The Making of “Making Creativity”

by Eli Africa

On October 15, 2011 Zeum reopened as Children’s Creativity Museum. The museum staff and community undertook this creative risk fueled by our collective passion for the 3Cs of 21st-century skills – creativity, communication, and collaboration. Our former Director of Experience and Community Engagement, Irina Zadov, and I sat down and decided to produce a video that captured the behind-the-scenes thoughts of the Children’s Creativity Museum staff and community partners about the museum’s transformation. Keeping in mind the  museum’s motto “Imagine, Create, Share”, Irina came up with questions that we would later ask people to answer candidly in front of a video camera. Having archived media throughout the years for the museum and after the initial re-branding, it was a challenge for me to imagine how everything could come together to help tell the story of “Making Creativity”.

After a week of scheduled interviews, approximately two hours of
recorded footage were to be edited down to bite size essential nuggets. It was expected that there would be similar responses to the questions asked, so after listening to everyone’s answers, each individual voice was juxtaposed to weave in and out to create a singular story starting and finishing each person’s thoughts.

The creative process of making the “Making Creativity” video was such a rush of uncertainty and excitement. Asking the right questions were key to getting people to talk and think as a culture, as an organization and as individuals. As a collaborative story, it hopefully speaks as a living and growing testament to what can be done with limited time and resources when you nurture creativity and embrace it as your core.



Take a Break and Observe!

by Jill Slagter

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”  -William Morris

Have you ever tried to walk somewhere with a two year old? I bet you never realized how many flowers were in bloom or how many little slopes were on the sidewalk until a child stopped to check out each one of them. Young children are constantly observing. The environment is still so new and thrilling to them while we as adults have become habituated in this world and often don’t stop to pay attention to the details.

I have been reading “On Intelligence” by John Hawkins, where he spends a lot of time describing how the brain works. The basic premise is that the human brain is a memory-prediction system. The brain stores experiences, relates them to other experiences and uses the memories of all these experiences to make predictions. As we get older, we stop truly observing. Our brain has gotten so competent at predicting that there’s no need to observe every detail. The problem is that being able to observe and make connections that aren’t always predictable is what leads to creativity.

As the famous psychologist Piaget describes, children are natural observers and like little scientists. They make observations, form a hypothesis, test their hypothesis and adapt as necessary. This is how they learn. We’re often in a hurry to get somewhere, but one of the best ways to help children learn is to try to stop rushing and let them observe. If you can encourage children to continue observing and find the joy in really paying attention, they could become adults who do not only see the current patterns but are also able to create new patterns.

A few suggestions to help encourage observation:

1. Leave twenty minutes earlier so that it’s okay to stop and smell some flowers for a few minutes. Instead of hurrying them along, ask questions such as “Did you notice…” or “I wonder why…”. Make sure not to give the answer away. Children start losing their natural curiosity when we start telling them how things work instead of allowing them to discover things on their own.

2. Get some interesting observation tools in the house such as prisms, magnifying glasses or mirrors.  Or, put together a sensory tub or table and let them get messy. Check out one of our visitors participating in our Early Explorations in Science program. What will happen when she adds green?

3. Set up a nature table. When you go for walks, have children collect different items they find. This allows them to really observe nature and become aware of the different seasons of the year. Check out this beautiful table from Buggy and Buddy.

4. Get a sketch book for your child (and for yourself). Next time you’re out for a walk and you see a beautiful plant or an interesting insect, try drawing it. Don’t force it. Children are often just content observing, but once they get a little older, keeping a sketch book is a fun way to document their observations.

Keep in mind- It’s good for you too! Take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and just breathe.

The Most Useful Internship in the World (this is not sarcasm)

by Rachel Levinson
Education Intern

“The idea of being a teacher is that you’ve gotta pass it on. You learn something. You develop some insights. Your experience can be transmitted and that is the nature of civilization.”
– Milton Glaser

Let me start off by saying that I have a passion for education, art, and technology that built me into a strong enough candidate to score the opportunity to be an education intern this summer. The museum drew me in with their San Francisco vibe of forming an open creative community for visitors and staff alike. I am a local student majoring in Art History with a specific interest in museum educational programming. I think  that technology has a way of engaging visitors on a higher level than normal, even if said visitors aren’t as twitter-savvy as the high school tour group in the next gallery. It is hard to know where to start in educational programming, but the CCM internship program gives us the Intro 101 course.

Basically, we are tasked with the duty of creating workshops for visiting groups each week. A workshop is normally held in our Birthday Party room and is an activity that can easily be done within 30 minutes by someone five-years-old and under. Give them a coloring book, you say? Sure we could do that. But how is that activity engaging and challenging enough to push their creative ideas into a new realm? See, this is the programming that I vastly underestimated when I took this internship on.

I have never had to even think about writing a lesson plan before, especially with material and time limits. It is intimidating to tackle these workshops without any previous experience. I applied here in order to get a better grasp on these issues and I want to share some of the main obstacles we face weekly during workshop planning.

One of my favorite workshops (workshop being a group activities station for visiting summer campers 1st grade and under) would have to be the Animal Mix-up. The basic idea is to do a modified Exquisite Corpse by having the kids draw a full animal upon a template, then cut it up into three pieces, and lastly, tape three pieces together to make a new mixed-up animal. Our goal was to help kids focus on fully creating a single creature and then use the mix-up as a way to physically see the benefits of collaboration (even if the collaboration is not direct).

Even though every visitor had a blast drawing and mixing up their animals, there ended up being four distinct problems to our workshop:

  1. Trouble viewing project through to the end: Many times the visitors would not want to cut their animal up show it to others. They still wanted to make a mixed up creature, but did not enjoy the idea of trusting their group members to provide an awesome animal section. This could be attributed to age, but also has ties to the fact that our workshop has more parameters than normal. Throughout the weeks I’ve learned that the less steps in a workshop, the better.
  2. Overwhelmed/Intimidated: We thought that we had planned enough for this problem by doing “ten second animals” three times before introducing the project. Ten second animals is, for example, when you tell them to draw a Buffalo and then they only have ten seconds to achieve a doodle that looks like a Buffalo. It was helpful to show by example rather than sitting around waiting for them to become comfortable with an idea.
  3. Comprehension: It wasn’t too complicated of an idea (from our perspective) since the worksheets we handed out had predesignated thirds with guidelines on where to fit your animal. Wrong again! Drawing an animals body to fit certain points was a hard concept to grasp. Overall I learned, the more freedom with a project, the better.
  4. Organization from Staff: This one is completely on our side (as were the previous three). We had figured it would be easy to switch the heads, middles, and ends but not when the kids decided to switch all at once! This was more of a “Logistics with Children 101” moment that we learned from each time a new group came in.

I realize that some of this blog’s readers are educators and parents, so all of these revelations come to no surprise to you. I, on the other hand, have almost zero experience with educating children and have found each day spent at the CCM as an enormous learning experience. There have been learning moments in educational programming, interacting with visitors, logistics, and professionalism that I would be hard pressed to find in any other type of institution. I almost wish it would be mandatory for business majors to spend a summer doing this kind of work in the same way that I should spend a summer learning accounting as an art history major.

I am truly starting to appreciate not only the amount of work that the education staff does every day but also the work of every teacher/professor I’ve had before.  Basically, my point is that teaching anyone something takes a lot of effort that goes beyond the specific time you spend with them. As with everything, we get better when we learn from our mistakes and I cannot wait to see how my experience here will shape my projects in the future!

Summer Animation Camp

By Justin Gabaldon
Educator at CCM

Summer camp is upon us, and so far it has been an amazing success! We’ve just completed our first Three Day Animation Workshop and I’d like to share a little of what that was like.

We started camp by watching a clay animation classic: “Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.” Since we’d all seen the film before, we took the opportunity to discuss the techniques used by professionals like Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit. After the film, we were all eager to get our hands on some clay and start animating. In the Animation Lab, our goal for the morning was to practice animating using a couple lumps of clay. Oddly enough, those lumps of clay started gaining personality—and would eventually become the stars of the show!

Our next stop was the Innovation Lab where we began dreaming up stories and building sets. We spent an hour drawing and laughing and building the silliest story we could think of. With our basic story in place, we moved on to set-building. Here at the Children’s Creativity Museum, we have so many bits and pieces of recycled material that once we decided that our story would take place in a cosmic cul-de-sac, we had no problem finding everything we would need to make a block of houses for our little clay creatures.

As the last activity of the day, we moved our production into the studio where we would spend the next two days.

We spent all of the second day animating our film. Obviously, we broke for some lunch, but the campers were so eager to tell their story that even during our break, we continued to discuss those details that weren’t quite clear yet. By the end of that day, we’d had fun animating but we were excited to move on to the next stage of the process.

On the third and final day of camp we still had one last scene to animate before we could begin recording sound. Once that scene was complete, we moved camp into our Children’s Creativity Theater (site of our summer Film Festival on August 19, where you’ll all get a chance to catch the terrific films our campers produce) to record dialogue and sound effects. We took turns individually recording voices for the characters we’d made. Then we all recorded sound effects together!

The third day was nearly done but we still had to combine the video we’d made with the audio recordings. Our Design Studio served as the editing room and screening room for the Grand Premiere! The campers made a quick round of the museum, collecting other visitors to attend their first film premiere. It was standing room only when the film began. We’ve included it here as well.  We hope you enjoy it.

We all learned a lot over the course of this three day camp.  As an educator, I was proud to watch as these students actively shared their ideas and learned to collaborate with one another on a project they cared about.  As an animator I was amazed to see these young artists create a film with dynamic characters that interacted with each other in a way that told a unique and interesting story.  I can’t wait to see what the next round of visitors create.

If you have a child who would be interested in creating their own animated film, we have three more camps scheduled this Summer.  The next one is coming up this Sunday. It’s a one day camp for visitors 6-8 years old. Then we have another three day camp starting August 15th through the 17th for visitors 9-12 years old.  Our final camp, on August 19th, is another one day event for 6-8 year olds. Later that evening we will be holding our big Film Festival where all the films made this Summer will be shown on the big screen!  For more information or to sign up you can visit our website at We hope to see you soon!

Click here to register

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.

A Day in the Life of an Educator: The Mystery Box Challenge

Sensory Sensibility: strategies for focusing young minds

By Emmy Brockman

The world is awash in sensory stimuli. Something to see and smell, or touch and taste, in every encounter. It can be overwhelming. An example: last Friday, a friend and I walk into a crowded and cramped cafe.  The kitchen is open and heat radiates from the broad grills. Music plays loudly, while conversations amplify to compete. We are seated in view of 3 televisions – each broadcasting a different channel. The food is scrumptious, subtle, and ample. The crowd, the heat, the music, the conversation, the televisions, the meal. Sensory saturation! In such situations, focus shifts sporadically, the mind wanders, and conversation is taxing. This example begins to illustrate the barrage of sensory input experienced by young children at all times.

According to Maria Montessori, creator of the Montessori education method, young children experience several “sensitive periods” from birth to age 6. Sensitive periods are broadly defined as important times of childhood neurodevelopment. Skills acquired during these periods include language, coordination, and the ability to sort sensory stimuli. This post will focus on that last one, the sorting of sensory stimuli. Montessori notes,

“A child takes in information about the world through his senses. As the brain develops, it becomes able to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant sensory stimuli. The most efficient way to accomplish this is for the brain to pay attention to all sensory stimuli. The most repetitive (and therefore most important) of these will strengthen neural pathways, while the less common, although initially detected, will not provide enough brain activity to develop sensitivity to them.”

In other words, young children (roughly birth to age 4) indiscriminately take in whatever sensory stimuli they are exposed to. Imagine being attuned to every sensory input in your environment, no filter. As adults, our brain’s filter is firmly in place, however, here is an interesting sensory exercise to try. Pause during your day and take stock of each of your senses. Notice what your immediate mind has filtered: perhaps the feel of the chair beneath you, or subtler smells, or sounds of cars passing in the background. Now, imagine doing this exercise in the crowded cafe scenario from the previous paragraph. That is akin to the experience of a 2 year old.

Through this thick mist of senses we, as parents or educators, sometimes want young children to focus. In fact, we often want young children to focus. We struggle with it, stress about it, and are constantly strategizing. Respecting a young child’s sensory exploration while wishing them to focus on a task – putting on their shoes for example – can be a challenging balance. Keeping this in mind, the rest of this post will discuss CCM tested strategies to gain and maintain the attention of young children in a sensory saturated world.

  • Troubleshoot before trouble starts
    • As an educator, I attempt to carefully curate program spaces to mitigate distractions. Reggio Emilia and Montessori education philosophies both stress the importance of a child’s physical environment to encourage learning. Keeping this in mind, program/play spaces can be bright, inviting, and rather austere. There is no need to pack the space with toys, as children need space to move around and the fewer items, the fewer distractions.
  • Out of sight out of mind
    • The immediate sensory input of young children is so engaged that their minds really operate on a “out of sight out of mind” principle. Often grabbing the distracting object and simply sitting on it or putting it on a high shelf will refocus the child’s attention. On countless occasions I’ve wordlessly taken a sharp stick or oozing marker or noisy whistle from a child, stuck it in my shirt, and handed them something else (anything else) in return. Generally the child barely registers the exchange, particularly if they’ve dropped the object before you remove it. The real treat is discovering all these items tucked in my clothing at the end of the day!
  • Make yourself the distraction
    • At Children’s Creativity Museum I lead music and storytelling programs for young children. In hopes of holding young children’s attention, I try to make myself the most interesting thing in the room. Moment by moment this can be accomplished by being highly dynamic:
      • Fluctuate voice pitch and volume
      • Make large body gestures
      • Employ exaggerated facial expressions
      • Play an instrument or switch from a speaking voice to a singing voice
  • Be consistent
  • Manage your expectations and be flexible
    • When planning activities for young children I ask: Is this activity age appropriate? Can I reasonably expect a 2 year old to do this? What is my plan if this does not work? What is my second plan? And third plan?

As CCM’s Early Childhood Specialist, I use these tools everyday, and everyday I am surprised, foiled, outsmarted, and constantly adopting new strategies. Do you have strategies for holding the attention of young children? Leave a comment! I’d love to give them a try!

It should also be noted that this advice is directed primarily at children birth to four years old. Do these strategies work for older children? How might they be adapted for a school aged audience? How is the sensory experience of older children different? What new challenges accompany those differences?