'WeeMuse': For kids, boredom not an option


Photo Gallery: Ten Days of Play at Berkshire Museum

PITTSFIELD -- At the Berkshire Museum's "WeeMuse: 10 Days of Play" exhibit, being bored is not an option.

Cardboard, duct tape, yarn among other household supplies, however, are among the choices kids and families can use for their own creations to be made, displayed or destroyed in the museum's Crane Room.

The 10 Days of Play exhibit is a returning feature of Pittsfield's annual 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival, and has been organized in partnership with Pop-Up Adventure Play. The latter organization is founded on the principles of what's known as "playwork," a professional field in child development researched and practiced in the United Kingdom. It uses free-play or child-directed play to integrate elements of environmental and experiential learning, design, and community organizing into a child's life.

Morgan Leichter-Saxby, a playwork training specialist for Pop-Up Adventure Play, was at the Berkshire Museum on Monday to help guide kids and parents towards engaging with the room's ceaseless supply of household materials.

"The goal is to help them come up with their own idea and see it through," said Leichter-Saxby. "Some kids come in, tugging at their parents to move towards materials and make a cardboard sculpture. For others, it might take a while to catch on. It might be about shuffling around and popping bubble wrap, and that's OK too."

Craig Langlois, Berkshire Museum's education and public program manager, said the combination of free-range indoor play and the school vacation week has made 10 Days of Play an event that's returned by popular demand after being piloted last year.

"We've all seen a child open an expensive gift only to play with the cardboard box instead. This program inspires kids to use common everyday items for creative play. Just about anything lying around the house can be used to spark a child's imagination," he said. "It's kind of crazy, kind of fun."

On Monday, Beth and Dan Shustack of North Adams brought their family and met with others at the museum on a whim. Soon the adults, along with children ages 2 to 10, were engaged in building a tower of cardboard cases from Girl Scout cookies, duct tape, pictures from National Geographic magazines and carefully cut and placed strips of yellow yarn.

"This sort of destructive, creative activity is right up their alley," Dan Shustack said.

In another corner of the room, elementary schoolers Alexander and Stella Nadelberg of Lexington, Mass. cut, shaped and bent cardboard boxes into a castle and fort respectively with the help of their grandfather and architect, Peter Shaffer of Tyringham and Boston. Mother Brianna Nadelberg and grandmother Lynn Shaffer looked on, capturing the memories in the making with their smartphone cameras.

"It's awesome," said Alexander, as he watched his grandfather cut crenellations into the top of the structure to make the notched top of a castle.

Leichter-Saxby said that's exactly the kind of "supported freedom" she says children should be exposed to.

"When children aren't offered that, or enough free-play, there are consequences, developmentally, socially and otherwise. People need freedom and fun," she said.

Because the materials are cheap, she said, you can "take it, smash it, paint it whatever," because "none one's going to yell at them for destroying a cardboard box."


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