By Yvette Armendariz

Kara Karlson started coming to the i.d.e.a. Museum three years ago, when she was pregnant with her second daughter. She “immediately fell in love.”

“First, and most importantly for me, it was a safe place for my oldest to run around when I was pregnant,” Kara said, whose daughters Hannah and Ava are now 4 and 2, respectively.  “But as my kids developed, it became a place we could go and experiment.”

The fun in ArtVille turned out to be an early introduction to STEAM learning, which is all about exploring, problem solving and experimenting in your child’s preschool years.

“ArtVille is about exploring and interacting with the world around you, which is consistent with the constructionist theory of learning,” said Dena Milliron, Curator of Education at the i.d.e.a. Museum in Downtown Mesa. “This theory states that children or learners construct their own knowledge through their experiences. This type of learning encourages independent and critical thinking. ArtVille is designed to promote active exploration and learning in a safe environment.”

And it was a great foundation to prepare for STEAM instruction in school.

“They got to play with the fake snow.  We experimented with different art projects.  We learned letters and shape matching on the Tech Table ‘endless alphabet’ game,” Kara said. “We got to use glue and scissors, both of which kids use in early education.”

They especially loved building activities that incidentally taught them about forces and cantilevers. “If you stack big blocks on top of small blocks, they would fall over but not vice versa,” she said.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) notes STEAM for young children falls under “inquiry instruction,” which encourages hands-on experiences that support building understanding and vocabulary, critical thinking, problem solving and reflection. Parents can support inquiry experiences by offering opportunities to learn about the world around them and by asking open-ended questions.

By coming to the museum or utilizing online resources offered by the museum, parents can encourage STEAM learning, Milliron said.

“Our activities are open-ended and intended to encourage discovery and imagination through creation,” she said. Current offerings such as “the magnet board activities and the Upcycle challenge, for example, inspire children and families to use their imagination, think critically and problem solve to create individual artworks or magnetic designs.”

For Mesa mom Judy Wood, the museum has been a huge part of her daughter’s early learning experiences that help prepare her for school. Zaya, now a super curious first grader, began coming regularly to ArtVille when she was around 2 years old, where she explored and enjoyed imaginative play and sensory experiences.

Judy found these fun museum experiences engaged Zaya’s brain. She wasn’t just having fun creating and playing. Zaya was learning to solve problems, and her fine and gross motor skills improved as she used scissors to craft.

Even after she “graduated” from ArtVille, which is aimed at preschoolers, Zaya wanted to come to the museum. There was much more to explore and learn! The hands-on activities featured in the rotating exhibitions not only included fun art, but also science, engineering and more. It encouraged her to be curious, experiment with the activities and ask questions about what she was seeing. Zaya wanted to learn and do more.

“The exhibits are all amazing! The solar system exhibit was a favorite as Zaya was able to explore being an astronaut,” Judy said, noting Zaya now loves science. “She has since discovered she would like to work with Mars or Moon rovers remotely from Earth.”

When she is not in the museum, they enjoy trying out the online activities posted on the museum’s website and on social media that are curated from various educational resources.

“It’s been wonderful learning about the educational links available,” Judy said.

Yvette Armendariz is a former award-winning business journalist and mom to two young adults. She is currently marketing director for the i.d.e.a. Museum.




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