The Hands On Children’s Museum just received a major Museums for America federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support the development of a year-round Nature Makers program for the next two years.
Nature Makers will link nature-based learning with maker activities that use natural materials and are inspired by the “making” and design that occurs in the natural world. Nature Makers activities will bring the maker philosophies of peer-to-peer learning, exploration, and experimentation to outdoor spaces. Activities will tap into children’s natural curiosity as they create temporary art exhibitions from natural materials, “cook” in an outdoor mud kitchen, create mud bricks to learn about early construction, take-apart a bee’s nest and learn to make a fire.
The Nature Makers program addresses two of the most significant needs in early learning—inspiring early Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) education and connecting children with the outdoors. It is designed to build the foundation for STEM success in school as well as educating parents about the key role of outdoor exploration in STEM achievement.
The Nature Makers Program will include a number of regional partnerships with area Tribes, natural resource agencies, scientists, maker groups and other organizations to supplement and enrich the staff-led offerings. Congressman Denny Heck, the Squaxin Island Tribe, the US Forest Service, the LOTT Alliance all submitted letters of support for the project.
“At Hands On we are passionate about engaging young children, their families and educators in the growing Maker Movement as an accessible way to teach science, art, engineering and math in the early years,” notes Patty Belmonte, the Museum’s Executive Director. “We are thrilled to win another Museums for America award—it is a wonderful acknowledgment of the Museum’s successful work in early STEM learning,” added Hands On Board President Lauren Pitman.
In Washington State, the timing for the new Nature Makers program is particularly apt. The State ranks #1 for overall concentration of STEM jobs, yet the mismatch between the skills required for those jobs and the skilled individuals to fill them is growing faster than in every other state (Washington Stem). To combat this mismatch, Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction began implementing the Next Generation Science Standards in 2017. Gardens and outdoor spaces have been identified as rich venues for putting these standards into practice, as they allow students to engage in place-based, collaborative learning, while developing a sense of interconnectedness.
IMLS announced that it received 558 applications and made 132 awards for the Museums for America grant program. “Museums for America is instrumental in helping museums of all disciplines, all sizes, and all budgets across the country address opportunities identified by their organization as central to achieving their missions,” said IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew. “It is humbling to read the many applications about the varied ways museums are improving quality of life in communities large and small…”