USF's Museum Blog

Educators on the Roof

Father and child explore Mexican figurative sculpture on USF's rooftop gallery as part of Family Fun day..

Father and son exploring sculpture on the roof.

With the Obama Administration’s increasing attention on young children and learning, new research into brain science shows more than ever that experiences children have with adults and creativity early in life set the stage for healthy development and wellness. Museums can play an important role in the development of young children. They are sites for open-ended conversation, tactile experiences and exploration, according to child development expert Sharon E. Shaffer, author of a forthcoming book on how and why to better engage young children in museums. USF’s Marjorie Schwarzer has served as an editorial advisor on parts of the book.


Marykaren Mrowka (front) and Merrill Amos (seated behind) discuss sculpture with a group of attentive preschoolers on USF’s rooftop gallery.

This summer, in the spirit of early learning and discovery, Thacher Gallery welcomed young children and their parents to the Kalmanovitz Hall Rooftop Sculpture Gallery as part of a Family Fun Day for USF faculty and staff. Thacher Gallery director Glori Simmons, along with USF Museum Studies graduate students Leah Belcher and Merrill Amos, adapted a tour of the sculpture terrace for all-ages, combining Visual Thinking Strategies and dramatic play to encourage active and up-close explorations of the sculptures. The tour ended with a form of charades where teams of adults and children became sculptures.

Museum Studies graduate student MaryKaren Mrowka, an expert in pre-school education who is currently developing pre-school programs at the University of California Botanical Garden, joined in, leading conversations with the children about how the sculptures expressed emotion and gesture.

“One of the most interesting things I learned that day,” MaryKaren reflects,  “is the gift of flexibility and options. The age range was dramatic; some children were basking in the glory of learning how to walk up stairs while others were old enough to carry on a conversation about abstract art. It was an absolute pleasure to engage with the children not only as a group, but also discover concepts and artistic styles that resonated with each child individually.
I really enjoyed the terminology that different children used to talk about the art. For instance, some children chose to call the work statues, some called them sculptures, and some simply called them people. This in itself could have been a very interesting conversation!”
“I also learned a lot about the importance of navigating an art space from all angles. Children do not always walk up to the “front” of a piece. And what fun it is when they discover something (like one little girl who found an artists’ name engraved into the piece) that adults may have missed. Young children are often immune to our prescribed standards of looking at objects and are able to actually see details that are spectacularly visible and yet invisible.”

Glori Simmons add: “I especially enjoyed seeing parents (my colleagues) working with their kids and each other to explore the sculptures on the terrace.  It was rewarding to be able to incorporate play with art at work.”

Human sculptures on the USF rooftop.

Human sculptures on the USF rooftop.


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