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Museum welcomes hands-on play, learning

By Greg Gelpi

Mashing and molding clumps of sand and painting on the walls, kindergartners learned by doing as their creativity ran free.

About 160 R.T. Smith Elementary School kindergartners didn't realize they were learning as they dabbled in the arts at the hands-on Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta during their field trip Friday.

James Wood, 6, said that he'd much rather be at the museum than in the classroom, though.

Kindergarten teacher Deborah Decker said that field trip was a "culmination of everything the kids learn all year."

While the children played, they unknowingly enhanced the motor skills necessary for writing for instance, Decker said. The activities also improve their hand-eye coordination and teamwork.

Parts of the current exhibit, "Spring into the Arts, include an area where children create vivid light designs on a wall based on their movements, various forms of art displays such as a spot for children to paint a wall like graffiti and design art from household items and musical instruments, including "street" drums, inspired by the Broadway musical "Stomp."

Teryn Campbell, 6, however, enjoyed the "Ball Machine," a contraption of various gadgets and gizmos that transports plastic balls along a series of swirling drills, metal tracks, a pool of water and a mechanical crane, among other things.

"The crane and balls are an excellent opportunity for them to learn about machines and motion," Decker said.

When she was young, she had to use her imagination at recess, but the field trip allowed students to use props and exhibits to exercise and stretch their imaginations.

"It's a chance for them to move freely and be 5-year-olds," Decker said. "They aren't restricted to one table."

As a follow-up to the museum experience, Decker said that students will write about the trip this week.

"When children are active, it gives them more to write and tell about," she said. "I guarantee that each kindergartner will have something they want to write about."

Unlike traditional museums, children are encouraged to touch the exhibits and can even create and display their own art in the museum, Marketing/Communications Coordinator Christy Duffner said.

"It's a fun place to play and learn," Duffner said. "They are having a really good time, but they are learning too."

She added that the line between learning and playing becomes "invisible" at the museum.

"It's a great place to come especially when arts are being cut drastically in the schools," Duffner said. "It doesn't have to be a Picasso to be considered art."

Amari Tasby, 6, said the painting was her favorite part of the experience, talking about the butterfly she drew.

The "Spring into the Arts" exhibit began March 5 and will continue through June 12. The next exhibit at Imagine It! will be "The Shoes We Use," an exhibit that will allow children to see everyday items in a new light.