The other night while having dinner at a friend’s house, I watched as his three-year-old daughter approached the television screen. She stretched out her little arm; index finger extended, and made a swiping motion from left to right. When the image did not immediately respond to her touch, she balked, fixing a deadly glare at the appliance. An hour later, having finished her dinner, she demanded her mother’s telephone, scrambled over to the couch and dived into nearly 60 minutes of concentrated game playing.
These days, such activities fill children’s days. From computer screens to televisions to telephones, kids spend endless hours in front of blinking, fluorescent-lit boxes. And while many of these interactions are geared towards education, parents are often left longing for authentic experiences that involve hands-on objects rather than photos and simulations.
It is precisely this need that the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon seeks to meet. This month, the museum opened two new exhibitions designed to stimulate thought and movement. “Eye Level” and “Dialogue with Time” each employs cunning design strategies to present unforgettable, cohesive experiences for children.
The two exhibitions have been put together with the kind of meticulous care and consideration that can warm the heart of any parent. Every moment of the participants’ experience has been carefully thought out, from where they place their backpacks to the way each color on the wall stimulates imagination.
The Eye Level Center invites children ages four and above to Tzazim, an exhibit that is focused on movement in art. “Eye Level” is a space with rotating exhibits, which recently moved locations from a less central location. Tzazim is the inaugural endeavor in the Holon museum compound.
Designers Verred Ozer and Smadar Goffen looked at the prospective interactions with art that the children will have throughout their lives, then sought a way to make those meetings accessible and enjoyable. All told, the creative process for Tzazim took just over two years.
“We focused on the inner rhythm that everyone has,” Goffen explained in a recent tour of the exhibit.
Upon entering the brightly colored lobby of “Eye Level,” children are met with guides, who have all attended design or art school. These young guides lead the groups through the various rooms of the museum, asking questions and offering explanations to the visitors.
The spaces include a gallery, where kids can wander from sculpture to installation, a black box theater with a backstage open to the public for makeup and hair, a movement and music workshop and a creativity room.
While the exhibition offers an alternative to the many hours of screen time available to little ones, it also takes new media into consideration. At one end of the dazzling hallway sits the stop-motion room. Here, children are seated at individual stations that are equipped with small figurines, a screen and a camera. They are instructed how to make a stop-motion animation sequence, which is then sent to them via e-mail.
“They bring these two-dimensional characters to life in this room, and we find that it is very engaging for them,” explained Goffen.
In the next building over, “Dialogue with Time” offers a very different experience.
Open to children aged 12 and up, the subject of this exhibition is unusual.
The lobby has a wooden ring motif, which helps to convey the overall message of the experience, which is old age.
“We stuck to two colors – pink and yellow,” said designer Golan Levi. “One of the defining characteristics of sight in old age is that the field of vision becomes more yellow. Alongside the yellow we used a vibrant pink to show contrast.”
As visitors enter the space, they are led to a photo booth, where a passport for their upcoming journey is produced.
They then walk through a twisting hallway filled with questions such as How old are you? How old do you think you look? How old do you feel? Are you afraid of growing old? Is being old good or bad? “We thought, at first, that the guests would pass through this section quickly.
The opposite is true. We find them lingering in front of certain questions, discussing their feelings or just lost in thought,” said Gil Omer, director of the museum.
Once they have passed through the questions, the kids enter what Levi calls the yellow saloon. With soft floors, yellow lighting and smoke machines, the space creates a sensation of disorientation.
Inside, the kids are challenged to complete simple tasks such as sending a text message or walking up and down a small flight of stairs. However, the text message must be sent with thick gloves on, and the stairs climbed while wearing heavy boots. “This space presents them with the physical limitations of old age,” explained Omer.
At the next station, the guide, who is over 70 years old, tells the children stories of his youth. He then draws up the photographs from their passports and, using imaging technology, shows each one how they will look as an elderly person. From there, they continue to a playroom, where statistics about old age are presented in a series of games. Finally, upon reaching the end of the tour, the students gather around a large wooden table to discuss their thoughts on what they have absorbed.
In this exhibition, unlike the open space of Tzazim, there is a tunnel-like feeling.
Each room is a world unto itself, with definitive design elements. “We wanted to create the feeling that there is a surprise behind every door,” said Levi.
Tzazim and “Dialogue with Time” are open to school groups, as well as individuals.
The tours last for 90 minutes.
For more information, visit www.childrensmuseum.org.il.