Early Childhood and School Readiness

Although disrupted by closures during the year, the Museum continued its work on important grants supporting school readiness and early childhood learning, restarted it cherished in-person Morningstar Access program for children with special and medical needs, and piloted Everyone Explores, aimed at children with special and medical needs who cannot visit the Museum.

Building a National Network of Museums and Libraries for School Readiness 

Through the Building a National Network of Museums and Libraries for School Readiness project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Libraries Services (IMLS), the Museum is engaged in a multiyear project strengthening libraries’ and museums’ capacity to serve children and families in developing the skills needed to enter school prepared for success.

The Museum’s work focuses on providing technical assistance and capacity-building expertise to teams of children’s museums and libraries in their local communities. During the year, the Museum moved into phase II of the project with a focus on holding beneficiary voice visits and feedback loops within the groups that are intended to benefit from increased access. Beneficiary voice visits are conversations with parents and caregivers to listen and learn about families’ goals for their young children. State teams use what they are hearing to better understand the institutional and structural barriers families face and apply lessons learned into practice to increase access to programs.

The Museum continued to work with the following states and organizations:

Charleston South Carolina

Children’s Museum of the Low Country

Charleston County Public Library

South Carolina State Library

Coralville, Iowa

Iowa Children’s Museum

Coralville Public Library

Gulfport, Mississippi

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

Harrison County Library System

Richmond, Virginia

Children’s Museum of Richmond

Richmond Public Library

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe Children’s Museum

Santa Fe Public Library

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Berkshire Museum

Berkshire Athenaeum

Linking with Libraries

During the year, the Museum entered the third and final year of its Linking with Libraries project, funded by Boston Children’s Collaborative for Community Health. With input from librarians and community partners in Boston, Brookline, Quincy, and Watertown the Museum designed two multilingual school readiness family kits for children ages 2 to 5. The kits focused on developing and practicing fine motor skills (Tools for Tiny Hands) and social-emotional learning (Me, You, We) and were supported with virtual professional development workshops for providers. Providers then worked together with the support of Museum staff to integrate the kits into online or in-person playgroups. Fine motor skill and social-emotional development are a key part of school readiness, but the pandemic made additional support in these areas for children and caregivers more important than ever. 

There were 111 families that participated in one of 13 online or in-person six-session playgroups focused on fine motor skill development, 153 families that participated in one of 15 online or in-person six-session playgroups focused on social-emotional development, and another 200 families that received fine motor skill kits and resources during a project pilot. 

Supporting children with special and medical needs and their families

The Museum piloted a specialized program, Everyone Explores, created to support children with special and medical needs and their families in their homes or in-care settings, like hospitals. Designed to be used online, using a new website as a mechanism for support and connection, Everyone Explores offers families access to specially created activities, tips on ways to adapt activities to children’s specific capabilities, and live opportunities to connect with the Museum’s Health and Wellness Educator and other families. 

An early version of Everyone Explores was piloted in winter 2021 with the Child Life Specialists, children, and families at Franciscan Hospital. During the pilot, the Museum provided a small number of kits of creative materials to the Child Life Specialists to share with children in hospital settings. The early version of the website supported children and families in using the kits during hospital visits. Evaluation of the pilot is ongoing. A fuller version of Everyone Explores was piloted in spring 2021 and aims to support a broader community of children and families at home who have participated in past Morningstar Access events. 

Morningstar Access

In June 2021, the Museum was pleased to restart its Morningstar Access program, a highly valued, in-person program for children with special and medical needs and their families. The program resumed with two versions, one designed to support children with medical needs and the other designed to support children with sensory needs or other types of needs that prevent them from wearing masks. 

Additional Highlights

Additional highlights during the year included Family Play Week, an annual collaboration with First Teacher, Countdown to Kindergarten, and Vital Village, to offer week-long summer sessions for very young children and their parents or caregivers. In July 2020, 52 families received kits of supplies and joined online programs for live stories and activities around the theme of “Beautiful Mess.” 

As community partners pivoted their in-person playgroups to meet online, Museum staff joined with Boston Family Engagement Network partners to be guest playgroup leaders in Allston/Brighton, Mattapan, Roslindale, and other neighborhoods around the city. For six weeks in each neighborhood, we sang songs, read stories, led movement activities, and shared hands-on activity with materials that could be found in families’ homes.

And While the Museum was closed to the public in winter 2021, it opened PlaySpace for a new in-person program for children ages 2 and 3 and their caregivers. Facilitated by Museum educators, this 1.5 hour-long experience involved a story time, hands-on sensory activities to support social-emotional and motor skill development, and free play in PlaySpace exhibit areas.