by columnist Madeline Karp
The stage was set. Workers stood at the ready with confetti cannons, the band members waited with baited breath to sound the first notes of Auld Lang Syne. Anxious in their cramped quarters, the crowd bounced on their toes, looking up, waiting for the famed ball to drop at the stroke of twelve.
You would think you were in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but you would be wrong. This is not Times Square, or even New York City. This is Hamilton Hall at the center of the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. This is Countdown 2 Noon®.
The Please Touch Museum annually invites children and their families to ring in the new year with style…albeit, without the over-tired temper tantrums that can often accompany an unusually late bedtime. Rather than countdown to midnight, the museum counts down to a more commonly seen stroke of twelve for its young audience – noon.
This year’s festivities included the Countdown King, leading his parade of personified numbers 1 through 10. Each number puffed up with pride as his or her name was called, asked the children to identify what color t-shirt he or she was wearing, and told the kids how great it is to be Eight, how fine to be Nine, and “Oh me” how she loved to be Three.
As the clock neared twelve, each number held up a big sign, encouraging kids to help the Countdown King count down to noon, drop the famed PTM New Year’s Eve ball from the center of the domed ceiling and, of course, yell “Happy New Year!” All of this is accompanied by a hailstorm of colorful confetti and shiny streamers, floating through the air as the clock strikes noon.
It’s a fun event. But it’s more than that. It’s an exceedingly teachable moment; one that extends itself to children of all ages and learning abilities. In the spirit of Countdown, let’s count down five ways the event teaches kids.
5. Counting Up
After introducing his gang of jumbled numbers, the Countdown King looks at his friends and scratches his head. Why, these numbers are not in order, he exclaims. How can we count down without first counting up?
The Countdown King’s intro is fantastic because of its accessibility. It requires children to think critically, identify numbers, colors, put ten objects (or, in this case, costumed staffers) in sequence from small to large. Older children joyously scream the answers, younger children watch, aspiring to be cool like the big kids who can name all their numbers in order.
But why count up at all when the event is clearly a count down?
Because counting up is a huge part of a child’s life. Talk to any child, and he is likely to tell you his age within the first two minutes of conversation, along with the ages of his siblings and cousins and friends. Woe betides the grown-up who mistakenly identifies a seven-year-old as six.
Counting down can matter just as much as counting up. Children count down to birthdays, to Christmas, to summer vacations. But how often do they think of counting down as the reverse of counting up?
Counting down asks kids to re-sequence their numbers, and challenges them to look at a number in a new way. With a countdown we can teach patience, timing, and the concept of growing smaller, instead of always bigger.
3. Change of Pace, Change of Year
Happy New Year! It’s noon on New Year’s Eve! Almost 2013, but not quite.
So, if it’s not actually the New Year, why bother to count down? Most of these kids will be asleep when the real moment happens anyway.
Children crave routine and ritual, and sudden changes can come as a shock. And yet, sudden change is an inevitable part of life. One minute it will be 2012. And then suddenly, it won’t be because a grown-up with a wristwatch said so. To a child this is extremely unfair, and it doesn’t make any sense. By creating an event that more or less rehearses New Year’s Eve, parents and caregivers can prepare their little ones to cope with the coming change and to accept that sometimes things are going to happen, whether you’re ready for it or not.
2. Creative Clean Up
Cannons upon cannons’ worth of confetti has rained down on Hamilton Hall, creating a colorful, but slippery paper carpet. Times Square has a designated clean-up crew, but the Please Touch Museum does not. What to do?
Hand out plastic bags of course! Carefully marketed as the chance to “take home souvenir confetti” museum staff members slyly convince the kids to help in the clean up process. It’s a subtle lesson in working together, but visitors are amazed at how quickly the hall is swept clean. When everyone helps just a little, a huge space can be cleaned up in literally a matter of minutes.
1. Celebration! …Museum Style
Now that the event is done, Hamilton Hall clears out and the exhibits fill up – museum visits pick up where they left off. The Countdown is quickly a thing of the past as children find the water tables, slides and tambourines. Families split up to use the bathrooms, eat lunch, ride the Carousel.
But this is the best thing about the Please Touch Museum’s Countdown 2 Noon. For one, brief shining moment – for ten whole seconds – everyone is together, celebrating the same thing at the same time. Yes, it’s a small thing, celebrating noontime on a Monday. But the Please Touch Museum’s target audience is small children, and so it fits. For a short time, everyone celebrates being together, being in the museum, being in the moment. It’s probably a moment many of the visitors will remember for a long time to come.
What if we went into all museums with this mindset? What if instead of going to an art museum to see famous works, we went to celebrate them? What if we rejoiced in a science museum? Made merry with history? If we could just take ten seconds out of every museum visit to count down to something small, would we create more lasting memories?
It’s not a question I can answer on my own just yet, but ask me again next New Year’s Eve, at noontime.
Until then…if your family is at all like my family – constantly running twenty minutes late wherever we go – don’t fret. The museum hosts a second Countdown 2 Noon at one o’clock.
**All photographs courtesy of the Please Touch Museum. Reprinted with permission.