Museum Small Group: Kaya, Kyla, Luca, Ruthie

We’ve been thinking a lot about the deCordova environment, especially through the lens of COMFORT. We wonder how to strike a balance between museum rules – Walking feet, Hands off the art, Normal voices – and a comfort that allows engagement in a meaningful way that is developmentally appropriate.

After putting coats and discussing the rules, Luca identifies something he is not comfortable with: the elevator. He and Mark take the stairs, noticing this sculpture along the way: It goes tall (as is the flight of stairs that we climb!).

We gather on the third floor, looking briefly at these sculptures, noticing the “hole” in the orange one, and identifying colors in the one on the right, then move on.

  • Their observations:
    Luca It’s like a chair.             Kyla A TV.             Luca It is a TV.            Kaya Pink is the bed.
    When Kyla points out photos of the sculpture on the wall, Ruthie notices a person’s hand touching the sculpture in the pictures. Kaya says: And there’s a arm. Fingers. They’re touching it.
    Mark They’re touching it, you’re right. And that’s a rule – in fact it even says “Please do not touch” – so who is touching it, do you think?
    Kaya proposes Mark, then: I think my dad was touching it. Or my mom… No, that says “No dads and moms touching allowed.

Here is a picture of someone breaking one of our three rules. Does this confuse the children? Might it cause discomfort?

Now the children find something they can touch: Kyla takes a brochure from its holder, and the rest of us do, too. She points to a photo: This is the part outside, the part where mommy breastfeeds the baby.

Kaya  I see the ice cream sculpture – oh! I see this ( a photo of Maximum Security, which we walked by) Luca points to it, across the room.

Kaya points to the “ice” sculpture outside: A blue thing. The children stand on the window frames and press their hands against the cool glass. Here, too, is something they can touch as they look at the sculpture out the window. At one point, Ruthie strikes a stance which seems to indicate growing comfort. The children begin jumping up and down, and Mark has us all take a breath and raise arms, then exhale, lowering our arms. Luca says Meooowwww as he calms his body. We move to the Dewey Gallery.

The room is certainly a completely different environment – it’s large, dark, and the acoustics have changed.

The children settle in front of Moptop, which we have brought into the classroom by attaching the image behind plexiglass for children to draw on with whiteboard markers, just as the cartoony character does in this work of art.

At the end of the room Kaya spots a flickering screen on the stage: Boom, crash, he says. He sees another flickering screen: That’s lightning. I’m scared.

The interesting thing about this is that we originally set up the easels as a response to children’s interest in this sculpture. But these children have been exposed to the sculpture in the classroom in a hand-on way, but are only now experiencing the piece of art itself. We were curious about these children’s reactions, and we now find that, like the other groups, this group is mesmerized by this. 


They also show great interest in this piece projected on the wall next to Moptop.

Kyla: This TV is a little bit tricky. It doesn’t look like my shows. What is it that looks different? This show has letters. These letters are not letters.

The children spend about fifteen minutes in the Dewey Gallery, and grow comfortable indeed, as some begin to transform into cats and dogs, barking and meowing!
Ruthie suggests: Let’s go somewhere else, and we enter the process gallery. Ruthie puts her fingers to her lips: Shh, shhh. But she soon discovers that this is a place where the rules don’t apply.

Here, the children dive into play. Luca is immersed in play with the moveable person, and the others try on all the hats. Some of them become fire fighters, rescuing each other. There is a singsong quality to their voices as they create different play scenarios and experiment with these new materials. They spend about twenty minutes here. They are comfortable, indeed.


Heading back, Luca elects to go down the elevator (another sign of increasing comfort?), but Ruthie now prefers the stairs. She arrives at the tall column, and the others join her here. Kaya simply looks up and says: The top.

This is another sculpture that we have featured in the classroom, though the children don’t comment on the fact that a photo of it is displayed by the light table, where children have been building tall structures. (see post Towers).

We race back to the comfort of the classroom, knowing that we’ll be celebrating Saige’s birthday with cupcakes for snack!