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July 8, 2013

Dear Friend of the Museums,


Our goal is to get kids dirty.


Well not exactly that, but we do want to create opportunities for kids to get outdoors and connect with nature. And we want to reintroduce families to the notion that healthy play can involve getting dirty and being messy.


Kids playing in the woodsIn my last update I told you that we had just begun a new program called Natural Connections, generously funded by the Sudbury Foundation, which brought after-school groups of third and fourth graders to the museums but not into the museums. Each week for six weeks, sometimes on very cold late afternoons, the group explored, experienced, and connected with the outdoors here at The Discovery Museums. Our final session was a family night, where these new naturalists led their parents on some nature adventures.  Parents loved it and quickly became enthusiastic naturalists themselves! We were very pleased with what this program showed us about how kids—and their parents—love the open-ended, simple but rich, fun they can have outdoors.  


Boy playing in a mud pitSimilarly we offered Discovery Day: Dirtopia for all visitors on a beautiful Saturday in  June. The materials were simple: a pile of dirt, buckets, shovels, water to make mud, sticks, leaves, and rocks. Families added their curiosity, imagination and enthusiasm and we had a wonderful day. Again we were really pleased with how the kids explored naturally, and how parents and grandparents seemed to rediscover this wonderful source of learning and fun.



Boy pouring a bucket of water onto dirt to make mudWhy is this so important to us?  Kids are not spending enough time outdoors. A substantial body of research has demonstrated a correlation between a trend away from time spent in nature and the rise in negative cognitive and physical health issues. In a recent survey of families at the museums, 94% of caregivers agreed with the statement, "I think my family should spend more time outdoors."  One of four major goals for The Discovery Museums as we plan our future growth is very simple: entice kids outdoors.


Kids doing yogaThe overall health and well-being of kids and their parents is important to us. With the generous support of Hologic, we held our first ever Family Health & Wellness Day on May 17. Our visitors had the chance to try Zumba and yoga; learn about stress relief techniques for kids; get posture, scoliosis and bone density screenings; learn about acupuncture and acupressure; try Red Ball Tennis; get a chair massage; enjoy healthy snacks and so much more. We are really pleased to partner with Hologic and their Promise to Me program that actively encourages families, especially moms, to make their health a priority.


Boy playing with bubblesWhile things are quite busy here at the Museums, we have also been very busy traveling to many parts of our community. Traveling Science Workshops has completed the 2012-2013 school year with an 8% growth rate over last year, serving almost 26,000 students in nearly 1,200 classrooms. Did you know we've been offering Traveling Science Workshops for 20 years?  It is obviously successful and valued. Here is a recent parent comment:  "Just wanted to express my sincere thanks for all the hard work you do in researching and providing excellent enrichment programs for our kids. Sonali came home yesterday and gave us this amazing explanation on the theory of magnetism! To hear a 1st grader talk about electromagnetism, polarity, magnetic waves and iron filings was unreal. I am not sure who came in from The Discovery Museums yesterday, but she must have been phenomenal." 


Through our community outreach program we have been to Stonyfield Earth Day, road races, YMCA health fairs, family festivals, WPI's Touch Tomorrow Science Festival, and the opening day of the Miracle League. We have doubled the number of such events since last year in order to reach more families. Meanwhile our professional development efforts have touched caregivers and early learning teachers at Acre Family Child Care in Lowell and the Brookline Infant Toddler Center.  Last month we held a professional development seminar on supporting families with children on the Autism spectrum, where Indian Hill music therapist Romy Wilhelm and staff from Autism Alliance of MetroWest ran informative sessions on techniques and ways to support families. Staff from Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the Concord Museum attended along with our own staff.


Our science content and at-home STEM activities helped the Wheelock College Aspire Institute launch their STEM Mobile Application to promote family-child engagement in math and science learning. The app was piloted to students from the Sarah Greenwood School in Dorchester, and wrapped up with an end-of-pilot party with 125 third, fourth, and fifth graders doing STEM activities led by museum staff. We are pleased to have these varied opportunities to take our show on the road and reach more families and professionals who impact children.

We have been workingA speaker from our speaker series events hard this year to make sure we are speaking out on important topics related to the development of children and the future of science education. Through The Discovery Museums Speaker Series, we have hosted a number of adult evenings with expert speakers focused on science, early education, and creativity.  Speakers at our most recent events were Professor Mitchel Resnick from the MIT Media Lab who spoke on creativity and kids, and Dr. Kevin Nugent, founder and director of the Brazelton Institute, who enlightened us on early brain development and infant communication.  At our Leadership Appreciation event, Professor Patrick Winston from MIT gave a wonderful talk about the growth of artificial intelligence; check out photos from the event here. We have been heartened by the enthusiastic turnout and interesting conversations, and by the focus the series brings to important topics.  Dates and topics for our fall speaker events will be announced soon. 


Please save the date for our annual Falling for Science gala on October 26.  The focus this year is "A Celebration of Women in Science."  Over the years we have done much—and will continue to do more—to encourage girls to become (and stay) scientists, and I hope you will help to support that effort. Funds raised at the event this year will support our programming targeted specifically towards girls, such as our SMART Gals programs. Stay tuned for more exciting news about the event.


I love getting your thoughts and feedback on what we were doing—and what you wish we were doing.  Let me know what you're thinking at ngordon@discoverymuseums.org.


All the best,




Neil H. Gordon

Chief Executive Officer