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Today’s Citizens: Children’s Role in Creating Children’s Museum Exhibits

We know that children are full of capabilities and ideas the world needs. They are today’s citizens – not tomorrow’s.  How can children’s museums be a place where this is highlighted and discussed? How can we make children’s thinking visible in a way that strengthens our environments?

The Portland Children’s Museum is currently creating two major exhibits that are actively involving Opal School students in significant leadership roles.  Cycle City, which will open during our Opal School Visitation Days and run through April, is an exhibit that draws on Portlanders’ love for bicycling and explores what bikes can do.  For that exhibit, Opal 3 students have played a role in prototyping and testing, participating in the creative decision process.


Another big project under development at Portland Children’s Museum is Outdoor Adventure, a large outdoor exhibit that will open in April (a nice fit to our Summer Symposium theme, Nurturing our Relationship to the Natural World.)  Opal School students have been actively involved in this project, too.  Opal 1 teacher Marcy Berkowitz’s blog post, reprinted below, illustrates the benefits to children and adults of openly inviting this interaction.

Collaborating with Artist Mauricio Robalino


Mauricio Robalino, an artist from Tacoma Washington, drove down to spend Thursday afternoon with us. He will be working with Opal 1 to make a mural for the new Outdoor Adventure exhibit the museum is working on. The students were so excited to meet him and he felt very welcomed by us. We went to the exhibit together and he shared with us the kinds of things he looks for when visiting a place to think about a mural. He looks around for shapes, colors, textures, what children might do there, what he can imagine happening there – even fantasy ideas and of course, critters. It was interesting to take these ideas and head into the exhibit with new eyes looking for new things. We saw shapes and textures we might never have noticed. We imagined ourselves riding down the ‘river’ in a tiny canoe and going through the tunnels. We thought about the mice, grasshoppers, crickets, foxes, raccoons and birds that might come there sometimes.








When we got back to our classroom, Mauricio asked us to draw “What it is like to be out there.” He encouraged us to think about, “What goes on in the outdoor exhibit and in our imaginations,” and he shared some advice about how he goes about preparing for murals. He said, “Keep it simple, really simple. Use simple shapes – it is easier and says lots more.”  He said the hardest thing is deciding what not to put in, that making decisions about how to keep it simple is always the hardest thing.

The children took to the paper and pastels like wildfire. They couldn’t get enough and just kept drawing and coloring. It was so exciting. They worked alone and together, at tables and on the floor.











Near the end of our time, some children decided to put some of the drawings together to  make a scene with them. They placed drawings around the risers and brought Mauricio over with his eyes closed to surprise him. Everyone was very excited and then spontaneously the children became still life actors in the scene – taking on roles of trees or grass or animals themselves.



We are looking forward to Friday, December 13th when Mauricio decided we didn’t have enough time and he wanted to come back to spend a whole day with us. He brought mosaic materials so we can make a mosaic for our classroom together. A HUGE thank you to the Children’s Museum for this opportunity; we are inspired and excited to inspire. We are so thankful that the museum has asked our class to participate in this mural based on of all the exciting experiences we have had in nature this year, and that they believe we will be able to inspire other children to love and care for nature and its critters.  We are so thankful that the museum found Mauricio who believes deeply in collaborating with children. As a teacher, I am so thankful to work for an organization that believes in the ideas of young children – believes that those ideas have a place in the world beyond the classroom, are important, should be expressed, listened to and shared by the public at large. Children’s ideas have great meaning – they offer us a different view of the world we all share – a view we could not access without them and one that may open us up in ways we never imagined. 

I wonder: 

  • How are children’s gifts influencing your environments? 
  • How are children active citizens in your cities?
  • What possibilities are waiting to be engaged?
December 06, 2013

One response to “Today’s Citizens: Children’s Role in Creating Children’s Museum Exhibits

  1. Hello, Matt!

    I really like this—“They are today’s citizens—not tomorrow’s.” That’s not how it’s commonly thought, but it’s true.

    That mural sounds like it’s going to be wonderful. I really like your school’s focus on the arts, and, believe it or not, I actually mentioned the Opal School’s focus on art in a recent post!

    It’s our “Blogs We Love” list. If you’d like to check out your blurb, the address is http://www.teambuildingactivitiesforkidscentral.com/blogs-we-love.

    Just our way of saying we appreciate your work!

    Good luck with the mural!


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