Friday, May 26, 2017

Physics and Force at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

We really like volunteering at the Children's Museum. It fits our varied skill sets and energies well, and I've been profoundly changed by the simple environment of respect and empowerment shared with even the youngest of us that exists there. Even the youngest of us is spoken to and with respectfully, as equals. Even the youngest of us is given big responsibilities, and empowered to fulfill them. And on this particular day, the not-quite-youngest of us was enlisted with a very big responsibility, and empowered to fulfill it all on her own.

Look at my big kid, running all by herself a tabletop activity at the world's largest children's museum:


She was completely in charge of this tabletop demonstration of centrifugal force. There are three settings on that Hot Wheels track, by means of which children could experiment with force and acceleration and evaluate how they affected the Hot Wheels car's ability to loop the loop.

When asked later, she claims that her main takeaway is that 55% of children, when presented with a button that you're obviously meant to push, attempted to pull it instead. I, however, sneaked many looks at her as she led everyone from toddlers to teens older than she through the activity, and just between us, I'll tell you that she took away a lot more than that. This kid is confident, and knowledgeable, and funny, gentler with those younger and smaller than she, unabashed when speaking to those older and bigger. She's growing up just the way I'd hoped she would.

Syd and I ran a less exciting table, charged with interesting and engaging children in the concept of the inclined plane, and a comparison of linear motion with rotational motion on that plane. The opening concept is kind of a yawner: you've got two inclined Hot Wheels tracks set up, and a couple of stacked Duplo bricks and a Hot Wheels car to test them on. Kid comes up, you ask Kid if Kid wants to play a game, Kid says yes because duh, you tell Kid you're going to race and Kid can choose to be the block or the car, Kid chooses, you race, you extrapolate on potential energy, linear motion vs. rotational motion, friction, etc.

After a couple of iterations, Syd and I found ways to make this game more fun, though, and more leveled, because leveling tabletop activities is very important when you've got an audience of anyone and everyone. Block vs. Car is pretty great for preschoolers and kindy types, but for younger preschoolers and toddlers, a much better game goes something like, "Can you make the car go down the ramp? Wow! Can you make the block go down the ramp? Ooh, I saw you had to do something different to make the block go down!" and then just let them tool around with cars and blocks and ramps until they're done or their parents drag them away.

For older kids, and especially for school groups, you play out Block vs. Car, getting the rest of the kids to be the judges if there's a ton of them crowded around your table, but then you start to add on challenges. Round #2 allows the kid in charge of Block to do anything she wants, short of injuring competitors or bystanders, to give Block the advantage. Car can't do anything differently. The kid will usually change the angle of Block's track, or push Block to get it to move faster. One kid, who I flat-out told is a genius, also flipped Block over so that only the pegs were touching the track, not the flat side. When Block wins, you ask the kid what she did differently and talk about why that worked. Switch players if you can, and Round #3 can either be a no-holds-barred race in which both Car and Block can try to get their pieces to win, or you can do another round of Block only, but Block has to do something different from what was done last time. If you change the rules slightly for every round, even teenagers will excitedly play round after round after round. It was pretty amusing to be a part of.

I completely forgot to take photos of our table, but here's, like, two seconds of us goofing around when we were between visitors:



I often joke with the kids that wherever we are, I'm the nerdiest one in the room, so they are always extra thrilled when they see that I've found a nerdy soulmate. As we were packing up our activities, we were discussing Hot Wheels with the museum staffer who was in charge of us. I mentioned that when I was my kids' age, my prize possession was a Hot Wheels recreation of the General Lee. He then told me that in his friend's latest Loot Crate, she'd gotten a Hot Wheels recreation of the '67 Impala from Supernatural. I was all, "I LOOOOVE Supernatural!," and he was all, "Oh, really? Do you want to see pics of my Supernatural cosplay?"

I may have asked him to be my best friend. Also, yes, of COURSE I wanted to see pics of his Supernatural cosplay! The kids looked on with benign bemusement as the staffer and I discussed conventions and cosplay and how you can't spray paint foam when making your costume weapons, because the foam will melt, and also people who obsess over avoiding anachronisms in their cosplay are fine, UNTIL they begin to nitpick your cosplay, which isn't meant to be bound to one specific scene from one specific genre, ugh.

It's possibly a little odd how often I find myself looking at some stranger's cosplay pics on their phone, but it's one of my great pleasures.

The kids don't always want to hang out at the museum the way they used to when they were small, but on this day, they seemed determined to embody the idea that since they'd just Worked Hard, it was time for them to Play Hard, and they spent the whole dang rest of the day there, playing like toddlers.

Don't believe me? Here they are in the Ice Cream Shoppe, last visited with this much enthusiasm when they were six and eight:


Here is Syd's Smilosaurus:


And here is Will in the gift shop:



We have a friend who works there, and after I complained to her that "ugh, these kids always have to look at every single thing every single time we come!" she was all, "Well, of course! Ooh, come look at the new stuff we got in!" And there were friends in the Paleo Lab window to chat with, and the kids just had to go to the program on hadrosaurs--





--and if we're down in Dinosphere we might as well see everything else, too--




--and of course we had to go to the racing exhibit, because it IS Indy 500 week and we ARE in Indianapolis--



--but I think everyone had the most fun visiting the newest exhibit, themed around the circus.

This is a baby Rola Bola:


Here's how the professionals do it.

Here's a baby Roman ladder:







--and here's how the professionals do it!

My sore arms attest that the Roman ladder is great for the biceps.

We have lately been obsessed with Philippe Petit, from both The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and Man on Wire. I think I'm going to spring for a beginner's slackline kit, although Syd would prefer to start straightaway with a tightrope, but we were all pretty excited to see this baby tightrope:



And here's how a professional does it!

And if you've ever been to the Children's Museum, you know that you obviously can't get away without riding the carousel:


Our volunteer badges let us ride for free, and on this day the children took full advantage of that. I sat on a bench by the domino table and read several chapters of my book, looking up every now and then to watch my two race to choose their favorite steeds, happily ride away, then exit at the end and race around to the beginning to do the same thing over and over and over again. I'd look up to find them mid-ride, their heads bent together in discussion, or at the beginning of the ride, jostling between each other to see who could get to the stag first. I swear, they were having a better time than most of the toddlers.

I love this about the Children's Museum, or homeschooling, or maybe simply my kids. They're both mature and immature, in control and absolutely silly, working hard and playing hard. They feel capable of giving their best to an often wearying, often tedious job for two full hours, and they feel able to spend the next three goofing off and having fun, occasionally side-by-side with a small child they'd been instructing just that morning. How many other kids their ages do you know who can genuinely be themselves in that way, who can let all of the facets of who they are shine in one setting, with the same people?

Heck, how many adults do you know who can do that?

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