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“Toys: Curated by Small Hands”

by on May 9, 2013

Today’s post is by Alexandra Goodman, Master’s student in Public Humanities at Brown University and Education Intern at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. She reports on her recent education and exhibition project, “Toys: Curated by Small Hands.”


“If you’re in a museum. . . whisper hooray (hooray!), If you’re in a museum, for many awesome reasons . . . If you’re in a museum whisper hooray!”

Students from the Redwood Classroom singing the Museum Manners song at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

The sound of four-year-old children singing the Museum Manners song echoed in the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology this spring, as they participated in a program that resulted from a partnership between the Museum and the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education. During my studies in Public Humanities, I have focused on ways to provide learning opportunities for young children in public institutions. I began working with Haffenreffer staff in the fall of 2011 to develop a program for early learners in the Museum. Our first partner in this project is the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center, whose supportive and innovative teachers and staff encourage preschoolers to learn through play and interaction with peers, teachers, and places outside the classroom.

With the assistance of Emily McCartan, my fellow Education Intern and Master’s student in Public Humanities at Brown, and under the guidance of Geralyn Ducady, Curator of Education and Programs at the Haffenreffer, the program evolved in the fall of 2012 into a year-long series of sessions conducted in the classroom and at the Museum for all four classrooms at the Center. The exhibit featured here is the final project prepared by the four-year-old classrooms at the school, the Redwood and Willow classrooms. During the fall, Emily, Geralyn and I led sessions where students began learning about the Museum, anthropology, and object handling. We brought objects from the education collection at the Museum to the classroom for students to handle and explore.

In the spring of 2013, Redwoods and Willows students began visiting the museum. Their first visit provided a chance for them to get familiar with the Museum and interact with objects from the collection in the museum setting. Before their second visit to the Museum, teachers brainstormed with students to select a topic for their exhibit. Students decided they were interested in learning about the types of toys children use around the world. With the support of the Museum curators, we brought a large number of toys from the collection to the Museum for the group to choose from during their second visit. Once they selected objects for the exhibit, the two classes worked on text and interpretive materials. Some of the children’s labels were displayed beside the objects, while the additional labels, drawings, and responses by the students are featured on an iPad which is included in the exhibit.

Students from the Willow classroom handling a toy truck from the collection

The result was amazing. The exhibition reflects how four-year-olds view and understand these objects. At the opening event, students appeared to take ownership over the exhibition and enjoy showing their work to their families and friends. This project is the culmination of a lot of hard work by all those involved: the children, teachers and staff at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center, and staff at the Haffenreffer. It has been a wonderful partnership. In the future,  we hope to continue to promote the Museum’s involvement in early education programs and exhibits curated by small hands.

Alex Goodman (left) and Emily McCartan (right), standing with the final exhibit curated by students at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center


Thank you Alex, and congratulations to you and Emily on a great project and fun exhibit (and the squirmiest opening reception of all time)!

For more information about the exhibit, see  “Toys” is on view at the Haffenreffer’s galleries at Manning Hall, open 10-4 Tues-Sun.

One Comment
  1. Very good. I am the president of of a Brazilian ngo
    Our mission: Let children play. We have a collection of 3000 handmade toys and workshops are part of the project. I would love to change experiences.

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