A Pictorial History

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  1. 1913

    The Museum opens at Pine Bank in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

  2. 1917

    During World War I, Boston Children’s Museum remains open in spite of coal shortages. On “heatless Mondays” when many schools and libraries are closed, the Museum offers special lectures for children.

  3. 1919

    The Museum hosts programs at the Barnard Annex, a building closer to children in other neighborhoods.

  4. 1926

    Purchased through children’s penny donations, Molly, a baby elephant that had passed away at the Franklin Park Zoo, is preserved and donated to Boston Children’s Museum.

  5. 1928

    The Miss Kyoto doll is given to Boston by Japan as a symbol of friendship. She becomes a part of the Museum’s cultural collections, which grows to more than 45,000 objects by 2013.

  6. 1930s

    Boston Children’s Museum’s many outdoor clubs give children direct experiences with nature, placing them at the center of their own learning adventures.

  7. 1936

    Having outgrown the original building, Boston Children’s Museum buys and moves into the Mitton house across from Jamaica Pond at 60 Burroughs Street.

  8. 1940s

    Boston Children’s Museum becomes a refuge for children whose fathers are away serving in the military and mothers who are working in local factories and business.

  9. 1952

    The July Jaunters club takes neighborhood children on nature expeditions.

  10. 1962

    Michael Spock is hired to direct the Museum. The Museum he inherits has traditional glass-case exhibitions and declining attendance.

  11. 1964

    With the opening of What’s Inside? Boston Children’s Museum launches a museum revolution, removing the ’Do not touch’ signs, and pioneering hands-on, visitor-focused exhibits and programs, a model now used in museums around the world.

  12. 1964

    Boston Children’s Museum staff develops MATCh Box kits (Materials and Activities for Teachers and Children) that bring real materials and hands-on learning to classrooms. Titles include Grouping Birds, Animal Camouflage, Netsilik Eskimos, the House of Ancient Greece, and Paddle to the Sea.

  13. 1966

    The City of Boston gives a Japanese Tea House to the Museum, which is adapted to teach about daily life in Japan.

  14. 1970

    The Grandparents House exhibit offers role playing experiences in social history and stimulates conversations across generations.

  15. 1972

    The Recycle Shop opens with cool materials for making creations of all sorts.

  16. 1974

    The Giant’s Desktop exhibit engages children in thinking about size and scale.

  17. 1976

    What If I Couldn’t opens as the first children’s museum exhibit that helps children experience what it would be like to live with a disability.

  18. 1977

    Greeted by fire boats, the Milk Bottle arrives by boat from Taunton, MA, and is installed at Museum Wharf.

  19. 1978

    PlaySpace, the Museum’s exhibit for children five and under, opens for children and parents to play and learn together.

  20. 1979

    Boston Children’s Museum moves to Museum Wharf on Fort Point Channel, sharing the building with the Museum of Transportation.

  21. 1980

    A gift from Boston’s Sister City in Japan, the Kyo no Machiya opens within Boston Children’s Museum.

  22. 1982

    A true blockbuster, the Art of the Muppets attracts large and enthusiastic audiences.

  23. 1983

    An expanded community outreach program extends Museum programs and resources to cities and neighborhoods with high poverty rates, laying the groundwork for new partnerships.

  24. 1984

    Endings: An Exhibit about Death and Loss provides ways for children and adults to discuss a difficult topic.

  25. 1986

    Boston Children’s Museum helps to bring The Big Apple Circus to Boston.

  26. 1986

    Kenneth Brecher joins the Museum as director and launches a new multicultural initiative.

  27. 1986

    Boston Children’s Museum joins in MITS - Museum Institute for Teaching Science - a summer professional development program for teachers.

  28. 1988

    In honor of Boston Children’s Museum’s 75th Anniversary, the theatrical program created by City Stage Company, From Time to Time, inhabits the Grandparents House exhibit depicting four different decades to reflect Boston’s changing populations.

  29. 1988

    U.S. tour of Boston Children’s Museum’s six science exhibits, including Bubbles, Raceways, Salad Dressing Physics, Wheels, and Tops & Yo-yos.

  30. 1990

    The KidsBridge exhibit addresses prejudice, discrimination and racism. Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibitions Services tours the exhibit to venues across the U.S.

  31. 1991

    The Multicultural Celebrations Series are published and eventually sell more than $1m worth of books and curriculum to schools and libraries.

  32. 1992

    The Teen Tokyo: Youth and Popular Culture in Japan Today exhibit presents a counterpoint to the more traditional Japanese House exhibit.

  33. 1994

    Lou Casagrande becomes President and Chief Executive Officer, and begins planning for major site and building renovations and expansion.

    Photo: Les Veilleux

  34. 1996

    KidStage, a fully professional theater for young children, opens under the artistic direction of City Stage Company. Live theater becomes a part of the visitor experience.

  35. 1997

    The Harcourt Teacher Center opens with expanded programs and resources for area teachers.

  36. 1998

    Boston Children’s Museum forms deep and enduring partnerships with Action for Boston Community Development Head Start and the Boston Public School Kindergarten Program.

  37. 1998

    Arthur’s™ World, based on the popular Marc Brown book series and WGBH’s television series, is a blockbuster, causing attendance to jump by 35%.

  38. 1999

    The Art Studio opens, greatly expanding the Museum’s arts programs.

    Photo: Paul Specht

  39. 2001

    The Teen Ambassadors, talented multilingual Boston Public high school students, become critical staff in Community Programs and Partnerships, linking the Museum and neighborhoods.

    Photo: Bill Gallery

  40. 2003

    GoKids, programs designed to encourage families to make healthy lifestyle choices, become an important part of museum and community-based activities.

    Photo: Oscar Williams

  41. 2004

    Making America’s Music: Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme, a partnership with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, signals a new emphasis on music in the Museum.

    Photo: Gus Freedman

  42. 2004

    Five Friends from Japan: Children in Japan Today, an award-winning traveling exhibit, introduces visitors to daily life for children from different backgrounds.

  43. 2004

    Boston Black: A City Connects, a collaboratively developed exhibit, explores diversity within the Black community and stimulates dialogue about race.

  44. 2006

    PlayLab, a partnership with MIT’s Cognitive Sciences Department, invites infants and toddlers to participate in cognitive development studies through play.

  45. 2007

    Boston Children’s Museum completes a major renovation and expansion project, and becomes the first gold LEED certified museum in Boston.

    Photo: Robert Benson

  46. 2008

    Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China exhibit, featuring Boston’s Chinese Sister City, launches a full summer of Chinese cultural programs.

  47. 2009

    In collaboration with WGBH, Peep’s World, a preschool science exhibit with specific support for adults, engages children in science play.

  48. 2010

    The new President and Chief Executive Officer, Carole Charnow, expands arts programs - with music, dance, visual arts, and theater - throughout the Museum.

    Photo: Bethany Acheson

  49. 2010

    The Countdown to Kindergarten exhibit opens as a centerpiece for city-wide school readiness activities. School Readiness activities become the staple of Friday night programs.

    Photo: Paul Specht

  50. 2011

    The first free online curriculum for afterschool programs, www.beyondthechalkboard.com attracts users from around the world.

  51. 2013

    Honoring the past and looking toward the future, Boston Children’s Museum celebrates its 100th anniversary.

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    Introduction:
    The Power of Play

    For 100 years, Boston Children’s
    Museum has given the children
    of Boston- and the world - a very
    powerful gift: playful learning.

    For 100 years, Boston Children’s Museum has given the children of Boston- and the world - a very powerful gift: playful learning. Often underestimated, play is the complex and vital work of childhood. Young learners discover the world in which they live through experiences defined by exploration, curiosity, and creative possibility.

    Since the beginning, the mission of Boston Children’s Museum has focused on forming habits of the mind needed for learning. In the Museum’s early years, this meant guiding children and youth through high school age to look closely at natural history specimens and cultural objects, using their experiences . . .

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    Redefining “Museum”

    Boston Children's Museum
    has redefined both what
    a museum is and how children
    of all ages and their parents
    and caregivers may experience
    that space together.

    Boston Children's Museum has redefined both what a museum is and how children of all ages and their parents and caregivers may experience that space together. When Boston Children’s Museum was founded in 1913, most museums were mainly devoted to caring for their collections.

    Beginning in 1909, the Science Teachers’ Bureau, a group of Boston educators, gathered a collection of natural history objects for classroom use. Combining a Progressive Era desire for experiential learning, inquiry, and social justice with the popularity of the nature study movement, they created a collection that could serve Boston-area science teachers. In 1913, the Museum opened its doors at Pine Bank in Jamaica Plain. Its purpose was . . .

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    Moving and Growing:
    Neighborhood Center
    to Urban Museum

    Over the past 100 years, Boston
    Children’s Museum has grown
    from a museum rooted in a
    single neighborhood to an urban
    museum serving the entire
    city of Boston and beyond.

    Over the past 100 years, Boston Children’s Museum has grown from a museum rooted in a single neighborhood to an urban museum serving the entire city of Boston and beyond. In 1913, with the support of the Boston Parks Department and, eventually, Mayor Curley, the Museum’s founders made Pine Bank, a stately residence next to Jamaica Pond, its first home. The proximity to the pond was ideal for young budding naturalists, who gathered wildflowers and other specimens for the Museum. These frequent visitors developed relationships with staff, created displays, led museum clubs, and became junior docents.

    From the outset, children came multiple times each week, . . .

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    Cultures:
    From Studying
    Foreign Peoples
    to Living in
    a Global Society

    Among the earliest collections
    at Boston Children’s Museum
    were objects from the
    Philippines and Japan that
    were used to teach about
    “people in far-away lands.”
    (Sayles, 1937).

    Among the earliest collections at Boston Children’s Museum were objects from the Philippines and Japan that were used to teach about “people in far-away lands.” (Sayles, 1937). In keeping with the ways of the times, unfamiliar cultures were sometimes portrayed as exotic and foreign. Later, Boston Children’s Museum gave voice to the diverse populations of Boston and the peoples of the world, inviting them to share and celebrate their cultures with others through Museum exhibitions and programs.

    Starting with Delia Griffin, curators encouraged the close study of cultural objects to help children develop critical thinking skills. In 1927, the Japanese Committee for World Friendship . . .

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    Preparing
    for the World

    From the start, Boston Children’s
    Museum has inspired children
    to be active, aware citizens
    through learning and play.

    From the start, Boston Children’s Museum has inspired children to be active, aware citizens through learning and play. Today, Boston Children’s Museum seeks to help children and their families make smart, healthy choices; respect others; and prepare for the diverse, complex world in which they live.

    In the 1920s, the Museum’s ideas of citizenship focused on equity and social justice. The Museum’s mission was to reach marginalized children, to help them become better thinkers and take active roles in American society. Boston Children’s Museum staff worked closely with children from settlement houses . . .

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    Looking, Touching, Thinking, Learning

    For centuries, educators
    and academics have linked
    sensory engagement
    to intellectual development.

    For centuries, educators and academics have linked sensory engagement to intellectual development. Since 1913, Boston Children’s Museum has provided children with unique opportunities to connect with material things, from exquisite dolls and finely preserved turtle shells to the outsize sneakers of basketball legends, the insides of toasters, and the water world under the Museum Wharf dock. Museum Curator Delia Griffin explained in 1925, “Observation is the natural foundation of education ... every act of curiosity is a movement toward intellectual freedom.”

    In the first half of the Museum’s existence, . . .

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    Learning for All

    Boston Children’s Museum
    has always been committed
    to serving the needs of all
    children and finding innovative
    ways to do so, with play as
    the great equalizer.

    Boston Children’s Museum has always been committed to serving the needs of all children and finding innovative ways to do so, with play as the great equalizer. Early in its history, the Museum primarily served school-aged children from the neighborhood, who walked there on their own while their parents were working. On Saturday afternoons, the Museum offered special programs such as a talk by an astronomer from MIT or a naturalist from the Harvard Peabody Museum or, in later years, a film. For children who could not make it to the Museum, collections on loan brought interesting objects to them. Even as early as the 1920s, museum educators extended . . .

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    Not Just for Kids: Supporting
    Teachers, Families,
    and Caregivers

    Boston Children’s Museum
    was founded on the notion
    that giving Boston Public
    School science teachers
    natural history specimens
    and teaching aids would
    improve science learning.

    Boston Children’s Museum was founded on the notion that giving Boston Public School science teachers natural history specimens and teaching aids would improve science learning. This quickly developed into an active collection loan program. In 1964, MATCh (Materials and Activities for Teachers and Children) Boxes combined objects with innovative curricula into traveling collections that dramatically extended the scope of the Museum’s reach. More than that, they deepened children’s engagement with Museum objects by contextualizing them within extended school curriculum programs, which sometimes spent weeks exploring topics such as Hawaii or bones.

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    Connecting with Communities

    Since its establishment,
    Boston Children’s Museum
    has earned a strong
    reputation for collaboration,
    starting with the Harvard
    museums and scientists
    at MIT.

    Since its establishment, Boston Children’s Museum has earned a strong reputation for collaboration, starting with the Harvard museums and scientists at MIT. The purpose of the collaborations is to combine the partners’ resources and expertise in the development and implementation of programs that serve the needs of children and families.

    From the beginning, Boston Children’s Museum has worked with the Boston Public Schools to improve teaching and learning. In the 1970s, the Museum, viewed as a neutral meeting ground, offered school-and Museum-based programs . . .

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  1. Dedicated to the wonderfully creative, brave, and hardworking Boston Children’s Museum staff-past, present, and future.
    Thank you.

    Prepared by Boston Children’s Museum staff, this centennial history is based on the work by Sarah Carter with the assistance of Nikki Kapu in the summer and fall of 2012. The text draws primarily upon the internal archival collections of Boston Children’s Museum, a century of Museum publications, and published accounts of the Museum. To learn more about the early history of the Museum, read The Story of the Children’s Museum of Boston, by Adelaide B. Sayles, who served as the Museum’s treasurer (Boston: Press of George H. Ellis Co., 1937). A rich history of the Museum during the Michael Spock years (1962-1985) appears on the Boston Stories website, BCM Stories.