World travel right at home

The world is full of wonderful differences and children now have a hands-on opportunity to explore m

Ask a kid from the Capital Region to draw a picture of a market, and odds are you’ll get a sketch of a shiny superstore with stocked shelves and shopping carts.

Have a child from a small town in Nigeria do the same and the drawing will probably be of a bustling outdoor space packed with vendors in small stalls, peddling wares ranging from live chickens to colorful kaftans.

The world is full of wonderful differences like that, and children now have a hands-on opportunity to explore many of them without ever leaving upstate New York. Their portal: the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s new space, called “go! where children discover the world interactive space,” which opened earlier this month in Glens Falls.

go! where children discover the world interactive space

WHERE: World Awareness Children’s Museum, 89 Warren St., Glens Falls

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Beginning September, school and group tours, Mondays and Tuesdays; public hours Wednesday through Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $5, children under 3, free

MORE INFO: 793-2773,

It’s the fourth location for the museum, which was founded in 1995 by Jacqueline Touba. The new space, once an automobile showroom, has been transformed into a place where children age 3 and up can feel free to express themselves and explore. It’s colorful; it’s full of happy sounds; it’s fun.

Educational mission

“It’s not just play,” noted Touba. “We really have an educational mission.” That mission is to inspire curiosity and foster understanding and appreciation of worldwide cultural diversity. Translation? A colorful, kid-sized Chinese dragon boat, complete with a drum, invites kids to beat out the rhythm of rowing. Or they can visit a tin-roofed Nigerian marketplace, with hand-woven baskets, strings of beads, beautifully patterned adinkra cloth and a rooster that looks almost real. There’s a World Music Gallery with maracas to shake and a xylophone to play, tambourines to jangle, and a rain stick to tumble.

And the rhythm of little explorers envelops the entire space. A boy, dressed in a bright blue African tunic, skips by with a mallet and a cowbell. Chimes fill the air. A sandy-haired girl pounds the drum in the dragon boat in offbeat accompaniment.

Touba smiled at the sounds. “At the beginning we had an architect who was used to schools, and he wanted things to be kind of closed in. He said, ‘It will be noisy if you don’t have this or that,’ ” she recounted. “We said, ‘We don’t want tops on it. We don’t want windows or doors. We want it to be open, and it’s OK if there’s noise in here.’ ”

Voices are subdued in the washitsu — a Japanese-style room — where two moms and their daughters sit cross-legged on pillows, around a low table, chopsticks in hand, a pretend meal on the table.

A few minutes later, the girls parade proudly around in clothing they’ve chosen from the World Fashion Gallery, where beads, shawls, tunics and kimonos beckon, beside intricately embroidered slippers from India, Morocco and China.

The Express Yourself Art Studio sits empty this day, but children are welcome to come in and make art projects, Touba said. “This is our writing board, where they can try to write in different languages,” she noted, pointing to a whiteboard that reaches nearly to the floor, within reach of even the littlest linguists.

Outside the art studio, a slide show of drawings created by kids from all over the world is projected onto the wall. “Some of these pieces that you see being done are just wonderful and they show a lot of the culture,” Touba said.

Starting young

Young visitors are invited to learn more about what’s depicted in those drawings by checking out websites about world cultures, on computers that sit below the children’s art slide show.

From the Chinese Dragon Boat Globe Theater, where kids can put on their own puppet show with shadow puppets from Indonesia, to the Count Me In Gallery, where coins and currency from places like Australia, Venezuela, Turkey and Brazil can be investigated, there is plenty of fun to be had and a lot to be learned.

Each of the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s exhibits is stocked with age-appropriate “go! Guides,” designed to help families interpret what they see. “There’s a lot of interesting things here for adults,” Touba said.

And she wants to make sure grown-ups get the full experience right along with their children. That’s why you won’t find many chairs in the museum — Touba thinks resting spots make it too tempting for moms and dads to lounge while the kids play. “We want the parents to interact with the children,” she explained.

The exhibits in the museum will change regularly, but one thing will remain constant in each: children’s artwork from around the world. “We’ve always started with the art of the children first, to get some clues as to what it looks like in the country, and from there we go and do research, and then we look at our collections and see what we have, and then we develop an exhibition around that,” explained Touba.

The museum has an extensive stash of artifacts to choose from. “The Schenectady Museum, a couple of years ago, transferred ownership of a lot of their ethnic objects and oriental clothing collection to us,” she noted.

Introducing children to different cultures is what got Touba, who has taught and studied extensively both in the United States and abroad, started on this mission.

After teaching sociology at Tehran University in Tehran, Iran, for 10 years, she returned to the States in 1980, and had an unsettling realization. “I found that people here did not know very much about the rest of the world,” she said. “I was teaching, and I found that by the time the students reach the university level, it’s too late. We need to start younger, as early as possible, introducing them to positive concepts about other cultures.”

Touba formed the International Arts and Culture Association, in 1985. The group started an art exchange program and began building a collection of children’s art from around the world. That art collection eventually blossomed into the World Awareness Children’s Museum, which was chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and opened in Glens Falls in 1995.

Reaching out

Although the go! interactive space in Glens Falls is the most visible part of the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s work, the museum reaches well beyond those four walls. It hosts an International Youth Art Exchange program that includes more than 6,000 pieces of children’s artwork from 75 countries.

The art is shown in libraries, offices, schools, hospitals and museums, and has been featured at institutions including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia and the Seattle Children’s Museum.

The World Awareness Children’s Museum also offers interactive, hands-on outreach programs at elementary and middle schools, libraries, museums, camps, and other venues within a 60-mile radius of Glens Falls. Topics include: Celebrate Chinese New Year; Mexican Celebrations: Day of the Dead; Welcome Home, Japan; and several others.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply