Part one of a two-part series.
New York’s cultural institutions are employing an array of new technologies that help kids interact, collaborate and use social media with their families to enhance their experiences with the institutions. Part one of this two-part series explores activities for children through The New York Public Libraries’ Summer Reading Program, The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
New York Public Library Summer Reading Program for Children
Each year, the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries join forces and sponsor a Summer Reading Program for kids. My daughter looks forward to it every summer. To get started, children log onto the website and set up an account. Kids create profiles with a new screen name generator (which sets up a screen name to fit them perfectly without revealing personal data) and design avatars using clothes, hairstyles, facial and features and more. After logging in, kids can record the amount of time they have spent reading. A running total for the summer appears on each child’s profile page. Kids earn special badges by keeping logs and reviewing their favorite books, music, movies and games. They can also “like” others’ reviews and click on others’ avatars to see other items that those users have logged.
Summer Reading culminates in late August. Volunteers organize parties at various branches throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, and children come in to receive certificates and prizes. The Summer Reading 2011 kick-off is June 9, 2011.
American Museum of Natural History Explorer App and Website
The American Museum of Natural History Explorer (AMNH Explorer) Phone/iPod touch app is awesome. Through the museum’s wi-fi network, Explorer can identify your location and offer GPS directions, so getting around the museum is a breeze. In addition, it serves as a guide to more than 100 exhibitions with explanatory text and images of important objects, and provides directions to cafes, gift shops and bathrooms. You can also share an interesting exhibit or artifact via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. You can download the app free at iTunes or borrow a preloaded device at the museum.
My husband and I took our daughter to the museum last Saturday. We used our long subway ride to plan our visit. Once inside, I simply touched my exhibit of choice on my screen and received step-by-step, on-screen directions with a map. It couldn’t have been easier. I have to admit, though, it took getting used to carrying my (silenced) phone around a museum. Once I got to each exhibit, I preferred to read the wall tags, watch the films and interact with the exhibit versus trying to read about the various sections on my phone. However, the GPS map was brilliant, especially for finding the bathroom quickly with children. It was also easy to reconnect with my husband via a quick text and digital map after we got separated.
My daughter loved touring the giant brain as part of Brain: The Inside Story. Thanks to AMNH’s fantastic children’s section of the website, she can play the interactive games from the exhibit anytime.
AMNH also offers two new dinosaur iPad apps.
MoMA Kids Interactive Website and Audio Tours and Mobile Apps
The Museum of Modern Art’s free Droid and iPhone/iTouch apps offer calendars, tours of all MoMA audio programs, general information and an index of all the museum’s works and artists featured in its collection. The apps’ Snaps feature lets visitors to use their camera phones to snap photos and send them as a museum postcards to family and friends.
No smartphone? No problem. MoMA also offers free audio tours (sponsored by Bloomberg) throughout the museum. The audio tours for kids are interactive and engaging, providing a wealth of information about MoMA’s collections and the building. During a visit with friends, we gave the children the audio guides. While my seven-year-old liked the independence of being in charge of her guide and was interested in facts it espoused, my friend’s younger children (ages four and five) had more fun punching the buttons. This turned out well for all of us, as the younger children were entertained with their new gadgets, and the rest of us could view the pieces in each gallery in which we were most interested and at our own pace. The audio guides are free, but you need to leave an ID to get one.
Post-visit, children can participate in an online Intergalactic Journey to MoMA and P.S.1 with an alien creature to recall paintings, sculptures and installations that they visited at MoMA and complete art projects; or they can plan their visit to MoMA’s sister museum. PS1. The online program is designed for children five through eight and requires Flash.
MoMA’s Kids and Family program offers a robust array of activities, including family gallery talks, workshops, films artist talks and other resources for children.