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The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (AAHOM) currently has an exhibit that you might initially walk past without realizing it.

Why? Because the AAHOM atelier designed in conjunction with the exhibit The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children—now on display at U-M’s Duderstadt Center and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design through August 26th—has dim lighting in order to accommodate activities involving shadow play and flashlights.

shadow puppets“The idea of the atelier is to have a kind of art studio,” said Lorrie Beaumont, AAHOM’s Director of Education. “ … Shifting Forms is the name of ours.” 

Indeed, light, color, shadow and movement are all points of exploration in the semi-dark room. Visitors can make their own shadow puppets, or play with more intricate puppets available on-site; they can shine a flashlight through small shapes of colored plastic, and rotate them in space to see how this affects the shadows they cast; and they can turn a large mobile in front of a flashlight, to see how movement alters its shadow-image on the wall. No two visits to the exhibit will be alike, encouraging repeat visits for parents and children looking for summertime activities. The exhibit is on view through Labor Day weekend.  

“The woman who designed it called it a ‘giant projection building playscape,’” said Beaumont. “On one large wall is a multicolored, multitextured screen with big pieces of fabric and blocks they can make into interesting shapes. Even the big kids build in that space. … Also, the hanging mobile structure that hangs out from the ceiling – kids add to it over time with different shapes.”

The inspiration for the AAHOM atelier, the Wonder of Learning exhibit now on U-M’s north campus, celebrates the philosophy of the Reggio Emilia preschool in Italy.

“This program was developed after World War II,” said Professor Seong Hong, a U-M Dearborn professor of early childhood who worked to bring the traveling exhibit to Ann Arbor. “Reggio Emilia is a northern city in Italy, where, after the war, parents came together and decided that they wanted a different kind of education for their children.”

Color BlockTo this end, local parents, community, and city officials worked together to build a school that served children ages three months to six years, and that favored self-directed, experiential learning, with involvement from parents.

“In 1991, Newsweek commissioned a panel of experts to determine the schools that provided the best education in world, from preschool to college, and Reggio Emilia ranked as the best,” said Hong. “That’s when the school’s fame exploded throughout the world. I was in grad school at that time.”

Understandably, it had a huge impact on Song. U-M Dearborn’s Early Childhood Education Center, which she oversees as director, is built on Reggio Emilia’s pedagogy, and Song hatched the idea to bring “The Wonder of Learning” to Ann Arbor during the university’s bicentennial celebration.

“A lot of times, with early childhood education, people underestimate children’s capabilities,” said Hong. “Children have amazing intellectual abilities and capacities for creativity. And this exhibit really influences people who may have never thought young children could do this kind of complex problem solving, or thought about how all the ways they communicate. … People have been really impressed by it."

Images courtesy of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Wonder of Learning: Shifting Forms is on view at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum through September 3rd. 

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