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  • Writer's pictureAmarinda Keys

A look into Amarinda's Trip to New Orleans for the Children's Museum annual conference!

Earlier this month, Executive Director Amarinda Keys had the chance to attend the Association of Children’s Museum’s InterActivity 2023 Levering our Voice Hosted by the Louisiana Children's Museum. “The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums and together enrich the lives of children worldwide.” The Children’s Discovery Museum of Central Maine is one of nearly 500 members in all 50 states and in 19 countries, giving us access to a vast network of children’s museums, the latest research and trends in the field, professional development opportunities and the ability to be a part of their reciprocal membership program, which will be available to our members once the museum is fully open. Each year, the Association puts on a multi-day conference full of networking, learning, and of course, a LOT of fun!

What were Amarinda’s biggest takeaways?

There is Beauty in the Small Museum

This year, for the first time, Amarinda was part of a panel presentation. This one was called Small but Mighty! Keeping Your Small-scale Museum Vibrant with Erin Dowdall from Wonder Works Children’s Museum in Illinois, Rohani de Pont & Sugeidy Windster from Children’s Museum Curacao, and Sharon Williams from North Country Children's Museum in New York.

Amarinda with the other Small but Mighty panelists

Amarinda talked about staffing a small museum and how with trust and flexibility, small teams have a unique opportunity to build a tight-knit, effective team that elevates individual members' talents. The current museum staff is just TWO people, but we are able to get so much done through thoughtful communication, ongoing collaboration, flexible job descriptions, and a focus on partnerships with other organizations. Other panelists talked about how to keep exhibits fresh by building flexibility and movability into exhibit pieces and exploring themed “museum takeovers” like converting the whole museum into a dinosaur theme for a month (how fun!). This is something the Children’s Discovery Museum used to do when it was located in Augusta. Do you remember Glow Nights, where we’d transform the museum into a glowing dance party?!

Employee Abby in the Glowed-Up Creation Corner at the Children's Discovery Museum when it was in Augusuta

Finally, the last topic was about organizing a variety of programs that work for small budgets. The museum presenting has a “recycling sort” at the front which encourages families to bring in old paper towel tubes, yogurt containers, cardboard boxes, etc to be repurposed at the museum in their art space. What a great idea!

Museums are YES places

The conference Plenary Session and Keynote Address was given by Calvin Mackie, PhD, President and CEO of STEM NOLA. What really stuck out from his presentation was when he said that children hear “no” an awful lot. No, you can’t have ice cream for breakfast, no you can’t stay home from school, no you can't pour glitter all over the floor, no you can’t climb on that. And there is good reason for that during day-to-day life! BUT at the Children’s Museum, we have an opportunity to provide as many opportunities to say YES as possible. YES you can mix these substances together to make slime, YES you can spin around in circles until you get the giggles so bad you fall down, YES you can dip your goldfish into your lemonade YES YES YES! As the museum continues to run engaging programs while also working to build our new space, how can we maximize YES as much as possible?

Rewards of Risk

The Children’s Discovery Museum already knows the importance of Risky Play, but Amarinda was able to deepen her understanding by attending the session How Rewarding is Risk? Play, Risk-Taking, and Building Capable Children by presenters from KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Washington, Hands On Children’s Museum also in Washington, and The Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon. It was meaningful to hear about how risky play strengthens children’s abilities to make decisions for themselves, know their own limits, build agency and resilience, and become competent at skills that will be later needed in the real world. The Kidsquest Children’s Museum has a program inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” where families have the chance to explore fire, pocketknives, ladders, and rocks in a controlled environment that lets children practice safe risk opportunities. Fascinating!

Attending InterActivity is always so much fun and this year was no exception.

About to eat some beignets from the famous Cafe Du Monde!

It was such a neat opportunity for Amarinda to be a part of a panel celebrating small museums. She was inspired by the significance of fostering a "YES" environment and the rewards of encouraging risky play. Armed with new insights, ideas and connections, the Children's Discovery Museum of Central Maine is poised to continue its mission of inspiring curiosity, imagination, and lifelong learning among children in the community, while embracing innovative approaches and creating memorable experiences for all.

Learn about Amarinda's experience at the conference last year in our previous blog post! You can also learn more about the Association of Children's Museums in this blog post.

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