How Cultural Institutions Are Using Tech and Social to Interact with Kids

CultureChild 2.0

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.

This week’s “Collaborations” piece: The Fishman Ultimatum iMovie

After watching my friend’s hilarious parents-children-babysitter-and-dog iMovie collaboration (which pays homage to The Bourne Ultimatum and with which she surprised her husband with last Father’s Day and after further reading about iMovies on The Mac Switch, I am considering switching to a Mac laptop.  I could take our home videos to a whole new level.  Watch, and you may be inspired, too.

Girl Scouts of Japan Relief Efforts

There are many charitable organizations providing relief aid to Japan.  I am pleased to learn Girl Scouts USA is now among them.  The policy that prohibits Girl Scouts from raising money for other organizations has been temporarily suspended, and Girl Scouts USA is raising relief funds for its sister troops in Japan.  To contribute to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, you can make an online donation to the newly established Girl Scouts of Japan Relief Efforts.

According to Girl Scouts USA, girls are also encouraged to send expressions of friendship to their sister Girl Scouts in Japan by making origami cranes (Sadako). For instructions, see YouTube videos. The Girl Scouts of Japan made and mailed thousands of these cranes to the United States as an expression of peace and friendship after the September 11th tragedy.

For more details, see the following announcement from the Girl Scouts of the USA issued on March 16, 2011 by Kathy Cloninger, National CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA:

We are devastated by the catastrophe in Japan and, on a personal level, are deeply concerned about our sisters there, the Girl Scouts of Japan. USA Girl Scouts Overseas has served American military and civilian families in Japan for many years, and has extremely close ties with Girl Scouts of Japan. In fact, many of our overseas troops and Girl Scouts of Japan are sister troops. We have received many calls from Girl Scouts around the country asking how to help and are happy to report that the policy that prohibits Girl Scouts from raising money for other organizations has been temporarily suspended. To contribute to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, you can make an online donation to the newly established Girl Scouts of Japan Relief Efforts. At times like these, Girl Scouts throughout the world come together in sisterhood to help those in need. We have seen our Movement rally in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters over the years, and will continue to do everything we can to help our sister Girls Scouts of Japan in the weeks and months ahead.

Make checks payable to Girl Scouts of the USA:
Girl Scouts of the USA-Fund Development
P.O. Box 5046
New York, NY 10087-5046
Memo: Girl Scouts of Japan relief efforts

Girls are also encouraged to send expressions of friendship to their sister Girl Scouts in Japan by making origami cranes (Sadako). For instructions, see YouTube videos. The Girl Scouts of Japan made and mailed thousands of these cranes to the United States as an expression of peace and friendship after the September 11th tragedy.

Mail cranes to:
USAGSO – West Pacific
Unit 45005
APO, AP 96343-5005

Putting Learning into the Right Context for Children

How do you make learning about art, different cultures and even math relevant and engaging for kids?

Recently, one of my readers left a comment about a visit with her stepdaughter to the Rubin Museum of Art, which is dedicated to art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions.  It turned out to be a great experience for them both, because her stepdaughter had recently studied India in school and took pride in sharing what she had learned with her parents during the museum visit.

Another parent and photographer Darryl Nitke recently told me that he considers himself very educated, especially in the realm of art.  He said, however, that the one place where his middle and high school education had fallen short was teaching art, literature, science, music and philosophy independently and not putting context between them.  He does things differently with his son, who has been accompanying him to museums and galleries since he could walk.  He always tries to tie in visits with his child’s interests, current school topics or by putting the art they view into a historical context.  For example, due to the current tragedy in Japan, he is taking his son to the Met to see The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Darryl explained how this process of exploring art with his son came together during their trip to Rome last summer: “We took a bunch of photos at the major sites and of specific works in the museums. When my son started fifth grade this year, his history book had at least 10 photos of the same sites and museum pieces that we had seen—taken from exactly the same place! That really thrilled my son!”

I also recently met parent and sculptor Skye Ferrante while waiting in line with our kids for the MoMA’s Material Lab.  We struck up a conversation about why we teach our kids about art.  He subscribes to Ray Bradbury’s philosophy that “life is a search of metaphors for life” and believes art is a great metaphor for teaching his daughter about the world.

“I learned more about French History from Victor Hugo than I did from a text book,” he said.  “But I’m biased: I’m an artist.”

Nonetheless, I’m seeing the idea of “context” being carried over into subjects other than social studies and art.  My first-grader recently proclaimed that she “hates” math but couldn’t really explain why.  Hoping to glean some insight, my husband and I both attended “Math Day” at her school.  We learned that the school’s math program is based on a problem-solving approach rooted in everyday situations.  “By making connections between their own knowledge and experiences, children learn basic skills in meaningful contexts, so that mathematics becomes ‘real,’” said the principal.  Again, it’s all about the context.

After being stumped by a fourth-grade math problem, we wondered how long we could continue helping her with her homework, let alone encourage her to like math.  We learned math in more of a rote fashion.  And, I’ll be honest, I never liked math either.

A visit to her classroom was more promising.  We saw the concepts that the principal spoke about in action.  The children were writing numbers, reading word problems, building towers with blocks that represented different numbers and calculating the tall totals, solving math puzzles on the class Smart Board and using a giant number line that stretched half of the room, while collaborating with each other through addition and subtraction to reveal a mystery number.  And my daughter seemed very into it.  Was she just having a bad day when she made that proclamation?

I’ve since tried to casually incorporate more math into everyday activities, such as cooking, playing games like Mancala and Monopoly or figuring out the 25 percent savings off a doll that she wanted.  The head of the school’s Computer Lab suggests students can stay on top of their math skills during spring and summer breaks by playing games on age-appropriate educational websites.  He recommends:;;


I also read good reviews of the following iPad/iTouch apps and will be giving them a try with my daughter: Math BingoMath Board and Tic Tac Math.

This week’s “Collaborations” piece is by Chris Brogan


I learned that Chris Brogan, social marketing expert and co-author of the bookTrust Agents, also writes a parenting blog called Dad-O-Matic.  This blog shares parenting news, views, experiences and advice from the dad’s perspective.  Given his background, he also writes a lot about media literacy.

While in this Family Media Projects YouTube piece, Chris offers collaborative ideas for commemorating the holidays, these are great ideas to document any family celebration.

Chris suggests bringing a camcorder or digital recorder to family gatherings and interviewing older family members about things they remember from their childhoods and things they remember their parents telling them about their parents’ childhoods.  It’s great to capture these memories on film to show the grandchildren and future generations.

He also suggests passing the video camera around the room having each person say what they are going to remember most about the past year and to store their responses in a video file.  He brings up a good point: “You never know what’s going to happen in the next year, and it would be great to have video of the people that you love and care for talking about the things that matter to them.”

Have fun documenting your own family memories.

Does art sharpen adults’ critical thinking skills?

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith would likely respond “yes.”

In their New York Times-bestselling social marketing book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan writes that fine-art training changes the way that you see.  He references theories from another book, Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which says looking at things from a right-brain perspective—much in the way that artists look at paintings—can help you see life’s situations more deeply and in different light.

In other words, focusing on the fine details of a situation (down to the brushstrokes) and seeing it from different angles leads to creative problem-solving solutions rather than tunnel vision.

Chris Brogan essentially writes about integrating left-brain and right-brain thinking to come up with a richer perspective.  According to his blog, he uses MindNode mindmapping software for his project lists to “break out his thoughts in a non-linear way.”  He has also blogged about his redrawingexperience in 2010, a process he underwent to rethink his business objectives and reconsider how to maximize his time in order to provide more value to his readers.  He needed to determine how to manage roughly 600 e-mails per day; post to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr; make phone calls; and respond to comments on his blog—which took 15 hours a day, according to him.  He also needed to set aside time for writing and creating for clients.  He started the process by listing his priorities and grouped them into five categories or “buckets.”  If something came up that wasn’t in one these five filters, he delegated it.  Earlier this year, he went into “redrawing mode” again, further tightening his focus and eliminating distractions.

Whatever the scale of one’s projects, it makes sense to take a step back, reevaluate what is working and not working, map goals, refocus and repeat the process as needed.  I’m doing some redrawing and mind mapping (with a pencil and paper, but MindNode offers an app for this) for some work projects and this blog.  I find that combining the two exercises sharpens both my critical and creative thinking.

Meanwhile, I’m curious: what processes help bring you clarity on projects and foster your “out of the box” thinking?

This week’s "Collaborations" pieces were created by Mark Cole and his sons

CultureChild: Parent-child Art Collaborations

In these collaborations, each of Mark’s sons painted a picture then he worked on top of their paintings with ink.

Here is what he said about his process: 
“When I work on collaborative drawings with the children, I first let them make a watercolor painting on paper and I later react to it by drawing on top of it with ink. Sometimes this means finding a way to enhance their part of the work and sometimes it just means staying out of the way of the wonderful thing they have already created.  It always means doing something that fits with the spirit of what they have started with.  It is very tempting to tell them what I want when they are working but it is always better to let them do whatever they feel like which in turn opens new doors for the finished drawing by making it fresh and unexpected. ”

Does teaching children about art help them become better students overall?

CultureChild: Learning Through Art


A study by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum says it does.

Still curious about this connection from my conversation with Megan Lucas, I dug up an article that ran in The New York Times  following the release of the 2006 Solomon R. Guggenheim Learning Through Art study.  According to the article, the study found that students who participated in the Learning Through Art program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills—including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning—than students who were not in the program.

Without wishing to oversimplify the issue, I can share from my own experience how one child I know increased his aptitude for learning through the use of art.  As a Learning Leaders volunteer, I tutor kids in reading at an under served public school.  Last year, through a trial-and-error process, I discovered a link between drawing and reading with this particular first-grade student.

It was clear that he had attention issues, but I was never briefed on his background.  He had difficulty sitting still for more than five minutes, and often walked out of our sessions. I knew that he loved to draw, and in an effort to keep him from abruptly ending our 40-minute sessions, I equipped him with a drawing pad and an array of newly sharpened colored pencils each week.  I quickly figured out that if I let him draw the characters and themes in a story that I read to him or let him draw pictures of some of the words that he read on flashcards, he stayed engaged for the 40 minutes.  He also took pride in talking about his pictures and using them to illustrate the stories that we read together and to create his own stories.  Through this exchange, we gradually spent more time reading and writing than drawing.

I’m taking a break from tutoring this semester; however, I plan to return to it in the fall, armed with some new ideas in my toolkit that I’m gleaning from this blog.  Art supplies will be essential in that toolkit.

Bravo Lucy Walker and Vik Muniz for Waste Land

Thank you Lucy Walker and Vic Muniz for your beautiful film, Waste Land, illustrating how art can transform peoples’ lives.  You deserve the Oscar tonight for Best Documentary Feature. Awesome soundtrack by Moby, too.

This week’s "Collaborations" piece was created by Armand Rusillon and his daughter

CultureChild: Parent-child art collaboration entitled, “Kitchen Door.”

Passing time on a white, wintry morning.