One of the best parts of any visit to The Children’s Museum of Atlanta is enjoying one of our programs, such as our popular mini-musicals, that are written and performed by the Imaginators, our troupe of professional actors. Their work within our walls is only a part of what the Imaginators do, however.
In 2007, the Museum launched Connected Learning: Connected Communities. This program repositions the Museum by defining it as not just a facility or location for learning, but rather as a valuable community resource for the purpose of education. The model is designed to put program direction and resources in the hands of communities, recognizing the unique characteristics and needs that each possess. It is an outreach program that provides Museum programming in some of the downtown neighborhoods, visiting 22 different schools. It’s in these schools, the Imaginators take on a slightly different role. This is when the rock stars go to meet the public.
Eric J. Little has been with Connected Learning: Connected Communities (CLCC) since its inception, and he’s well-known to the children and staff at Hope Hill Elementary, in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. Once a month, “Mr. Eric” pays a visit to the kindergarten and pre-K students, bringing an ever-changing thirty minute program geared toward his very enthusiastic audiences. They’ll often talk about literacy or basic science. To tie in with our Sonic Sensation exhibit, this past April, the lesson was about sound.
Eric believes that his overall goal in the classroom is “building relationships that enhance the children’s learning experience because we make it fun.” We can relate to Eric’s classroom experiences, as we constantly see this in the Museum, with young guests having so much fun that they don’t realize that they’re actually learning something!
Sharia Martin teaches pre-K at Hope Hill Elementary, and this was her first year experiencing the fun of CLCC. She explained that “Mr. Eric” is a celebrity to her students, and that she found it hugely fun varying his entrances. When he made his monthly appearances, she would sometimes surprise the students with his arrival, and sometimes build it up. The results were the same: excited fans ready for a very fun change from the usual classroom routine.
Ms. Martin describes how “Mr. Eric” takes special care with reading to her students, being very participatory and outgoing, giving everybody a chance to contribute. As we’ll also mention in next week’s chapter about the mayor’s reading program, literacy among children in this age can be improved by pausing to look at the words and helping young readers see the relationship between the words and pictures in a book. We want to engage children’s curiosity about reading as early as possible, and keep them excited about reading after the school day ends.
The Imaginators are loudly welcomed by their fans at area schools. At the beginning of April, we had the huge pleasure of joining some of the troupe at Hope Hill for the launch of our Ford Imaginator-Mobile. The students greeted “Mr. Eric” and his fellow Imaginators with a roar not heard since the Beatles landed at JFK in ’64. Eric says that some of the children with whom he’s worked in our partner schools have asked for him when they have come to visit the Museum with their family. Eric’s glad that he’s made such an impact that he has kids looking for him, but he’s most pleased when they tell their families and caregivers that he told them about sound, and got them excited about reading.