About Portland Children’s Museum

Portland Children’s Museum is a hands-on museum where visitors come to play, make, and share. Our main exhibit is the imagination of the children who play here. Every activity from permanent to traveling exhibits is designed to encourage children to play and wonder while they learn about themselves and the world around them. Every day, and with every encounter, the Museum co-creates exhibits with the audience. Children are active participants in their world, so the Museum invites them to be active participants in everything—even helping to improve upon Museum programs.

Portland Children’s Museum is home to Opal Beginning School and Opal Charter School. Opal School includes a tuition-funded beginning school for children ages 3-6 and a Portland public charter school serving children in kindergarten through 5th grade. The school’s mission is to strengthen education by provoking fresh ideas concerning environments where curiosity, creativity, and the wonder of learning thrive. Inspired by the municipally funded, pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, Opal School uses inquiry-based learning approaches that support, nurture, and sustain children’s natural learning strategies such as playing, asking questions, building theories, seeking relationship, and innovating.

The school acts as a laboratory for the Museum Center for Learning which disseminates what is learned there by making visible the ways children think, imagine, design, invent, and create when given intelligent materials, including the tools of the arts and sciences. These experiences are shared through professional development workshops, educational materials, consulting services, and an annual Summer Symposium.

How does your organization promote/use brain science with children birth through 5 years of age?

As psychologist Allison Gopnik has said, babies are the best scientists in the universe. This is because their brains are naturally wired to explore, seek connection and relationship, and to make meaning using all their senses. We know that the brain is in its most optimal state for learning when a child is feeling an engaging challenge with a low risk of negative emotional consequence. This is why play is the best strategy for learning — because it is inherently challenging, engaging, and non-threatening. The environments at Portland Children’s Museum and Opal School are designed to put this science of the learning brain to work for all children. Rich in sensory detail, choice, collaboration and problem solving, abundant materials and loose parts, these intentional environments and experiences make a visit to the Museum or a day at school excellent opportunities for wiring a lasting and healthy brain architecture.

Can you discuss a specific program/event you do that promotes brain science?

All of the exhibits, studios, and classrooms at Portland Children’s Museum and Opal School are designed to promote brain science. For example, sensory experiences in the Clay Studio, Outdoor Adventure, or Waterworks fire synapses in one area of the brain as pleasure chemicals release elsewhere, and language development gets to work in another, wiring together robust pathways that support and encourage focus and attention. Children make meaning and find their place in the world as they explore these environments intended to encourage playing, making, and sharing.