Providence Children's Museum

Providence Children’s Museum Logo

Providence Children's Museum is an interactive hands-on museum designed to “inspire learning through active play and exploration.”1 They believe in the vital role that unstructured child-led play has in facilitating both learning and creativity. Located in Providence, Rhode Island, they serve southern New England children ages 1-11 years and the adults in their lives.

Inspired by the children's museums of Boston and Brooklyn, the Pawtucket JayCees and other community leaders gathered in the mid-1970s to pursue a museum of their own that would be a “lively learning center.” The result was the incorporation of Rhode Island’s first and only nonprofit Children's Museum, and they secured a lease on the 5,000 square foot Victorian Pitcher-Goff House in Pawtucket.2 After renovations to the building and construction of exhibits, they opened their doors in June 1977.

By 1987 the Children's Museum was serving 50,000 visitors a year and had become a part of the national children's museum movement. By 1990 they needed more space and chose the historic Jewelry district of Providence for their permanent home. Over the next seven years they raised $3.3 million, renovated and restored a 17,000 square foot factory building, created 8,000 square feet of new interactive exhibits, and renamed the museum Providence Children's Museum.

The exhibits ranged from the Littlewoods woodland tree house and bear cave designed for the youngest museum visitors to the Coming to Rhode Island historical dress up and role playing mill factory or 1800 packet ship for the older children. Also included was Strings Attached about marionettes and Water Ways for building and exploring how water works.3

Besides exploring culture, history, science, and the arts, Providence Children's Museum offers internships for college students, reaches underprivileged children through being an AmeriCorps site, and brings together court-separated families through their Families Together program. The latter received the Association of Children's Museum's Promising Practice Replication Award and was a finalist for the Innovations in American Government Award from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.4

After a decade Providence Children's Museum was again raising money in order to bring more interactive exhibits to the museum. In 2008, the Play Power open-ended play exhibit was launched with children and adults exploring air, motion, magnets, light, and sound. They could compose through a sound sculpture, build ball ramps and magnetic mazes, and shoot objects through air tubes.5

Two years later their Play Works Campaign concluded after meeting the Kresge Foundation challenge of $150,000 and raising more than $1.8 million.6 These needed funds provided improvements to their historic building and funded two more exhibits in The Children's Garden: The Climber, a two story high maze of undulating climbing platforms designed by the father and son artists/architects Tom and Spencer Luckey, and Underland, a subterranean child's adventure of root systems, worm tunnels, and small animal burrows.7

Providence Children's Museum believes that “through spontaneous, freely chosen play, children develop confidence and learn problem solving, self-regulation, conflict resolution and other significant skills.”8 To facilitate these skills and to combat “play deficit,” in 2012 they hosted the Imagination Playground designed by architect David Rockwell. Utilizing big blue foam blocks with which they “stack, connect, design, configure and play,” an active and social play experience was created.9 The Imagination Playground opportunity was offered both at the museum and on park days for outside play.

Through indoor and outdoor interactive play, Providence Children's Museum seeks to be culturally, physically, and economically accessible for all families. This inclusive value is further echoed in their motto: “Come play, come learn!”10

  • 1. “Fact Sheet.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 2. “History.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 3. “Exhibits.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 4. Op.cit., “Fact Sheet.”
  • 5. “Active, Powerful Play at Providence Children's Museum.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 6. “Play Works Compaign for Kids a Success!” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 7. Op.cit., “Exhibits.”
  • 8. “Play at the Park with Providence Children's Museum.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 9. “Imagination Playground Opens April 16 at Providence Children's Museum.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.
  • 10. “Mission, Values and Vision.” Providence Children's Museum. < > 25 July 2012.