Friday, June 28, 2013

Easton, Pennsylvania, to New Haven, Connecticut

After four days on the road, we planted ourselves in New Haven, Connecticut, for a bit, staying with a close friend of mine. He's one of those friends so great that I've taught my children to call him "uncle," and Uncle Mac patiently played host, showing us to the grocery store so we could pick up the ungodly amount of food that two children go through in three days, buying us New Haven-style pizza (which is a thing), finding Sydney another place to sleep when it turned out that the guest room he'd prepared for the girls contains a "scary closet," and escorting us to all the particular spots that my particular kids see as kid fantasyland, including not just playgrounds and beaches but the Yale Peabody Museum:

all my buddies in one place, studying the mosasaur
Although there are definitely sections of the museum that are dusty and old-school (which is not a knock, because we LOVE a dusty, old-school museum!), the Yale Peabody is gorgeously laid out, impeccably catalogued and organized, and has a pretty great little hands-on kid area, too, with tons of artifacts to handle and study--

Ruffed grouse! Cool to see, since we'd studied Pennsylvania's state symbols, so the girls recognized it and were interested in inspecting it up close like this.
--lots of books, our SECOND colony of leaf cutter ants in less than a week, and this secret view back down to the dinosaur gallery:

We found lots in this museum to add context to our studies. The museum is currently running a temporary exhibit on Egypt, for instance:
canopic jars!!! We've read about them!

In this gallery was one of my absolute most favorite things upon the Earth: a docent, walking around, accosting people to ask if they had any questions.

My fantasy docent, basically.

He accosted us near the diorama of a mummy unwrapping, so I egged him on into telling us more about the process, then explained to him that we were so interested because one of my daughter's books that she'd recently read, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, begins with a mummy unwrapping. Another woman standing near asked me to repeat the book, because her granddaughter might like it ("She's smaller than your daughter," she said, "But she reads at an eighth grade level." Don't you just love grandmothers? I congratulated her, and withheld information about my own daughter's equally precocious reading skills), but repeat as I might, she just couldn't get the title into her head. So the docent, still standing with us, pulled out an ipad, asked for her email address, copied the title of the book as I dictated it, and then emailed it to her!

You might not be aware, but I have MANY opinions about the (mis-)use of ipads in education, and I collect instances of valid, appropriate, useful uses. This was a great one to add to my collection.

The museum also has a large bird collection--

--and, best of all best things, it's organized transparently by the order of classification! So valuable for my girls, who have been studying the order of classification as it is used to categorize and identify creatures for months now, to see:
Another exhibit on the evolution of mammals--
--included skeletons of horse ancestors, which the girls could identify by sight at this point, and of human ancestors, which Willow studied long enough ago that I think she's forgotten how obsessed she used to be by it, but we'll delve there again when we finally dial down to human biology (after we finish up chickens, and spend time with praying mantises, butterflies, frogs, cats, and mealworms).

As we finished up our museum trip, I began my rant to Mac about how I'm always disappointed by museum gift shops, how they never stock what I want to buy, how they never have enough truly educational resources, how they never stock materials that permit you to continue studying their exhibits at home, how they pay no attention to adding context and value to your exhibit. I went on and on and on, giving specific examples from museum gift shops that we've visited together (how could the Creation Museum NOT have a truly wonderful Noah's Ark toy?!?)

Serves me right, then, that the Yale Peabody museum gift shop? 

Is amazing. 

Willow bought a book on unlikely animal friendships and a small stuffed wolf (named Lord Woof, he is a VERY naughty puppy who is always getting into mischief), and I bought several postcards of the museum's exhibits, a book on the museum's Hall of Mammal Evolution, a book on the museum's Hall of Prehistoric Life (both of which go into great detail about each of the exhibits, include new information, and add context), a poster showing the organization, classification, and evolution of life, a kit to make your own papyrus paper from strips of real papyrus (we own a few sheets of papyrus paper, and I've seen DIY projects for making fakey papyrus paper from strips of white paper, but I've never seen a real kit like this before), and a couple of erasers that are supposed to be hiding little plastic fossils inside (with which I plan to bribe the girls, since they'd rather scribble over even pencilled mistakes than erase them).

We came home to a lovely, quiet evening of bubbles, spinach lasagna, Model Magic, and homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Sydney, lured with Bill Nye on my computer, was convinced that maybe the closet in her room wasn't SO scary. Matt telephoned to assure me that the chickens were well and the cats missed us. 

Next stop: Watch Hill, Rhode Island.


Tina said...

I think you need to write a post on how to make the most out of a trip to a museum. I always feel like I wouldn't know where to start or what to do at a museum, and if I spend money to go somewhere, I want to get as much out of it as possible.

julie said...

I know, right? Museums can be nerve-wracking with littles.

Left to her own devices, Syd is the kind of kid who would breeze through a museum, so if I'm by myself with the two of them, and thus can't let her walk ahead, I'll sometimes offer her the crayons and notebook that I keep in my backpack, because she loves to draw, or I'll encourage her to bring her current favorite small toy, because she can get lost in just making up little conversations or other quiet play. Willow just happens to REALLY like science museums more than any other person on the planet, so most of the parenting that I do is making sure that everyone follows our rule of "everyone gets to look at everything for as long as they want." Did I mention that I also sometimes bring an ipod for myself?

If I want to go to a museum that's mostly for ME, like an art museum, I'll unabashedly let Willow bring a book and Sydney her ipod, and then just give them a couple of sketching or research assignments to engage in during the trip. I used to try to say stuff like, "Okay, we went to the Exploratorium yesterday for you; today we're going to the Modern Art Museum for me." That SO does not work.