In this episode, we talk with Amelia Reising, Founding Director and Stephanie Barber, Board Member of Eugene’s Adventure! Children’s Museum about the importance of play, and how this message is portrayed in Bluey. Play is not about kids having the newest toys, rather it is about giving children permission, space and opportunity to explore and process their world and feelings using everyday items and “loose parts.”
Arts for All reduces tickets to Bluey’s Big Play for up to 4 members of EBT cardholder families to $5 per ticket. Please visit https://hultcenter.org/arts-for-all to learn more!
Articles about Bluey:
Recording Note: Amelia wanted to include information that Museums for All reduces admission passes to Adventure! Children’s Museum for up to 4 members of EBT cardholder families to $2.50 per family member. Babies are always free! Learn more by visiting their website: https://adventurechildrensmuseum.org/
Cara: Hello and welcome listeners. My name is Cara Bryton and I serve as the Education and Community Engagement Coordinator at the Hult Center. Our intention with this Community Conversation podcast series is to go a little deeper by interviewing community members on subjects related to select performances. Today I will be talking with folks from the Adventure! Children’s Museum as we prepare for our upcoming Hult Presents performance of Bluey’s Big Play. Today I will be speaking with the founding director Amelia Reising and board member Stephanie Barber. Before we begin, I want to share that I have a personal connection with the Children’s Museum. Just this morning, my three -year -old Charlie asked if we could go and asks to go at least once a week. Early in parenthood, I heard about it from other parent friends. There is, they shared that there’s this amazing place in the mall and I was curious to check it out. And in that first experience, I was amazed by the design of the space and the array of exploration available to the kids. The best part was not having to clean up everything at the end. So, a big shout out and thank you to the amazing employees at the Adventure! Children’s Museum. So, I want to start by getting to know you both a little more. Amelia, can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your role with the Adventure! Children’s Museum?
Amelia: Sure. So, the whole museum’s idea started when my kiddo was a preschooler and younger. I was a stay-at-home parent all of a sudden. I’d been doing graphic design up to that point and bookselling and all sorts of other jobs along the way. And to suddenly be a stay-at-home parent meant I needed to find ways to not just stay at home all the time. So, we would go on adventures to different museums around town and then further out, he was like baby in arms at that point, I just needed adult contact and to be places that were interesting. And as he got older, it occurred to me, it would be great if we had this resource like the Portland Children’s Museum, like the Gilbert House in our community, for parents who don’t have the ability to travel further out on these adventures with their kiddos. And then when he got into kindergarten and I had more free time on my hands, I started talking to some other parents from his co-op preschool about the possibility of starting the Children’s Museum. And nobody shut me down, so yay for them. And from there, we formed a community, board of directors and filed our nonprofit paperwork and we started things really quickly with just a little bit of money and a lot of volunteer support and donated items and it just sort of took off from there we’ve expanded twice now since we opened in 2017 and things are going pretty well we’ve recovered to our pre-covid level attendance and just keep innovating new ideas for kids. And it just cheers me so much to hear that your three-year-old is asking to come here all the time because when we first started, of course, it was just people we knew. And now most of the time it’s people I don’t know. It’s very rewarding to see how we’re touching people’s lives and how we’re making it possible for kids in our community to have adventures. So, thanks for sharing that with us.
Cara: Thank you, Amelia. Stephanie, can you please share about yourself and your role with the Adventure! Children’s Museum?
Stephanie: Yeah, thanks for having me today. I’m excited to be here. I’m, let’s see, with the museum, I have I’ve been a board member at large since 2019. Amelia didn’t share but she’s been the director of the museum as well as the president of the board since the inception of the museum just there night and day and designing and implementing exhibits just putting so much work into it. So, coming up in December, we’re going to have a vote and I’m up for co -president, and I’m really excited about that in that next chapter for Adventure and for Amelia as well, I appreciate that opportunity. And I’m currently a behavior professional. I work with adults here in Eugene with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and I previously worked in early childhood in both formal and informal settings, so public school and also a few great children’s museums. So I bring that experience with me to the board.
Cara: Awesome. Thanks for sharing. And then a question for both of you. Can you share a little bit of history of how the Adventure! Children’s Museum came to be? What was the intention of creating something like this in Eugene? Did you have any guiding philosophies? And I know you touched on that a little bit already, but I’d love to hear more.
Amelia: Sure, I’m always asking questions that have or answering questions that haven’t been asked yet. Our guiding philosophy is to help create adventures for kids because we believe that every child is an explorer and innovator and an artist. And so, we want to make that possible for them here. When you mentioned, it’s great to come here because you don’t have to clean up messes. I think kids feel that too because it can be really like, my house isn’t tidy, but lots of people have tidy houses and kids, I think, feel that too, that they need to be careful where their things go, and they need to clean up after themselves. And if they come here, there’s less of that pressure. So, there’s just more ease in their play sometimes, I think. And that’s not a criticism of parents with tidy houses. That’s just what I’ve noticed is that kids seem very involved in their play here, and they don’t have to have those thoughts in the back of their head a lot of times. We also work with– with a lot of recycled materials and upcycled materials here. That’s really important for me. I think that when we try and salvage things and reuse things and remake things, it keeps things out of landfills, first of all, but also, it’s showing kids that things can have other uses beyond their original purpose and they can have another life beyond what people think might be their use lifetime. So we have like bookshelves in the store that came from the LCC library and we have a train engine that came from another children’s museum and you know just little things here and there that we’ve picked up from retail stores around us in the mall that are now part of our exhibits and all those things are getting a chance to be used every day by hundreds of kids and their families and so those things are really important. And we also do a lot of on-the-job training. So, we work with people with disabilities. We work with people who are here in their first job. And we do, so we do a lot of job training and a lot of soft job skills as well as, you know, learning how to use a carpet shampooer, but also learning how to give a good interview and learning how to, you know, accept constructive criticism and things like that. So, all these pieces kind of come together.
Cara: Awesome. Do you want to add anything, Stephanie, to that?
Stephanie: Well, I think as the founding director, Amelia said it pretty well, but I might add just that a guiding philosophy is children are the center of the learning process and keeping that in mind with whatever programs and exhibits are implemented.
Cara: Awesome. All right, this next question is for Amelia. So, like the Children’s Adventure! Museum, Bluey promotes learning through play. What is the importance of play long term as children grow?
Amelia: I think that Bluey does that perfectly. And I think from our perspective here and from the perspective of child psychologists and educators, really play is learning. It’s the ability to take things from your environment and put them into your play and sort of digest the experiences that they have. We see a lot of… of play from kids where you can tell that they are just processing things. We see a lot of play where they’re learning how adults’ function in the world and kind of trying to make sense of the things that they experience. So, the pretend play that we have, like the bakery and the veterinary office and things like that, they’re learning not just, “Oh, this is where you put the bread, but also empathy and learning how other people live and what other jobs entail. And when their adults play with them, that’s especially true, I think, because the adults who have some of these larger world experiences can feedback into that loop a little bit, which I think is really great. So we’re learning all sorts of things with our kids here and the kids are learning on their own here and with other kids and it’s just sort a magical experience and we don’t always get to see the end results, but we expect that there’s a lot of empathy learning going on we expect that there’s a lot of perspective taking going on and we expect that kids are just learning the other things that are stressed in early childhood the early literacy skills, the fine motor and gross motor skills, those kinds of things are all sort of incorporated into their play here that are stressed in early childhood the early literacy skills the fine motor and gross motor skills, those kinds of things are all sort of incorporated into their play here.
Cara: Awesome. And the next question, let’s see, okay. Is for Stephanie. According to, so I did a lot of rabbit holes, researching for this. And there’s a lot of articles about Bluey. I was like, wow, okay, there’s a lot of talk on this. And one of the articles I read was it was about how Bluey supports creativity in children. And it said that researchers and leaders in a variety of industries point to creative innovation as a top skill that children will need to be successful in tackling the upcoming challenges of the 21st Century. Are there ways this notion informs the design of Adventure! Children’s Museum?
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. And I love Bluey for that. And the show does a great job of demonstrating how adults can model that as well for children and creating that space. So for Adventure, I think you see this on many levels. At its core, like Amelia was saying, Adventure is also modeling this innovative thinking with repurposed materials and showing there’s different ways that we can come together and come up with a solution or use these items in a way that’s beyond the original purpose. And on a deeper level, creative innovation really requires a strong foundation. And we have to engage with our creative selves, we have to feel safe and at least somewhat capable of doing this and we have to have the time and the space necessary to work through this and engage in this process, physical space, emotional or mental space. And this has to be held for people. So, Adventure does a great job with that and some physical space considerations to help support that are around accessibility, where exhibits are designed with adequate space around them, multiple stations, so different people can be working at their own pace and through those different trial and error experiences going back to the drawing board and trying again without feeling this pressure, you know, to move on. So that is a consideration and then making from the aspect also of safety and accessibility of having a chance of success at this thing, you know, exhibits are designed also with at child height and tables at child height and that psychological impact of just those things goes such a long distance, you know, materials are maybe slightly larger so they’re easier for small hands to utilize. And also, expectations and exhibit descriptions and information are provided in simple language and also pictures. So, you’re creating this foundation through those things. Also, there are so many opportunities for this trial-and-error learning with the exhibiting and caregivers have plentiful opportunity to ask open-ended questions or engage children in problem-solving. So, for example, in Bricksfield in the new expansion space, people can put together Lego or Duplo cars or creations and race them down. And that is a very intentional space for this innovation and you can ask questions of yourself or of others of what happened when you made that change. What would happen if you were to do this? What could make that go faster? And then you also see kids attempting this innovation process on their own through the materials that are provided throughout the museum. One that I love is seeing kids try to carry as many tennis balls as possible and they will start with their arms. How many, you know, can I carry my arms and then you see the little mini cooler over from Squishville from the camping area? Okay, well, can’t fit that many in the cooler and then you see this bin being drug over from another space and they’re using a scarf and they’re deciding through that process without anyone saying anything to them. Hopefully you know, judging how comfortable it is to use these materials to do this? How successful is it? How safe do I feel? And it’s just really fun to watch that process play out. And of course, when considering new exhibits, we’re thinking about the steam aspects of it. And how can it contribute intentionally to this innovative thinking?
Cara: I was smiling that whole time because I could like totally imagine my kid doing all of those things.
Stephanie: Yeah, it’s really great and it just unfolds naturally and when you have a space as well put together, it’s just as inviting, and it happens.
Cara: Awesome, thank you. Okay, so next question is for Amelia. Another article about Bluey shared that play experts use the term loose parts for items without a defined play purpose that can be used in many ways and encourage children’s creativity. Can you share about ways you offer this experience of the Adventure! Children’s Museum?
Amelia: Absolutely, so we have quite a few opportunities here for loose parts play. The biggest area you’ll see that here is in our build–it, make it exhibit which has been moved over to our expansion space. We have shelves full of bins of building materials. So there’s blocks but there’s also like driftwood sticks and there’s little pieces that look like game pieces that all came in a set that you can make into towers or patterns on the table and there’s little wooden cars so if you are making if you’ve decided that these pieces are going to be an expressway or a roller coaster you can you know have a little car to roll down the tracks that kind of thing and so and Lincoln Logs my visitor services manager would love it if I mentioned Lincoln Logs because those are her favorite. So we have all these little pieces here in bins and there’s not like a sample project out for them to look at it’s just things and then on the wall we have a wall of inspiration and it shows some of our original sketches for our exhibits and so they can see first we plan and then we create our exhibits these things just don’t sprout up out of out of nowhere right so there’s that as inspiration but it’s we’re not giving them directions on how to use these little bits and pieces that is a really important thing it gets back to the innovation angle that Stephanie was talking about because you see a lot of creative use of these things. It’s not just stacking and making walls, it’s making roads, it’s making playgrounds, it’s making little houses. A lot of times we can’t tell what they’re making and that’s okay too. They know what they’re making and that’s the important thing. What’s interesting is for everything in the museum, kids know how to interpret it. Whether they’re interpreting it the way we intend it or not is… is a very different question. But they know what they’re doing in the space. And sometimes it’s a grown-up sort of like, I don’t know what this is for. And it’s like, OK, take a step back. Does your kid know what that’s for? We also do a couple of times a year. So, we have an art room here. We have projects that have instructions. And we have the materials prepped for those projects. But we also have materials that are just in a bin. So, if you look at the penguin bookmark and you don’t want to make a penguin bookmark, you also have penguin bookmark materials that you can use for other things. You have scraps of paper, you have corks, you have all sorts of things that you can use and interpret in your own way, and we sort of double down on that during Invention Week where we just have a lot of raw materials out, and maybe we have a couple of sample projects, but in general we just have here’s some bottle caps, here’s some tape and glue. How are you going to use these objects to make your own invention? And what will it be when it’s done? And that’s always really exciting too.
Cara: Awesome. Thank you. All right. And then another article I found, which shares about that play is a natural way that children emotionally process a variety of difficult experiences. Childhood experts emphasize that pretend play gives children the freedom to work through their fears and feelings. Can you share a story of when you have witnessed a child process their feelings through play? And this question is for Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thanks. I don’t have a whole cohesive beautiful story with closure, but I do think you know play gives children and the rest of us an opportunity to create or recreate a narrative or life experience with a different or more desirable path or outcome or sit in an experience that happened and explore our feelings around that like you were saying. So it helps us to shift our perspective or at times accept or make peace with experiences. And especially in my time with early intervention, certainly at the museum as well, you do, you see some really impactful life experiences come out through play and be experimented with and, you know, I have a lot of examples but a classic just comes to mind of kids playing family and assigning the role and saying who they want to be within that family and just the different dynamics and things that go into that decision making process selecting who will be the baby maybe that’s someone that’s hoping for an opportunity to be cared for a little bit more or cry for a little while and just have a space to do that or possibly act out to get a little extra attention or care and then you know the people that are in the role of parent the kids are in the role of parent may feel more of a need for control in life at this time and may have a lot of rules they want people to follow or they might really want to care for another human they take the time with the baby and don’t after them and follow them around. So those are just always fun and it’s really interesting to watch. You might see kids in that process act out breakups or fights or other really serious life experiences as they play a kid even saying they’re going to run away and experimenting with that. So interestingly, most times you don’t necessarily see one kid take on a really authoritative role over another person’s emotions and I find that dynamic intriguing of course sometimes that plays out but it’s a really nice opportunity for kids to practice empathy and compassion in a generally safe low risk situation but I’ve also seen kids at the museum maybe someone that doesn’t get to see their extended family a lot. They’ll get in the train exhibit, and they’ll travel, and they get to go, they get to go see Grammy, you know, and Papa three times in one day. And it’s fantastic or create a restaurant where there’s a feast and a whole table full of people when that might not normally be their experience. And those are all beautiful opportunities for people.
Cara: Thank you. So, Amelia, from your own experience watching Bluey, why do you think the show resonates so well to not only children, but to adults as well? That was another thing in my rabbit hole was like, adults love Bluey.
Amelia: They do. There’s actually a Facebook group that pops up in my timeline that’s adult fans of Bluey and they go deep into some of the memes and history, and they have figured out from context clues how old the parents are and are excited, some of them, that they’re older parents and it’s been really fascinating. To kind of piggyback on what Stephanie was talking about, I think that there are those opportunities for emotional learning for adults. The, I was watching an episode the other day and there was a yard sale going on and dad had some bubble wrap and they asked if they can play with the bubble wrap and they spread it out on the lawn and they’re swimming like fishes because now the bubble wrap is water. So, Bluey and Bingo are on the bubble wrap and they’re wading like they’re in the water and Bluey suddenly stops and says, “Bingo, what if I’m the mommy fish and you’re the baby fish?” And then they agree that that’s what they’re going to play, but they just go right back to swimming again. But somehow there’s an emotional depth to it, like, they’re not just fish anymore. Now they’re a fish family. Now there’s an emotional connection between the two fish swimming in the bubble wrap pond, and it’s just really sweet. And I think, as parents, we can look at those instances, and it’s not just cute and funny. There’s depth there in what our children are doing, and there’s opportunities to understand them better and to communicate better with them. I have a 13-year-old, so this is all sort of– it’s instructive for me to continue watching Bluey, because I don’t think we all change that much from our childhood selves as we become teenagers. We just have different ways of expressing and understanding what we’re going through. So, for me personally, as a parent now to a teenager, I’m still looking for those opportunities to connect and to understand better the different ways that my teenager now communicates with me. And I can pick up on some of that through Bluey. And I think parents of younger kids can also pick up on different ways to parent and different ways to approach situations and different ways to communicate with their kids and understand their kids better through play. So that’s my take on it. And I would love to hear from some other Bluey fans at some point, if you’re in the museum and you want to chat, Bluey let me know. I’m here.
Cara: Awesome. Thank you. And next question is for Stephanie. So, I’ve noticed there’s a multi-generational and diverse demographic at the Adventure! Children’s Museum. How does your program help instill this feeling of belonging and community?
Stephanie: There’s an underlying, a very strong underlying value of connection and staying connected, following principles of diversity and inclusion. So, Adventure! is actively engaged with partnerships in the community, extending and accepting invitations for collaboration and for service, and bringing activities and materials into these various spaces and corners of our community, offering a gathering space in the museum itself for different groups and organizations, for people to come together. So, we stay as connected as possible. We also strive for accessibility in our spaces and to represent diverse populations with respect within our spaces. And people feel most comfortable where they’re seen and where they see themselves represented. So, I think that’s a key to creating belonging.
Cara: Awesome. Thank you. So, my last question, and this could be for both of you or either of you, is there anything you’d like to share or promote in our last moments together?
Amelia: Hi, so I just had to move to the front desk because we just opened, this can come on through. But we have lots of events coming up, this is my life here. We have a lot of events coming up. We have Gingerbread Night at the end of this week. We have a babysitting night on Saturday. We have our New Year’s event coming up or we’ll have a countdown to the new year with bubbles and things like that. So, there’s lots of good stuff happening here and then just we have our expansion exhibits that have recently opened. So, the Blue Blocks Exhibit, Bricksfield, which Stephanie was just talking about, all sorts of good things that are constantly changing and updating here, and also familiar things so you get to feel that safety and connections still with the place you love.
Cara: Wonderful. Well thank you again so much for speaking with me today, and to all our listeners I hope that you get a chance to check out the Adventure! Children’s Museum sometime soon. Bluey’s Big Play will be at the Hult Center January 16th and 17th at 6 p.m. Following the show, come check out the Kid Critic Table. We’d love to hear from local kids on their impressions of the show.
Lastly, the show is also part of our Arts for All program, which offers $5 tickets for up to four tickets per family who have an EBT Oregon Trail Card. Arts for All tickets must be purchased at the box office. To learn more about this show and future programs, please visit hultcenter.org. Thank you so much.