pressures of our economic system, many people lose the belief that they are creatively talented.  An article published recently by Psychology Today, entitled Creative Thinkering: Resurrecting your natural creativity through inspiring techniques and practical examples describes twelve aspects of creative thinking that for the most part go untaught.  The article is written by Michael Michalko, an expert in the field of inventive thinking.  The first, and arguably most important, of these twelve aspects of creative thinking that often go ignored is: YOU ARE CREATIVE!   This means that there is no intrinsic difference between a renowned artist and a person who does not pursue any creative endeavors.  The difference lies within people’s beliefs about themselves.  Michalko explains that all people are born with the ability to be creative, spontaneous thinkers, but as they form their self-identity they either choose to believe they are creative individuals or believe they are simply uncreative, as if there was some sort of special essence these “creative types” have that they must be lacking.  The expression of this self-identity leads people to either pursue creative projects, and therefore develop their creative thinking skills, or to write them off completely.  Michalko explains, “the reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new.  When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.”   This sort of denial of a person’s own creative ability can easily turn into a lifelong self-administered stifling of one of the most beautiful aspects of being human, the ability to create.  The wonderful thing about the Children’s Creativity Museum is that it gives visitors the opportunity and encourages them to realize that they are creative, even if they have lived their whole lives denying their abilities and depriving themselves of the fulfillment creative endeavors often bring.  Through CCM’s education philosophy of “Imagine, Create, Share,” visitors of all ages are able to bring their sometimes forgotten creative sides to life.

Children and adults alike who enter the doors of Children’s Creativity Museum become instantly immersed in CCM’s education Philosophy, which is encapsulated in a design process referred to as, “Imagine, Create, Share.”  This process is a great way of easing people into creative endeavors without any of the pressure often associated with making art.  In each of the numerous interactive exhibits at the museum, from the Animation Studio, to the Innovation Lab, to the Music Studio, and beyond, visitors are encouraged to Imagine, Create, and Share in ways that conventional schooling and workplaces often ignore.  Visitors Imagine, maybe for the first time in years.  They are given the opportunity to try out something new, observe the creations of others, get inspired, and let their imagination run wild.  — Simply put, play!  Being not only allowed, but encouraged to do this can reawaken the creativity that so often lies dormant in people who believe themselves to be uncreative.

Once visitors are drawn in to one of the numerous activities available at CCM through Imagination, Educators facilitate an environment where everyone feels free to let their creative juices start flowing.  A big part of the creative process at CCM has to do with imparting Creative Confidence in visitors, and is one of the major goals of Educators at CCM.  This means instilling in people the freedom and courage to take risk without fear of failure, judgement, constraints, or a need for “perfection.”  It is confidence in the knowledge that every idea you create has value.  CCM challenges visitors to discover new materials and tools, see things in new ways, make connections, take risks, and collaborate with each other in order to create something new and exciting.

The Creative process at CCM is also facilitated by Imagination Starters, which are provided in many of the exhibit spaces.  Imagination Starters consist of 20% inspiration, in the form of a prompt, question, or challenge that visitors will provide the other 80% to in order to have a complete product.  This makes getting started on a creative project much more approachable than being confronted with a blank page and a pencil.  For example, in the Music Studio, fill-in lyric sheets (similar to Mad-Libs) help visitors to write their own songs which they can later create music for and perform in front of a green-screen.  Similarly, the Mystery Box Challenge gives people a box full of random objects which must be transformed into a new creation based on a prompt, such as, “build a space suit for a shark.”  These Imagination Starters are a great way to get creative juices flowing and make being creative less intimidating to people who have told themselves they are incapable.

Once a visitor of CCM has Imagined new possibilities and transformed some of those ideas into tangible Creations, they are encouraged to Share their masterpieces with others.  Every visitor receives validation of their ideas, positive feedback, and ideas for building upon what they have done to make another great project in the future.  Whenever possible, visitor creations are displayed in miniature film festivals, frames on the museum’s walls, on CCM’s website, and in take-home formats, such as a DVD copy or emailed link to their project.  This sharing of visitors’ ideas is an important way to make each person feel validated in their creative abilities and confidant to make something else in the future.

By the end of a day spent at Children’s Creativity Museum visitors will come to accept that they are in fact extremely creative.  Sometimes they might just need a little guidance, in the form of CCM’s supportive environment to help them realize it.  Being allowed and encouraged to Imagine, Confidently Create, Share with others, and to be given the first 20% to get started can go a very long way in reviving a creative spark that has almost gone out.  We hope that you will pay a visit to CCM and learn that YOU are creative too!

From audience to idea: rapid prototyping in action

As a true believer in co-creation, I’ve been doing everything in my power to encourage our Creative Community Council members to blog about their experiences. However, I realize that a full-fledged post is a lot to ask of high school seniors, parents and community advocates so instead we tried a mad lib.
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Today we…
  • Did the Mystery Box Challenge, brainstormed ways to find solutions to our Point of Views, chose our favorite ideas and presented it in a skit
  • Created our prototyping for the specific age groups/families as a way to put our top choices to the test
  • Came up with some great ideas on how to better reach children in our age group

The process was…

  • Really great, in our groups we cam up with so many different ideas to reach out to the community, things I never would have thought of on my own
  • One that allowed us to think about how to engage our target population and advertise our prototyping
  • Creative, inspirational, and fun

I liked…

  • Brainstorming, watching the skits, the warm-up, the grapes!
  • The active participation and stretching exercise
  • Making the skit
  • Coming up with a lot of ideas, narrowing them down, and creating a presentation
  • I really enjoyed the different ways we shared ideas
  • Working with my group and getting inspired
  • Just having fun and playing

ImageI wish…

  • More group interaction, bring back the chips!
  • We had more time to prepare for the video
  • There were more grapes because they were delicious and helped revamp my brain after a long day of school
  • The mini-marathon would come to life. I would love to see it happen
  • There was more time to give feedback to other groups about their ideas

I wonder…

  • Which of our ideas will actually be implemented
  • About other ways to engage families through Facebook, Newsletters, and let them know what the CCM has to offer
  • Our idea would carry through and become a reality
  • What my families and children will think about our ideas
  • Where we’ll end up – it’s kinda fun not to know and trust that we’ll get there!!!

Check out the videos each of our groups developed to show off their initial prototypes! Over the next two weeks they will share them with the children and families as well as our staff for questions, ideas, and tips on how to make their prototypes into action plans! What advice do you have for our groups?

User-Driven Community Engagement

By: Irina Zadov

When I first began at the museum in 2008 my supervisor and mentor shared a story about the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the storm families came together to share food, resources, and basic necessities, activities which radically strayed from the LCM’s mission of “promoting hands-on participatory learning for children of all ages.” This made me wonder: what is the role of a children’s museum in the lives of the families it serves? Natural disaster or not, what is our responsibility? To whom? And to what end?

For the CCM, being a “community resource” is one of the top priorities in our Strategic Plan, but we’ve always struggled to articulate exactly what that means. Over the years there have been numerous concerted efforts by individual staff and passionate community partners, but there has never been a systematic approach to community outreach and engagement.

We know it takes more than an active commitment to involving community artists, innovators, and youth in the co-creation of our programs and exhibits. We know it takes more than simply offering fee-waived family memberships for families from low-income neighborhoods. We know that for many families challenges around finances,  leisure time, linguistic and cultural norms, and legal status present a barrier to access. To help develop community outreach and engagement strategies that will be meaningful and lasting, we are choosing to focus on assets rather than needs.

“We are forming the Creative Community Council – a group of community leaders who will co-create a meaningful and sustainable platform for outreach and engagement.”  – Audrey Yamamoto, Executive Director.

Launched in the winter of 2011, the CCC is a group of 15 youth and adult advocates with strong ties to youth and families in our target age range.

The CCC includes folks like Yohana Quiroz, the Director of Youth and Family Programs at Family Service Agency of San Francisco who supports teen mothers, infants, recent immigrants, and elders in the Mission district. “For me it’s exciting – we work with low-income, high-risk families and if I could list five families who know about CCM, that would be amazing – I want to make sure that this resource is accessible for all of them.”

Other council members represent old friends. Fatimah Guienze, a teaching artist with Galileo Learning and Leap Arts in Education has worked with the museum for years as a facilitator, exhibition developer, and advocate.  “I am sincerely grateful and feel thoroughly blessed to be sharing the power of CCM with my San Francisco and East Bay community – I am always amazed how few of my students have had the chance to experience the freedom and creativity of the CCM – the need is great.”

Finally, we are thrilled to include youth representatives like Kai Lyons-Kuster, a senior at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts whose passion for music and early childhood education brought him to the museum as a C.I.T.Y. Guide where he was nominated by his peers to be a youth community advocate. “When I was in middle school, band was the only thing that got me through the day, when that went away in high school I had to transfer. When I graduate I want to be a music teacher so that all kids have access to creative expression.”

Inspired by the IMLS award winning Wing Luke Asian Museum Community Process  and the Oakland Museum of California Community Advisory Council our council is focused on developing long term and short term engagement strategies for each of our three target audiences: children ages 3-5, children ages 6-12, and families. Rather than forming an ongoing committee with monthly meetings into eternity, we chose to launch a task force with a clear deadline and action goals: to develop a Community Outreach and Engagement Plan  just in time for our March Board Retreat and its inclusion in the FY13 Operations Plan and Budget.

We chose to use the Design Thinking Process as a model of human-driven innovation for our bi-monthly meetings. Over the course of six weeks, the CCC will develop empathy through site-visits, observations, and interviews with each of the target demographics; a point of view or a need statement which will guide the design process for each demographic; they will ideate (come up with ideas); prototype (make mock ups of those ideas); and finally test them with our ultimate end users who include community members, staff, and board.

The outcome? A Community Outreach and Engagement Plan designed by and for youth and families whose needs are currently unmet by our organization. Of course, like everything in our museum, this process is an experiment, perpetually in beta and strengthened by our ability to fail forward.

Has your institution tried something like this? What were the results? Are you part of a community which doesn’t typically use the resources of a children’s museum? What suggestions would you give us as we embark on this adventure?