Ruff is ready: PBS character to visit museum, challenge kids with ‘Fetch!’ Lab

Ruff Ruffman, the popular PBS children's show character, is coming to the Schenectady Museum & Suits
PBS character Ruff Ruffman
PBS character Ruff Ruffman

Ruff Ruffman is coming to town, and he’s bringing his Fetch! Lab with him.

That’s big news to scientific minds between the ages of 6 and 10 who have become fans of “Fetch!,” a PBS show out of Boston that challenges young children with a variety of questions, usually involving some form of engineering or math-based problem.

Ruffman, a cartoon character on the partly animated show, will make a public appearance at the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium for the grand opening of its Fetch! Lab Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

“He’s a slightly neurotic orange dog who sends kids out with different scientific challenges,” said Ilene Frank, director of public programs for the museum. “He’s the host of the show, and while he’s usually a cartoon character, for us he’ll be a 6-foot tall dog walking on two legs. It’s really become a popular show, and the kids will love him.”

Ruff Ruffman and Fetch! Lab

WHERE: Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium, Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady

WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

HOW MUCH: Free with museum admission of $5 (adults), $4 (seniors), $3 (children ages 4 to 12), free (under age 4)

MORE INFO: 382-7890

“Fetch!” was created by WGBH-TV in Boston and was broadcast for the first time on May 29, 2006. It airs on WMHT, Channel 17, in the Capital Region every Monday through Thursday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. It is part game show, part reality show and part spoof, that, after a successful first season, teamed up with 12 museums around the country to build Fetch! Labs. The Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium is one of two museums added after the second season.

Replica of lab

“We’ll be one of 14 sites across the country with a physical representation of the Fetch! Lab that’s on the TV show,” said Frank.

“We’ll have counter space for the children to work on their challenges, and we’ll have shelves to display the winning models that the kids come up with. Ruffman’s mailbox is a big component on the show and we’ll have that as well. That’s where the kids get their challenges from.”

The museum staff has changed the entrance to Shadow Wall to look like Ruff’s doghouse.

“The Shadow Wall is very popular with our visitors. So we didn’t want to get rid of that,” said Frank. “So we converted it to look like the outside of Ruff’s doghouse. That will be the home base for the Fetch Lab, but the challenges will take the kids throughout the museum. One of the things we’re planning on having are scavenger hunts. So the kids will be using the entire museum.”

Another major part of the Fetch! Lab experience will be providing the challenge and opportunity for children to create things out of everyday household items.

“A lot of the challenges are going to be engineering-type of activities, such as asking the children to build or design something like a rubber band-powered race car,” said museum educator Jason Gish.

“All the ideas right now are generated by what they’ve already done with the Fetch! Lab, and we’re focusing on them. But eventually, we’re going to be using some of our own ideas. Ideally, the activities we have the kids doing have to match our museum and relate to what we have in here.”

While the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium is a place that celebrates modern technology, the Fetch! challenges usually don’t require computer-based solutions.

“We’re going to use paper clips, tissue and some straws to build a boat and see how wind power moves it,” said Gish. “We’re going to give the kids a start, and then they have to use their own creativity to solve the problem. They’ll be a lot of trial and error.”

“We’re going to give the kids some materials, and they’re going to have to figure out how to make things work through trial and error,” said Frank. “And it’s not like they’re going to find the perfect solution the first time. They have to put some thought into it. Kids are going to fail at first. So they’re going to have see what they can do to make their experiment more successful.”

During the grand opening weekend Saturday and Sunday, the museum staff will be joined by more than just Ruff Ruffman. Volunteers from Schenectady International will also be on hand to perform a number of chemical experiments. While Ruffman will be here just for the weekend, the Fetch! Lab will remain a major part of the museum for at least a year.

“We will have a staff person here leading the challenges every Wednesday and Thursday from 3 to 4:30 p.m., and every Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.,” said Frank. “But we’ll also have some sort of activity that will be visitor-driven, even if a staff person isn’t here. They won’t need the staff person to direct them. There’ll always be something for visitors to do during our public hours, but it will be smaller and not so intense as it will be Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.”

Kids geared up

According to Gish, young visitors to the museum over the past few weeks have noticed the signs telling of Ruff Ruffman’s arrival.

“We’ve had a lot of students come in lately who learn that the Fetch! Lab is coming and they seem to be very excited by it,” said Gish. “They recognize the character. They know who Ruff is, and they’re looking forward to it.”

“All the children who come here from around the Capital Region are really inventive,” said Frank. “I think they really want to try different things and they’re inspired by what they see in our museum. They dive into a problem and they use critical thinking to solve it.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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