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Carnegie MuseumsMedia Kit



Art galleries and hallowed exhibit halls are not the first places a parent thinks of when planning an outing with a young child. That’s why many parents are surprised to learn that all four of the Carnegie Museums offer engaging, developmentally appropriate, hands-on programs for children as young as 2.

Photo: Karen Myers


A young visitor to The Andy Warhol Museum enjoys playing with Warhol’s Silver Clouds.

Photo: Terry Clark














Right: Weekend art-making activities in the Museum of Art galleries turn the museum into an interactive place.

























Right: Digging for fossils at Bonehunters Quarry in Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Photo: Terry Clark


For the Littlest Learners

Young children love playing and learning in Carnegie Science Center’s Exploration Station, Jr.

“I like her!” said 2-year-old Hannah to her mother as she sat down beside Julie Williams, an educator from Carnegie Museum of Art who was leading a play-date at the museum one warm July morning. Together with their parents, Hannah and five other toddlers were in the sculpture garden at Carnegie Museum of Art, hard at work and remarkably engaged. They were making trees out of pieces of paper, spongey material, feathers, pastels, and glue following a brief discussion about a work of art that they had seen earlier in the museum’s entrance gallery. For 20 minutes, the entire group was totally engrossed in their art-making. When the play-date was over, each child proudly shared his or her artwork with the group before they all darted off to run and jump on the garden steps.

As they giggled, screamed, and chased each other, the children seemed to forget everything they had just accomplished, but Julie was satisfied. As a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate with a degree in psychology and a teaching certificate from Chatham College, Julie knew that she had achieved her goals for the play-date: the kids had fun, and the parents learned how they can structure a future museum visit so their children will enjoy it.

“ I think all the kids had a good time, and that’s the whole idea,” says Williams. “A child’s work is play, and when they play, they learn. While they won’t remember anything specific about the artwork we saw today, they’ll remember the experience they had and they’ll relate it to other things in their life. On a very concrete level, they practiced some fine motor skills, developed their social skills, and challenged their emotional and language skills. But I don’t think even their parents realized that!”

How Children Learn
To a casual observer, the Museum of Art play-date may have looked like organized chaos. However, to an early childhood educator, it was a developmentally appropriate activity. By piquing the children’s curiosity about the subject of trees and then allowing them to move around freely and make their own trees at their own speed in a safe and stimulating environment, Julie matched the learning environment—the materials, schedule, lesson, teaching methods, and physical set-up—to the children’s developmental level.

Psychologist Jean Piaget was the first to study young children’s behavior and develop the concept that children pass through four stages of development on their way to adulthood. The children who participated in the Museum of Art’s play-date ranged in age from 2 to 3 1/2 and fit into Piaget’s sensorimotor (infant to age 2) and preoperational (ages 2 to 6) stages.

“ Children in the preoperational stage learn by exploring the world around them physically, through activities that encourage them to manipulate things, and mentally, by considering questions or situations that cause them to wonder about something,” says Melanie Dunn, a child development specialist and professor at Duquesne University and an educator at Carnegie Museum of Art. “They’re also still sensorimotor learners, which means they constantly want to move around and smell, touch, taste, hear, and see everything.

“ For children in these stages, the Museum of Art has designed programs that encourage them to explore, invent, and create their own theories about the world by introducing them to a piece of art and then letting them create their own artwork based loosely on the piece we discuss,” adds Dunn. “We always choose subjects that are familiar to the children so they make an immediate connection, and we make the visit very interactive so they remember it.”

Comfortable Kids Make Lively Learners
“ We want people to know that the museums are excellent places to bring young children to have fun and to learn,” says Shirley Rust, program assistant in the Discovery Room at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Museums present children with a unique learning environment—where else can you see raw gems and real dinosaur fossils? And while most of the exhibits in the museum are for eyes only, there are a lot of things that are very hands-on and perfect for young children who are just learning to decode the world by touching and questioning everything.”

While the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History’s Discovery Room are designed to stimulate curiosity and imagination in people of all ages, they are especially appealing to young children because the room is very home-like and everything is within their reach. “The Discovery Room is nice because it gives children another way to learn about the things they see in the exhibits upstairs,” says Rhonda Kelly, Discovery Room program assistant. “But the best thing about the Discovery Room is that it encourages interaction between families and brings out the child in everyone.”

Providing stimulating settings that foster parent-child and child-child interaction and allow for hands-on activities is important to the education staff at all four museums because children need to feel comfortable in order to play freely and learn effectively. At the Museum of Natural History, the Discovery Room provides such a setting, as do the Discover Carts, which are staffed by teen docents and located throughout the galleries.

Following the renovation of the Scaife Galleries, the Museum of Art placed cozy couches throughout the galleries where families can gather to look at the artwork and read children’s books about colors and images in art. And the ARTventures drop-in activity stations for families with children make the galleries especially interactive every weekend. “Our weekly ARTventures projects are designed to encourage both children and adults to explore their reactions and responses to a work of art in the museum’s collection,” says Marilyn Russell, Carnegie Museum of Art’s curator of education. “The art-making activity helps to stimulate conversation among families by sparking an exchange of ideas about the piece. And since it takes place in the gallery where the work of art is located, not in an art center someplace else, it helps to assure families that a museum can be an interactive place where you can do a variety of things.”

At Carnegie Science Center, exhibit areas created especially for young children are marked with tiny yellow handprints, and Exploration Station Jr. is a 6-and-under-only zone designed to encourage exploration and discovery through hands-on activities. It’s a parent’s and toddler’s dream come true—with a Junior Lab, which invites kids to explore different science careers; a Construction Zone, which prompts kids to sort and count materials while introducing them to the basics of physical science; a Ball Factory, where kids are introduced to the concepts of simple machines, colors, gravity, and teamwork; a huge Water Zone; and a Quiet Spot where families can talk about what they’ve explored, read books or do puzzles together, and prepare for their next adventure.

At The Andy Warhol Museum, families with children gravitate to the Silver Cloud artwork where they can play together with large floating silver pillows. Or they gather together in the Education Studio, where every weekend—as part of The Warhol’s Weekend Factory—The Warhol staff offer art-making activities appropriate for even the youngest child.

Learning Through Play
With hands-on exhibits filling all five floors, it’s easy for parents to recognize the potential for fun and learning at Carnegie Science Center, yet many think The Andy Warhol Museum is inappropriate for young children. Think again.

“ As an artist, Andy Warhol played continuously, and his art has a strong appeal to children,” says Jessica Gogan, assistant director for education and interpretation at The Warhol. “There are vivid colors, enormous soup cans, and bright yellow wallpaper printed with fluorescent pink cows.

“ The Warhol offers a setting that is very open to a child’s natural sense of play, and it encourages adults to play as well,” adds Gogan. “As adults, we recognize that play is a vital part of a child’s development and learning, yet play is every bit as important to adults.

“ Play opens up the psychological space needed for seeing new ideas, and it spurs imaginative thinking,” says Gogan. “When we’re playful, we’re relaxed and can think out of the norm. Play is very important to the imagination and problem-solving world of adults, and we often don’t do enough of it.”

“ Playing together is the key,” notes Jessica Stricker, director of educational experiences at Carnegie Science Center. “When parents or grandparents and children play together, the whole world opens up.

“ Teachable moments pop up everywhere. Sometimes it’s the child who is learning; sometimes it’s the parent or grandparent who learns something new; and sometimes they’re all learning together. No matter what the scenario, it’s fun for everyone, and that’s the ultimate goal—to enjoy being, and learning, together.”

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Taking Toddlers and Preschoolers
to the Museum

Children are naturally curious and enthusiastic about exploring new things. Plan a visit to any one—or all—of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and open your young child’s mind to a whole new world of experiences.

Preparing for Your Visit
To make the most of your visit with young children, consider the following advice from the educators at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

  • Do a little homework before you visit. Find out what will be on view and then read a book with your child or conduct an activity together at home that is related to what you will see at the museum. Feel free to call the education department at the museum you will be visiting for ideas about appropriate books and activities. Both The Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Science Center offer guides to enjoying the museums with young children on their websites.
  • Structure your visit by limiting the number of things you will see. Young children have short attention spans so try to get in and out in an hour. Hands-on activities should make up 20-25 minutes of
    your visit.
  • Let your children’s current interests dictate what you will see and do during your visit. If your daughter loves dinosaurs, a trip to Dinosaur Hall with a stop at Bonehunter’s Quarry will be a thrill. If your son won’t put down his crayons, plan a visit to one of the art museums and participate in the Museum of Art’s ARTventures or The Warhol’s Weekend Factory.
  • Be sure your plans involve as many different senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling) as possible. If you involve your child’s whole body in the experience, he or she is much more likely to remember the visit and learn from it.
  • Before you leave the house, make sure everyone has eaten and washed their hands, is well rested, and dressed comfortably.
  • Explain to your child where you are going, what you are going to do, and the rules he or she will need to follow while there. Use simple language and give basic instructions.
  • Have an open mind and be flexible. Remember that even the best plans often go astray. Relax and follow your child’s lead and you’ll all have a great time.
  • Come back again and repeat your visit. Children learn through repetition and will pick up something new each time you return.

Tips for Teaching Your Child
Children learn:

  • By doing things like stacking blocks, stringing beads, and sorting shapes
  • Through movement such as hopping, climbing, swinging, and balancing
  • By being noticed and encouraged
  • By making things like pictures and block towers
  • Through language and stories
  • By interacting with other children
  • Through imitation
  • Through pretend play

When interacting with your child/grandchild:

  • Use positive statements. Instead of telling your child not to do something, tell him what he can do. Instead of saying “No running!” try, “If you run, you could get hurt. Show me how you use your walking feet.”
  • Ask open-ended questions, and affirm your child’s answers no matter what they are. Children need to know that it’s okay to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Give your child choices whenever possible.
  • Emphasize the process of what your child is doing rather than the end product. This will make your child feel good about herself regardless of the outcome.
  • Instead of telling or showing your child what to do, ask questions that guide your child to explore the things around him.

Activities Especially for Early Learners
If you have a child or grandchild between the ages of 2 and 6, make sure you take advantage of all that the four museums offer for preschoolers. Check the calendar in the center of this magazine or the museums’ websites for details on specific dates, times, and fees.

Carnegie Museum of Art
Gallery Play-dates
Mother Goose Museum Adventures
Saturday Art Classes

Carnegie Science Center
Handprints Exhibit Areas
Preschool Science Classes
Exploration Station Jr.
UPMC SportsWorks Jr.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Family Museum Bags
Free Weekend Family Workshops
Docent Discovery Carts
Teen Docents: Touchable Carts
Discovery Room
Bonehunters Quarry
Preschool Classes
Interactive Egyptian Tomb
“ No Big Kids Allowed” Day

The Andy Warhol Museum
Silver Clouds
Weekend Factory

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Copyright (c) 2004 CARNEGIE magazine. All rights reserved.