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Mobius teaching kids to give old items new functions

Mon., Aug. 31, 2009

Alex Marsh, 3, and his mother Kelly make a flower vase from a recycled soap bottle at Mobius Children’s Museum. Recycled materials are integral to many art projects at Mobius, where children learn through play and hands-on projects. The Children’s Museum will focus on sustainability and recycling as part of the citywide Sustainable September program. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Alex Marsh, 3, and his mother Kelly make a flower vase from a recycled soap bottle at Mobius Children’s Museum. Recycled materials are integral to many art projects at Mobius, where children learn through play and hands-on projects. The Children’s Museum will focus on sustainability and recycling as part of the citywide Sustainable September program. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The items might sound like rubbish at first – toilet paper rolls, plastic bottles, egg cartons, scraps of paper. But in the hands of an imaginative child, they quickly become toys, science experiments and even works of art.

At Mobius Kids, a Spokane children’s museum that encourages kids and families to learn through play and hands-on exploration, stuff that might be thrown out with the garbage comes alive as children discover new ways to work with the materials.

“We do a lot of recycling at Mobius,” said Shari Soejima, the museum’s literacy and art educator. “It saves money and it also shows the kids that we care and we are doing our part to take care of the Earth.”

Throughout September, Mobius will emphasize its efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle by showcasing several activities that focus on green living and the environment.

These kids’ events are part of Sustainable September Spokane, a month of discussions, activities and presentations designed to build community, support local businesses and increase awareness of local efforts to become more environmentally and economically resilient.

Sponsored by Community-Minded Enterprises, Sustainable September features a variety of activities including child-centered events such as the projects at Mobius.

At the children’s museum, about three-quarters of the materials used for art projects are recycled, said Soejima, who’s also an artist.

Every month, Mobius receives donations of clean plastic gallon milk jugs, egg cartons, newspapers, magazines and other items from parents and museum members. The museum also makes a point to collect scraps of paper from its art studio and incorporate them into future projects.

Transforming these everyday items into playthings and art can easily be done, explained Soejima, but it does take some extra time as well as creativity.

During a recent gathering of Wee Explorers, a Mobius program for kids ages 3 and under, Soejima showed the children how to make a vase of flowers using bits of tissue paper, recycled plastic dishwashing liquid containers, pipe cleaners and paper flowers left over from a previous art project.

“You don’t have to buy new things,” Soejima emphasized to the families. “You can use old stuff from home.”

Environmental education has become a priority for many families, said Marty Gonzales, Mobius’ executive director. Parents want their children to learn early about the impact of human action on the environment and what they can do to care for the planet.

“In today’s society, the green mindset is becoming a standard for children,” he said.

During his years in elementary school, “reduce, reuse and recycle” were such foreign concepts, recalled Gonzales, who is 29.

But for his 3-year-old daughter, learning about sustainability has become a way of life – not just at home, but also at preschool and throughout the broader community.

Children usually learn these lessons from their parents, he said, but it also helps to get the concepts reinforced in the classroom as well as places such as Mobius.

Earlier this year, when Community-Minded Enterprises began planning events for Sustainable September, Gonzales and others at Mobius immediately got on board.

Education is key to sustainability, he said; in order to protect the environment, it’s essential to impart these lessons to children at a young age.

As a children’s museum, Mobius tries to do this year-round by offering families hands-on activities.

Each year, Mobius organizes an event called “America Recycles Day,” which enables kids and adults to learn ways to reuse everyday products.

The museum also offers programs and learning stations to help children explore the natural world. Beginning next month, for instance, a traveling exhibit called “Nature’s Numbers” will provide children with opportunities to find patterns and symmetry in nature.

On Sept. 12, the WSU Master Gardeners will bring worm bins for “Garden Grubs & Backyard Composting.” And later this fall, the National Weather Service will give hands-on weather demonstrations for “Wild Weather Day.”

“We’re trying to give the children the tools to apply these lessons (on nature and sustainability) to their everyday life,” Gonzales said.

The programs and art projects have already made an impact on some of the littlest kids.

Teresa Dunlap of Spokane, who brings her 3-year-old granddaughter, Caitlin Shimabukuro, to Mobius at least once or twice a week, said she appreciates Soejima’s classes and the opportunity to work on art projects together.

“(Caitlin) has learned to recycle,” said Dunlap, a retired teacher. “A lot of the things she learns here she brings home.”

Kelly Marsh of Mead, who also is an educator, said the museum as well as the Wee Explorers program also has been beneficial for her 3-year-old son, Alex.

“It gives him a chance to be creative and interactive,” she said. “He also has to listen to another teacher besides me.”

Virginia de Leon is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Reach her at Virginia_de_leon@ yahoo.com. You can comment on this story and other topics related to parenting and families by checking out “Are We There Yet?,” The Spokesman-Review’s parents’ blog: www.spokesman.com/ blog/parents


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