In honor of International Children’s Book Day, I’d like to tell you more about the Rosenbach’s newest program for children, Museum Adventures. On the last Thursday morning of every month, the Rosenbach transforms into a playroom where young children and their caregivers play and explore while gaining essential literacy skills. The Rosenbach, with its rooms full of breakable objects, seems an unlikely place for this kind of program. But it’s the type of audience development initiative that drives much of the education department’s work. For anyone who has visited nearby Rittenhouse or Fitler Square on a weekday morning, you know that the area is full of families with very young children. So, we set out to serve this very particular type of family audience by creating a unique, fun-filled, learning adventure that helps young children and their caregivers feel at home in a museum. Activities include storytime, a scavenger hunt through the Rosenbach’s historic house and exhibitions, hands-on art making activities, creative play and snacks.
Each month’s activities are centered around a theme; recent themes have included shapes, family, home and animals. In February, we focused on windows. It was a frigid winter morning so it took the group some time to extricate themselves from strollers, winter coats, boats and hats and get settled in. Sippy cups in hand, the kids took their seats on a fuzzy blue carpet. I’ve read countless stories to children throughout my life but I’m always amazed at the power of storytime. I announce that we will be reading a book together and all the children are suddenly rapt with attention. I read the delightful Windows written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale. Windows is about a young boy who ventures out into his neighborhood for an evening walk with his dog. Lights twinkle from inside houses and windows turn into “paper lanterns” through which he can see families eating, people dancing, and finally back at his house, his mom looking through the curtains of his own house ready to welcome him home.
Because it was a chilly morning on Delancey Place, we didn’t want to venture outside after the story to look for windows. So, instead we peered out one of the big bay windows and described what we saw outside. We were lucky enough to have a crew from Philadelphia Gas Works parked in front of the museum. So in addition to seeing big, old trees, we saw a man with a hard hat using a jack hammer and a picture of the Philadelphia Eagles team logo on the side of the truck, which one of the children described as a “football bird.” Then it was time to take a trip into the Rosenbach brothers’ home to see if we could find a window that has pictures of people on it. We take our time preparing for our visit into the “fancy house.” The kids must take their grown-up’s hand and temporarily leave all snacks and sippy cups behind. But children are used to following rules and I tell them that we need to keep the fancy house clean so eventually, they willingly and cheerfully leave their snacks. And once we step into the Rosenbach brothers’ home, the kids are dazzled by all the silver sconces and sparkly chandeliers, the mirrors, the imposing staircase and ornate furniture. But they quickly remember their purpose, to seek out the window with pictures of people on it. Four-year-old Zoe spies the stained glass windows first and the rest of the group quickly follows as she enthusiastically pulls her mom by the hand towards the end of the hallway. We settle down on the floor in front of the colorful windows and I explain that this type of window is called stained glass. Then we try to figure out what the people are doing. Zoe, who obviously has a an eagle eye, notices that one of the ladies is playing music. Then I explain that we’re going to head upstairs where they can make their own stained glass windows. There is a ripple of excitement and anticipation. And, as we head back through the story room towards the art adventure awaiting them upstairs, the kids troop past their sippy cups and snacks, abandoning them in favor of stained glass making. And that is the power of Museum Adventures at the Rosenbach!