By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – It crosses everyone’s mind now and again. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a kid again, at least just for a little bit?
A group of early childhood educators from the Office for Catholic Education and the parochial schools got to do just that on Dec. 11. They visited Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum in its brand new home in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall. They got to ride the old Woodside Park Carousel, visited Alice’s Wonderland, had a story read to them, played bus driver and of course learned all about the museum’s programs for children pre-K through grade two.
Their tour of the facility was led by Andrea Hoffman Jelin, the museum’s vice president for community programs, outreach and partnerships.
Under a partnership between the archdiocesan schools and the museum, classes can visit the museum or, if that’s not practical, have a Portable Play Program facilitator come directly to the school to present an in-classroom program based on the museum exhibits and interactive programs.
“We are teaching learning through play,” Jelin said. “Play reinforces literacy and math skills.”
“One of my concerns when the children go on a field trip is that it be a learning experience,” said Sister Edward William Quinn, I.H.M., director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for the Office of Catholic Education. The museum’s exhibits, she said, are very much hands-on and engaging, and “they kind of match up with the curriculum.”
While the focus of PTM is on young children there are parts of the exhibits that would be fascinating and educational for older children and even adults, Sister Edward William noted.
For example, Memorial Hall, which houses the museum, was a centerpiece of the grand Centennial Exhibition of 1876 held to mark 100 years of American independence. It is the only structure of size remaining from the Centennial Exhibition, the largest such event staged in Philadelphia history. One of the museum’s exhibits is a detailed model depicting all of the buildings, large and small, which were erected for the great fair.
Children from Philadelphia schools can visit the museum as a class through city grants. For children from suburban schools, there may be a charge and, of course, the expense of busing the students. Especially for them, the Portable Play Program might be most practical.
Although there is a modest cost for bringing the program to the school, each child receives a “museum explorer patch” and a complimentary pass for a free visit to the museum for themselves and their family.
“I was very impressed by the visit to the museum,” said Cathy Smith, a teacher at St. Martin of Tours School, New Hope, who is chair of the Early Childhood Curriculum Committee for archdiocesan schools. “I took my grandchild to the old museum and it was nothing like this. [This] is spacious, child-friendly and educational. Here children can explore without being on top of each other. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Every room they had was well planned out. It is completely handicapped accessible and any child would have a wonderful, wonderful time.”
Because of distance, her school probably would not come to the museum itself, but utilize the Portable Play Program, Smith said. Afterwards, families could take advantage of the free museum passes distributed at the program.
For more information on class visits to the Please Touch Museum or its Portable Play Program, contact Claudia Setubal, coordinator of Curriculum Development and Implementation, at email@example.com or call 215-578-5133.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.