If you have come to Kidspace over the past month, you may have noticed something new. On March 11, 2015 the new Kidspace Greenhouse officially opened to the public with amazing success. Given how much effort we put into this exhibit, we were delighted to see how quickly it has become some of our guests’ favorite part of the museum! From letting a toddler physically pull potatoes and carrots out of the ground to making plants create music and other rotating activities, the Greenhouse really is a one of a kind experience at Kidspace.
We went into the program planning experience with new things in mind. The Greenhouse programs will be prototypes for our new Gardens exhibit, which will open in the fall. This means the reason why we have clay in the greenhouse is because we will be having a mud table in the gardens. Seeing how children are using the clay/mud affects the way we will program in the new area. We have a lot of gardening activities so children really understand a plant’s lifecycle and respect nature. This also corresponds with our Little Sprouts Garden Club, Little Learners Camp and Farmer Days event. Creating music with plants corresponds with the new music area that will be under our pepper tree in the Gardens.
We aim for our Greenhouse activities to have the same thrill for a toddler as well as an older child. Kidspace is one of those great museums that is wonderful for a wide age spectrum, but there are times where activities are only for babies or only for children 6 and up. As much as we love and know the importance of hitting a target age audience, that was not what we wanted out of the Greenhouse. If you give clay to a 2 year old and an 8 year old they will both have the same amount of fun, just in different ways. While the toddler is using their senses to feel how cold the clay is, how smooth it is or how is smells, an 8 year old may be sculpting basic shapes, creating animals or adding texture to the clay. Whereas a 5 year old may be smelling all the flowers, a 10 year old might be lifting up leaves finding bugs. The Greenhouse is full of open-ended play which is great for all ages.
Our goal is to keep and use as many of the natural items in the Greenhouse as possible, and to cultivate real life experiences for the children. In our root veggie dig up, we use real potatoes, we use real tools, which is real fun! We notice that a lot of times the kid starts there and just goes wild, but as soon as they notice they have been entrusted with real items they slow down, become much gentler and cherish the fact that they are helping us harvest. We see the same thing with the earthworms. If we ever announce that we are pulling out the worms, children come running. But as soon as they notice the worm is actually crawling away, they calm down and observe the animal. It is not uncommon for a child to ask for a ruler or a magnifying glass to get up close and personal with the tiny creatures.
Something additionally new that we are trying in the greenhouse is staffing. Normally at Kidspace we train our floor staff in every exhibit area, and rotate them every hour, so you will see the same educators all throughout the museum. We wanted the Greenhouse staff to be experts in their domain, so we hired 2 new Educators who spend their entire time in that space. Reiann and Melissa, our designated Greenhouse Educators, have shown that they are just as essential to the Greenhouse as any of the exhibit components. They are both welcoming, great teachers and very well versed in botany. Having a consistent face in the Greenhouse has also been very welcomed by guests because it offers an opportunity to really get acquainted with the staff.
We have been learning a lot just in this first few weeks of the Greenhouse opening. For example: KIDS LOVE WORMS! Okay, we knew this going in, but how well the worms have been received has been amazing. We have roughly 250 Red Wiggler Worms in a composter, and children cannot get enough of them! We allow children to give them small pieces of scraps and leaves for food in order to help nourish the worms, as well as to gain a one-on-one experience holding and truly exploring the worms. We already have guests that come in asking specifically to see the worms, and we’re brainstorming how to best bring this experience to the new Gardens in the fall. While the worms are something that has surprised us with
its popularity, other actives that we thought would be a hit did not get the same response. Kid-made “stain glass” art lines the wall of the greenhouse but when we try to do that activity again children are more interested in exploring the plants rather than doing a craft project. (Those art projects, however, now beautifully decorate the walls of the Greenhouse!) Even though the craft project did not garner the same overwhelming success of the worms, it has helped to teach us what our guests really respond to, as we see that children would rather get their hands dirty- Which is great! We’ve also learned that a lot of insect friends also love our greenhouse- Each day we enter the Greenhouse to find new caterpillars exploring the new exhibit space. We have already found 4 different species of caterpillars and beetles in the Greenhouse. Who knew insects liked to visit museums after hours! Rather than kicking our new friends out of the exhibit, we’ve capitalized on our good fortune and turned the bug visitors into a “teachable moment,” taking children on a small bug hunt, which is loads of fun!
I hope you have a chance to come visit our new Greenhouse. It is full of wonder and is a great place to nurture your child’s appreciation for nature!
Samantha Mendoza, Outdoor Education Specialist, has been with Kidspace since 2011. Her previous experience includes teaching at the Los Angeles Zoo and St. Louis Zoo.