10 years of ‘Imagine Nation’ and enhancing creativity

Although 10 years ago, there were only a few educational programs available at the Imagine Nation Museum, the programs always have been created with the idea in mind that they would provide a vehicle that would enhance children’s imagination and creativity as they learn at the same time.
Now those programs have expanded considerably. Museum staff estimates the museum must offer 70-plus educational programs each year, all the while “thinking outside of the box” to keep them fresh and on track with educational standards and trends.
Doreen Stickney, director of the Imagine Nation Museum, said when the museum opened 10 years ago its educational programs revolved around cooking, science and Lego robotics, and those programs still exist today but have expanded and become more modern, and many other programs have been added over time as well. Not only does the museum host educational programs on a regular basis at its Pleasant Street facility, museum staff also visits schools and other venues across the state to bring its programs to students who may not be able to make it to the museum.
All of the programs are creative and fun, but still provide learning opportunities for students. For example, the “Bubble-ology” workshop focuses on air pressure while using bubbles. “Tower of Power” is another program that focuses on geometry through different materials. All of these programs, and more, are adapted so they can appeal to children in various age ranges.
An example of the staff’s creativity is a program this month that will focus on various artists, and the museum’s director of education Kymrie Zaslow decided the children could use graham crackers with different colored toppings to come up with their own edible art work. Programs also being adapted, Zaslow said, to correlate with the Common Core standards and what is being taught in the classroom. In addition, museum staff also makes sure their exhibits, which are incorporated into programs, are meeting educational standards as well.
In addition to outreach programs, the museum offers vacation camps throughout the year which always have a theme. For April, the Museum will host its “Spring into Spring” vacation week, where each day will have different educational programs and hands-on activities for children that revolve around the “spring” theme.
“We provide high quality learning experiences to children (at the museum),” Stickney said. The learning that takes place at the museum is unique, in that it helps to expand the mind of children and enhance their creative learning using all five senses.
“This environment is almost hyper-creative,” Zaslow added and said any idea the staff members can come up with for program ideas are “never too extreme for us.”
Zaslow said she and other staff members are constantly thinking outside the box, and looking at every day items that are used and think “how can we use this in one of our programs,” like a beehive that was found in the Christmas tree the museum picked out last winter.
“Our staff is so passionate about what they do,” Stickney said. “Our mission is to always be authentic about positive learning experiences and the staff is very committed to children and learning and creativity.”
Stickney added that while the exhibits don’t change as frequently as desired, programs are constantly evolving and expanding to keep learning new and exciting. She said the museum is also incorporation STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) practices into the educational programs and exhibits, so children can be prepared to be 21st century learners. Programs are done outdoors as well, and some also incorporate one or more of the more than one dozen animals living in the museum.
“We are just planting that seed to spark imagination in a child for future learning,” she added.
A feature the museum is re-introducing is drop-in programs, where parents and guardians can attend programs with the price of admission. Zaslow said the museum used to have families pay a certain amount for a series of programs, but is finding more children are attending programs if it is on a drop-in basis.
The staff at the Imagine Nation Museum, Bristol Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Michael Suchopar said, live and breathe the museum, which is an arm of the Boys and Girls Club.
“Their relationship with the museum is alive 24/7,” Suchopar added.
Stickney said she and her staff know that “play is how people learn, and it carries with them for all ages.” She said throughout the day “you just feel the museum come alive with laughter and learning. It is very rewarding.”
Zaslow agreed, and added that it is the most fortunate thing to have “when you can have a job that you love and is filled with tremendous joy.”
The Imagine Nation Museum is located at 1 Pleasant St., Bristol and can be reached at (860)314-1400. Visit www.imaginenation.org to find out more about the museum’s activities and programs.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver.com.

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