Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Day in the Life of Darren Fearnley

Darren Fearnley
A few weeks ago Enabler Dan and I were fortunate to be able to go back to high school. My own high school days met with my teenage disapproval, but my mother would say to me that “High School days are the best days of your life”. At the time I took no notice of her wisdom but now, 10 years out of high school, I am beginning to look back fondly on my adolescent education, inside and out of the classroom. So I was excited that Eureka! sent me to Ravenscliffe High School as part of the Helping Hands project - not as a pupil but as a classroom assistant for the morning.

Ravenscliffe Schools is different to the school that I attended in my youth, as this is a high school for children with disabilities from the age of 11. Despite this, the school still acts as any ‘secular’ high school. As you walk in though the entrance the walls are plastered with pictures of students engaging in activities and achievements that have come to define the school and its ethos. Student artwork and photos of musicians suggested an absolute hub of creativity.

The school day started like any other - students drifted down the corridors entering their various classrooms in time for early morning registration. It was Monday; the student’s heads were in the comedown from the weekend. They were back in school and the first task the students had to kick off the week was to read the white board, which instructed them to write about what they did at the weekend. A short paragraph was written, the bell rang, and the pupils poured into the corridors, which were now built up in heavy traffic of wheelchairs and the more able-bodied students heading towards their next lesson. I faced a sea of excited questions as pupils saw my Eureka! T-shirt, some of them proudly telling me about own experiences of Eureka! But my t-shirt was nothing more than a distraction as teachers ushered the children into their next class.

The first lesson I was assisting in was in the school’s sensory room. This is a small white room which has mirrors, a ball pit and soft bedding area, with lighting and bells hanging from the ceiling. It’s a quiet and peaceful area, perfect to let imaginations go wild through exploring senses. The lesson took a while to get started as there was careful preparation needed for the students, who were more challenging than the pupils that I had come across in registration and the ones that I had spoken to in the corridors, and they needed more tending to before the lesson could begin.

And what a lesson it was! The students took an imaginary journey aboard a pirate ship setting sail to discover the wonders of the seven seas. Suddenly the white room was transformed in something from the sets of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. The students and teachers started off by singing sea shanties, banging drums, ringing bells in time as the story begin. The journey took the pupils out into the open sea (and under it too), before asking them to heave up the anchor and discover the wonders that had been pulled up with it as they clung onto their newly found treasures.

I mentioned how student artwork and photos of musicians suggested school was a hub of creativity. Well, the lessons are crafted in such a creative way to cater for students’ specific needs. No wonder the students themselves are so creative.

After the lesson, it was break time for students and teachers too. I wandered back up to the Facility Room for a cup of tea, noticing the students as they left their classroom and out into the fresh air; I caught a glimpse of a rather chaotic game of football in the 5-a-side astro turf which brought back memories of the hustle and bustle of 25-a-side football that I would play when I was at school.

After a quick cuppa and a little time to reflect on the morning’s lesson, I was bundled away into the next lesson which was Dance. I had a brief chat with the enthusiastic teacher who had warned me what to expect from some of the pupils. The students involved in this lesson were more able bodied than those in the previous lesson and were lively and full of character and really excited that somebody from Eureka! would be joining them in their lesson.

I did feel that new face in the classroom served only as a distraction to some of the pupils, so I had to join in with the dance routines despite my inability to dance thanks to my two left feet and terrible co-ordination. The room descended into a riot of bodily moves as myself and students flung arms and legs in the air and twisted and shook hips to music. There was no escaping the sight of our exaggerated dancing as there was a large mirror where all our moves and shapes were on display for the whole room to see.

Some of the boys in class didn’t seem as interested in taking part. But I remember how it felt for me as teenage boy and that the idea of freeing my body though the art of dance seemed like a silly concept. Still, other members of the class were actively engaged in creatively throwing themselves into the music and the lesson and having fun whilst doing so.

And that was my morning at Ravenscliffe high school, a place which has a great, inviting atmosphere and a pounding energy of creative and intuitive minds with students and teachers alike all working together to build a wonderful school. I hope that we continue to develop Eureka!’s relationship with the school as I feel we can each learn from one another whilst working with the aim that people with disabilities should have the same opportunity to get involved in fun playful learning experiences.

Darren Fearnley, Specialist Play Enabler

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ever needed an extra pair of hands?

Trizia Wells, Helping Hands Project Lead
Is it really only 3 months since my last blog? Helping Hands has been zooming along since then, with two more Saturday Clubs, some fantastic parent focus groups, visits to special schools, training, training and more training - and last but by no means least, the launch of Eureka!'s unique Extra Pair of Hands Service.

Extra Pair of Hands (or, as I like to call it, EPOH) is unique in the UK.  There you are, a busy parent outnumbered by your children and trying to come up with an enjoyable, playful learning activity. To make life more difficult, one little darling likes indoors stuff and another wants to let off steam outside.  Where can you go so that everyone’s happy? (including you!) That’s easy - Eureka!

But for a family with a disabled child, the next round of questions is just beginning.  Your child uses a wheelchair, and has a hearing impairment. They are highly sensitive to flashing lights – and crowds! You’re not convinced you’ll be able to get them through the door, and once you do, will they be able to play with the exhibits along with their siblings? Can they get round all the galleries? Are there changing facilities? A quiet space to go if it all gets too much? If only you could talk beforehand to someone who really knows the museum, who can answer your questions, maybe even give you a hand on the day.

Well now you can! Families book their Extra Pair of Hands visit two weeks in advance, and the EPOH Enabler (Enablers are the amazing team that work here in the museum - enabling play!) not only gets in touch to answer all those questions, but will give them a hand for two hours on the day of their visit. 

It seems such an obvious and simple idea that you might wonder what the catch is. Well, having spent March and April piloting the service with Enablers and parents, I can report that I haven’t found one yet! 

One family visited with a little boy, we’ll call him Henry, who has a severe visual impairment.  Henry has visited Eureka! a couple of times before with his sister, but they never went in together – he would only play in the outside space. He could sense a lot of activity and noise inside, but not being able to see past the highly reflective windows and doors caused him a great deal of anxiety. That meant that his sister – we’ll call her Emma - had only ever visited Eureka! with one of her parents – the other always had to stay with Henry.  Henry and Emma had never played inside Eureka! together.

Our EPOH Enabler, Becky, spoke to Henry’s mum beforehand and together they planned the visit. Becky met the family at the start of Eureka!'s yellow brick road, armed with stickers and a smile. The first 15 minutes was spent in the outside space – Becky, Henry and his sister had great fun running round the sensory garden, sniffing the herbs and following the sound of the wind chimes.  Becky built up Henry’s confidence so that he was happy then to go inside Eureka! for the first time.

Becky’s expert knowledge of the museum, our resources, the way children learn through play, and her previous conversation with Henry and Emma’s mum, meant that she could steer the family away from areas that might have caused anxiety, as well as capitalise on those the children particularly enjoyed. When she saw how much Henry liked playing in our Sound Space gallery, she brought out a set of drums for the two children to play with, which kept them thoroughly entertained for ages.

In the family’s words, they “had an absolutely brilliant time, and we’ll definitely be coming back”. Becky got a real buzz out of being able to work so closely with Henry and Emma and help the whole family enjoy their visit. In fact all the EPOH Enablers who did the pilot have requested to be first in line for families booking the service.

Other lovely things that the pilot families said:

  • “Our Enabler showed us things in Eureka! we’d never seen before – we were blown away!”
  • “Our EPOH gave ten times the value to a normal visit”
  • “My (autistic) son can’t wait to go back again, normally he doesn’t like anywhere new”

So what was it that Becky (and Karys and Ross, our other EPOH Enablers) did to make their time at Eureka! so enjoyable? They asked questions, listened to the answers and made suggestions. Parents know their children’s needs best, but they might not know all the ways that Eureka! can offer a playful learning experience. The Enablers’ training and expertise meant they can help families plan a visit that brings the two together.

Suggestions don’t have to be costly
The Enablers offered small, practical solutions – stickers to help Henry think of Eureka! as a happy place to be; ear defenders for the autistic child who was sensitive to sound; meeting the family of a wheelchair-using child at the car to help them into the museum. Suggestions which cost nothing more than thought and time. 

Try before you buy
Families who already have an annual pass can book two EPOH visits per year, but here’s the other unique thing about the service – if you don’t have an annual pass and you’re really not sure about laying out a load of dosh to visit somewhere you’ll never go back to – you can still try out our Extra Pair of Hands service. Just ring and book your visit two weeks in advance and, on the day, your visit will be free. We are confident that you will have had such a good time that you will want to return – and then you can buy an annual pass and book your second EPOH visit! 

Word is spreading fast about Extra Pair of Hands and we’re taking bookings now. Initial feedback is very positive, and I am sure this unique service is going to be very popular with families of disabled children. I am looking forward to telling you lots of lovely EPOH stories and bringing you lots of pictures in my next blog!

Trizia Wells
Helping Hands Project Lead 

The Extra Pair of Hands Service is part of Eureka's Helping Hands Project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Eureka! Police Summary Report: April 2012

Updates from Eureka! Police for the month of April 2012.

Fraud at The Post Office
3.18pm on 2 April 2012
Officer in attendance: PC Fearnley
A girl of approximately four years of age was found to be impersonating a postal worker. Attempts to arrest her ended in a ‘STAMP-ede’. Boom boom!

Shoplifter in Marks and Spencer’s 
11.03am on 4 April 2012
Officer in attendance: PC Field
A two year old female was witnessed walking away from the M&S shop with a trolley full of unpaid goods. Items stolen included a synthetic potato and large plastic T-bone steak.  The suspect was returned to her Mother who got ‘well done’ by the Officer in attendance. (Steak - well done - geddit!?)

Motoring Offences - Eureka Garage
11.49am on 12 April 2012
Officer in attendance: PC Fearnley
A six year old male was identified driving a Eureka! vehicle in a wild and erratic manner. Upon questioning the male was found to not possess a valid Eureka! vehicle licence. After a brief discussion on the Highway Code the child was sentenced to two minutes community service washing cars in the Eureka! car wash.

Bank Robbery - Halifax Bank
Between 12.40pm and 12.50pm on 16 April 2012
Officers in attendance: PCs Fearnley and Field
The Eureka! Bank vault was infiltrated by an organised gang of school children on a sugar rush following their lunch break. A number of vaults were ‘compromised’ and banknotes and withdrawal forms left strewn on the floor. Officers examined CCTV footage and withdrawal forms and have identified the names of suspects. The attending Officers are ‘banking’ on swift arrests being made. Ha! Banking!

Loitering on the Bench
2pm on 22 April 2012
Officer in attendance: PC Fearnley
A man of  64 was found asleep on the bench in the Eureka! Town Square. The Officer woke the man, who explained that his grandchildren had “worn him out”. The Officer sympathised. No further action required.

Health and Safety ‘Breach’  – The Dig 
2.15pm on 24 April 2012
Officer in attendance: PC Field
A small group of 5 – 8 years old were found to be working in the Eureka! Dig without the correct safety equipment and without appropriate permits. When asked to identify their Supervisor, the group pointed to a man they referred to as “Dad”, who quickly issued his workforce with hard helmets and high visibility jackets. No further action required.

If anyone has information relating to these or any other offences at Eureka! The National Children's Museum, please email PC Fearnley or PC Field

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A visit to the Kinder Museum, Frankfurt

Whilst on holiday in Frankfurt, Germany, I happened across the Kinder Museum Frankfurt and, not one to pass up an opportunity, I popped in to have a look at how play and education is done German style.

Both Eureka! and the Kinder Museum share much in common in terms of ethos, which their website states is: "[The museum] offers… a hands-on oriented learning experience. In all its exhibits the visitors are encouraged to play an active role".

And what really chimes with me as Eureka!'s Playwork Co-ordinator was this following statement on the museum’s website: “Touching, testing, trying out: independent thinking and an autonomous learning environment are central to the children's museum”. Absolutely! One of the things we tell our school party visits at Eureka! is to ‘get their busy fingers on’ and really explore and learn in the museum by pushing, twisting and pressing the exhibits.

Now I am particularly squeamish, and the sight of blood makes me feel a little ‘funny’, so it was rather unfortunate that I timed my visit to coincide with the ‘Blood Suckers’ theme... Through a variety of hands-on exhibits and practical exercises that visitors can carry out, I got to learn about a rogue’s gallery of skin piercing, blood sucking critters, from fleas to leeches. 

Looking at the exhibits and the experiments on offer, as well as the Early Years play area, the Kinder Museum could easily have something to occupy an age range from 0 up to early teens.

I was particularly impressed by the re-use of electrical wiring and electrical parts to make your own blood sucking parasite model. The children even got to handle wire strippers whilst making models, which added an element of learning ‘with risk’ which I know that children love.

In terms of the size of the museum, for any regular Eureka! visitor the comparable area would be that of one of the Our Global Garden galleries. The Kinder Museum does however make great use of the space it has available. As well as hands-on exhibits, such as using a crank to emulate the jaws and blood sucking apparatus of a ‘critter’, there are areas for practical experiments and comfortable reading areas - all done without feeling cluttered.

The gallery had also been cleverly themed, going from a bright and airy reception area to a darker area with red lighting and red blood cell themed draping - it was an excellent contrast and it did feel as if you were travelling down a vein or an artery. 

I enjoyed the Kinder Museum and found it interesting to see how a city centre based museum that operates very differently from Eureka! in using a single ‘rolling’ gallery concept can work. Coupled with the friendly and approachable staff, should you find yourself in Frankfurt I really would recommend a visit.

For more information, take a look at the Kinder Museum Frankfurt website.

Or for Frankfurters with an interest in seeing play and education in England, here’s the Eureka! website.

Kevin Field
Specialist Play Enabler

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Eureka! inspires 'Creativity in the Classroom'

At Eureka! we are known for our commitment to making learning the fun, exciting activity that we believe it should be; whether it’s here in the museum or out in the community with one of our outreach activities/shows. Manchester Metropolitan University decided that it would be great if we could pass on some of our ideas and enthusiasm to some of their student teachers at their conference about creativity in the classroom. We agreed, and enlisted the help of Captain Sam (the Scurvy suffering pirate) and me (otherwise known as Flora Explorer) and we headed west.

Captain Sam, aka. Darren
After a brief introduction to Eureka! (Who we are and what we do) from Jenny Goodall, our Play & Learning Assistant, it was over to us. Our first section highlighted the fun that a bit of drama, song, and dance can bring to learning. Captain Sam (that was Darren Fearnley - pictured, by the way) set the scene and then it was all hands to the deck (pardon the pun) as we got the students on their feet joining in with the ‘Scurvy Song’; a swashbuckling sea shanty with a riotous dance that tells the true story of Dr Lind’s clinical trial; which succeeded in discovering the cure for scurvy. (Not gargling with sulphuric acid, as it turns out!).

Next Flora (that’s me, remember) demonstrated the effective use of multi-sensory learning as she dived into her explorer’s bag and pulled out an assortment of spices – not just the boring powdered stuff but the actual parts of the plant; Vanilla seed pods, nutmeg nuts, cinnamon bark, cloves (dried flower buds) and a whopping great piece of ginger (which is a rhizome, or underground stem, if you’re interested). The students listened to me talking about the spices and read about where they came from on little cards, but the best bit was actually touching and smelling – or maybe it was the bit where I produced a packet of ginger biscuits so they could involve their sense of taste as well!

We produced some giant laminated coins to demonstrate that even ‘sums’ can be fun if you are playing a game and then went on to play with science – with some colourful, explosive, messy and amazing demonstrations.
The students were really receptive and asked lots of questions so I am sure that at least some of the things they saw will be finding their way into classrooms in the future. I felt it was a very worthwhile trip and the university agreed, giving us the following feedback:

"I just want to thank you for your excellent workshop. The evaluations were very positive and in the final session when the students were sharing their experiences, they discussed the workshop with enthusiasm."

I love the thought of enthusiastic teachers because if teachers are having fun teaching then children will be having fun learning – and that’s the ideal.

Jill Ward, Eureka! Enabler

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Kidspace Children’s Museum, California.

Kidspace children's museum in California
Kidspace is a children’s museum in Pasadena, California. Its aims and goals are very similar to Eureka!'s as it is structured around a learning through play philosophy, and aims to “inspire learning through self-directed, interactive experiences and play in the arts, sciences and humanities that enrich children, families and the community”. 

I was in the USA recently with Rebecca, one of the other Enablers here at Eureka!, and decided to go and pay the people at Kidspace a little visit. Children’s museums are extremely popular in America, with at least twenty-nine of them in California alone so, no matter where we were, we would have had no problem in finding one, but it just so happened that Kidspace was only a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. We rang up, explained that we were members of the Eureka! team, and were invited for a tour around the museum. Awesome.

Kidspace caters for children aged 0 to 9 years old and, although Kidspace is a lot smaller than Eureka!, there is still a lot for children to do. We didn’t get a chance to play on all of the exhibits, but even with our time limitations it took us a good two hours to make our way around the five galleries .

The Kidspace galleries are:
The Early Childhood Learning Centre
  • EarlyChildhood Learning Centre – A gallery where children aged  0-4 years can play, dance, sing, read at their own pace, and where child-adult interaction is encouraged.
  • Central Courtyard – One of the few places in the museum where parents are allowed to sit and relax, the courtyard offers children water fountains and an outdoor dig-it build-it area.
  • The Digging Deeper Gallery – As one of the main galleries, Digging Deeper offers children the chance to get up close and explore nature. Digging Deeper also has real insects on show, fossils to unearth (see the video on the right!), and an amazing Nature Exchange (which I’ll talk about later).
  • Wisteria Courtyard – An actual child-sized road for children to peddle trikes around whilst learning the meaning of everyday road symbols.
  • The Gardens – The gardens has a lot to offer. Vegetable gardens, a climbing wall, waterwheel and water cycle exhibit. All the different plants offer a huge range of colours and smells, and the winding paths make everything feel that little bit more magical.
Bugsy's Diner in Digging Deeper
Just like Eureka!, Kidspace uses its surrounding environment to its advantage. Being situated at the foot of the Pasadena hills, and in the grounds of the Arroyo Seco Park, Kidspace is surrounded by lots and lots of nature. There is a giant park at the front and a giant forest to the rear and, because of this, a lot of the exhibits are designed around nature. The main gallery, Digging Deeper, offers a lot in the way of this. We were able to come face-to-face with scorpions, a baby goliath spider (which absolutely terrified me), and even bumble bees. We even got to watch a show all about how bees communicate through different ‘dances’, which were re-enacted by one of the Educators, who are similar to our Enablers here at Eureka!

The Nature Exchange
One thing I must talk about though is the Nature Exchange. As a way of getting children engaged with the world around them, and as an introduction to trading, collecting and making observations I thought that this was brill. Children are encouraged to learn while exploring, so if the children discover anything they find particularly interesting they can either collect it, or make a note of it by drawing a picture or writing a description. The children can take their findings to one of the Educators at the Nature Exchange, who will award the child points for their discovery. Over time the child can accumulate points which they can then trade in at the Nature Exchange for ‘nature based’ rewards - things like small shells for a few points, and large pine cones for a lot of points. Not only this, but the children are encouraged to keep making discoveries  away from Kidspace, which they then bring with them when they return, so in this way the learning never stops. I really did like this a lot.

Some of the items traded in at the Nature Exchange

There is so much to talk about that I can’t possibly fit it all into one post, but you can always visit the Kidspace website if you want to have a closer look at what they offer.

Eureka! and Kidspace are both children’s museums, and they both offer a learning experience for children that is built around play and discovery, however they are both very different in how they offer this. I think it has a lot to do with the environment in which the museum is set. Anyway, that’s just a little bit about our trip to Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, California. It’s really awesome and we had a brilliant morning there, so if you’re ever in the area you should check it out.

Benjamin Guilfoyle
Early Years Enabler 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Clowning 101 – The Eureka! way

Play is at the heart of everything that we do here at Eureka!, and one of the ways we thought we could bring even more play into the workplace and museum generally was through clowning - Not your average face paint, big shoes and pie in the face clowning, but by bringing the ideologies and techniques behind the performance into our day-to-day museum duties. So Clown Training 101 was devised and, with a handful of enablers, the Eureka! Clowning team was born. We began by looking at Victorian clowns from the travelling circuses up to modern day stereotypical clowns, and their archetypes and lives. We then took some of the elements of clowning and created our own ways of clowning.

What makes a Eureka! clown
Our clowns are childlike in their attention to things: everything is new and amazing - they explore every object to its full extent. They are imaginative and creative - everything can be anything to a clown - a shoe is a telephone, a scarf is a bridge, and even a flute is a stethoscope.

They are repetitive. They will try things out again and again, often to fail, over and over again; no matter how many times they see that banana skin, they will always slip on it.
Clowning is the most emotionally honest form of performance; they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Clowns laugh, cry, show their joy and despair through their very emotional facial expressions.

And, most importantly, a clown is a direct link to the audience. During a performance they break the fourth wall by acknowledging the audience, showing things to them and even getting audience members involved in their antics.

Jill, Tasha and Ross discover something shocking!
Wearing the red nose
After our research and a few warm-up exercises we were given our red clowning noses. We were not to take these off as they were the prop that marked us as clowns.

Clowns are very silly - they are the subject of ridicule, and if we wished to be clowns we had to be silly. This was quite daunting for some of the group as they did not want to look like fools in front of their team leaders, colleagues and friends. In an attempt to break down everybody's inhibitions we were told to pick a space in the theatre. The music started, and we had to take to the stage as clowns, looking at the audience and fully exploring the stage (ignoring the other clowns at first). A variety of strange props were thrown into the spaces such as hats, wigs, instruments and toys. We had to work with these props, using them as something they weren't actually made for, which must have been quite a sight for the team leaders watching - grown adults wearing red noses, with wigs as shoes and recorders used as a splint for a poorly finger! We then had to interact with the other clowns, making up little scenarios, whilst looking at and involving the audience, emphasising our emotions and facial expressions.

Becky looks on in horror as Darren & Claire are stuck on the other side of the gorge!
All restraint, inhibition and hesitation was now long gone and everyone was buzzing. We all had the techniques nailed and were in a great mood - making jokes, laughing along with everyone and offering ideas and suggestions to each other. As a final performance we were split into three teams of three, each given a scenario and asked to devise a performance: at first just improvising with the music, then structuring a beginning, middle and end. The three scenarios were:

  1. There is a massive gorge that the clowns want to cross, but there is no bridge.
  2. One clown is having a picnic when the other two appear, then one fly appears, followed by a swarm of insects attacking the clowns.
  3. One clown has an illness, and eventually the other two catch it.
Becca, Dan and Abi notice the first of many flies to come and ruin their picnic

I was in group number 2, the picnic group. After a few run-throughs we decided that one clown should have the picnic all to himself, then the other two came but he would not share his picnic. The flies gradually appeared, one at a time, and the clowns began slapping themselves and each other in an attempt to get rid of the flies, which resulted in the picnic getting trodden on. Realising that the picnic had been ruined, the two clowns left the original clown alone with the remains of his picnic. By using a bit of slapstick, looking at the audience and exaggerating expressions we created a funny and successful 5 minute performance.

Bringing clowning into every day
After all three groups had performed we settled down and began to think about how we could  incorporate the clowning ideas into museum life, such as:
  • Using audience participation and acknowledgement during our science shows and workshops.
  • Exaggerating our expressions and actions to make things more exciting to watch.
  • Bring some of the playfulness into our time in the galleries - act as if everything is new to us, therefore more exciting for us and the children there who really are experiencing objects for the first time.
  • Devising a clowning show which we enablers can perform on an Up To You hour or as an event for the public, where we can get families involved in creating their own clowning show based on everything we learnt during the training.  This would be different from our existing 'Clowning Around' workshop, which is aimed at more traditional clowning with big costumes, facepaint and using props such as fake weights and rubber chickens.
  The Eureka! Clowning School's first graduates!
Our Clowning session has really given everyone involved such a boost to our ways of working, giving us new ideas and increased confidence in performing. We have loads of ideas about new things we can do in the galleries and ways to interact with kids - even the simplest of ideas such as putting on our red noses is full of potential for a better visitor experience.

Come and join us for a bit of Clowning Around in January 2012.

Becca McAusland
Enabler and Exhibitions Assistant