Sensory Regulation and Prompting for Creative Play

Inspiring children to learn through creative play has long been the mission of Gilbert House Children’s Museum.  We are constantly evolving in best practices, advancing opportunities, and novel experiences for children.  It is also our priority that the museum is accessible and welcoming for all children.

Recently, our staff has assessed ways in which we can partner with families and children with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD), to facilitate a positive and educational experience across our exhibits.  We are excited to introduce our visitors to Sensory Kits that are now available to checkout upon request at our Welcome Desk.  The Sensory Kits include tools for sensory regulation, such as noise-cancelling headphones, fidgets, sensory chews, a visual timer, pair of gloves, sunglasses, and a weighted vest.  It is anticipated that these accommodations will allow for families to enjoy the museum for a longer duration of time, allow children with ASD and SPD to feel more comfortable at the museum, and engage in meaningful play experiences in a focused way.

We celebrate the individual differences that make children unique, and desire caregivers to feel supported during museum visits.  We’ve rounded up some helpful play-based prompting strategies from leading researchers1, doctors, and directors of autism centers and clinics.  The compiled list of prompting procedures are encouraged for caregivers to guide a child with ASD into meaningful play opportunities:

  1. Modeling: Demonstrate the desired behavior.  For example, in our Farm to Table exhibit, begin to pick the apples from the tree or gather the eggs, letting your child observe how to collect them in the basket.
  2. Physical Guidance: Use your hands to guide your child’s hands.  For example, place your hands over your child’s to guide the motion of reaching toward the apple, picking the apple, and releasing the apple into the basket.  Fade this prompting as you go along (i.e. guiding hands toward the apple and letting your child do the rest).
  3. Proximity:  Help your child locate and choose the corresponding items for the play activity.  In Main Street, an example may be gathering the rolling pin, mixer, and cupcakes together on one play surface.
  4. Gestures: Gesture toward the correct response.  If your child picks up a train in Salem Station, gesture toward the railroad track it can roll along.    
  5. Verbal Modeling:  Demonstrate the correct sound or phrase for your child.  In Vet Clinic, you may model, “Meow,” when playing together with the cat, or “Hello?” when answering the phone on the secretary desk.   

Why play?  We believe in the power of our mission for all children, as it’s backed by research.  Exploratory and functional play aids children in cognitive development, facilitates language development, teaches joint attention, and promotes relationship building (Charlop et al, 2018).  As we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our community, we hope to be at the top of your list when it comes to family friendly fun.

1 Charlop M.H., Lang R., Rispoli M. (2018) All Children Can Play: Prompting and Modeling Procedures to Teach Play to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In: Play and Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Evidence-Based Practices in Behavioral Health. Springer, Cham

Breaking Ground for Bubble Exhibit

Gilbert House Children’s Museum invites the community to inaugurate a major next step for the museum through attending The Inventor’s Yard Groundbreaking Ceremony on Monday, February 17th, at 10:30 a.m.  Drafted in 2018, the museum’s plans to remodel the outdoor playground and build a separately-housed bubble exhibit are coming to fruition this spring after a year of intensive fundraising efforts.

Sponsorships secured from foundations and local business are funding this first stage of the build, along with the generous contributions of individual donors.  It is estimated that the build will take three months to complete, with the unveil of Bill’s Bubble Factory in time for the summer season.

“Our children remember visiting the Museum and falling in love with the Gilbert House—especially the bubble room, comments sponsor Dr. David C. Swiderski.  “We are proud to be a sponsor of The Inventor’s Yard… We feel that early learning concepts in physics and natural sciences can benefit children in countless ways.”  Through collaboration with Learning Landscapes, RedBox Workshop, and volunteers with expertise in their fields, staff at the museum have approached the build as an opportunity to diversify S.T.E.A.M. play in Gilbert House’s outdoor space.

“When we began working on the project, we felt it was important to incorporate design elements from the existing structures at Gilbert House,” comments Andrew Lethin of C&R Remodel, a sponsor and design contributor for one of the new structures to be built on the property.  The integrity of the museum’s historic houses required that all plans for construction pass the city’s historic review criteria.  “We specified the materials used, the pitch of the roof, and the color scheme to be a part of the overall environment,” Lethin adds.

In addition to visual criteria, accessibility improvements were a priority for the flow of the new space.  Front entrance ramps will be improved, and new play opportunities will be wheelchair accessible.  “Mobility is huge for children,” shares sponsor and CEO of Hope Orthopedics, Lorissa Addabbo.  “Learning for them includes being able to touch and see how things work.”  The new “put-yourself-in-a-bubble” element will allow for guests in wheelchairs to enjoy the same experience.

Celebration of the ceremonial groundbreaking will kick-off a day of free admission, the museum’s fourth annual Legacy of Play Day.  Families are invited to explore the exhibits and Outdoor Discovery Area with S.T.E.A.M. surprises between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  All exhibits will remain open during construction, with a temporary entrance relocated to Parrish House.

“The community support for this project is wonderful and greatly appreciated,” comments Karen Larson, Board Chair of the museum.  “It is a pleasure to partner with donors, sponsors, and our members to improve Gilbert House Children’s Museum for the next generation of children in our community.”

Construction Begins for The Inventor’s Yard

We’re breaking ground!  The much-anticipated build is finally underway, as we’ve now scheduled our official Groundbreaking Ceremony for February 17th, in conjunction with Legacy of Play Day at the Museum.  All who would like to attend the inauguration of The Inventor’s Yard build are welcome to join us onsite at 10:30 a.m.

As the excitement is growing for these additions to our play space, we would like to share some helpful information with you as you prepare for upcoming Museum visits during this time of transition.

Beginning February 4th:

•  Temporary Entrance:  Our Museum entrance and Welcome Desk will be relocated to a temporary entrance in Parrish House.  There will be ample signage directing you, but please do ask if you have any questions.  All Museum programs, events, and hours will operate as usual during construction.  Our Outdoor Discovery Area and all exhibits will remain open during Phase 1 of construction.

•  Parking:  Due to the construction vehicles and crews accessing the build site, the North Parking Lot will be temporarily closed for an estimated 6 weeks.  Free parking is still available in the additional Riverfront parking lots, as well as Marion Parkade, if needed.

If you have any questions prior to your next visit, please give us a ring!  We are here to assist you:  (503) 371-3631.


STEM Play in The Inventor’s Yard

We are excited to announce that funding goals for Phase 1 of The Inventor’s Yard have been met according to our timeline for breaking ground in 2020.  These efforts are possible due to the generous financial support provided by our members, patrons, business sponsors, and foundation grants.  Your excitement for this project is a great reminder of our ultimate goal—providing transformative learning opportunities for your children.  With ground-breaking in sight, we continue our ongoing fundraising efforts for Phase 2 of the build.

Of the many facets included in the build, sand and water play will be a highlight of Phase 2.  Children will have the opportunity to engage in sensory motor activities through water pumps and channels, and new sand dig elements and structures.  We’re taking our current Mammoth Dig to the next level as we seek to create an experience that combines current learning trends with timeless play activities.

“We are excited that The Inventor’s Yard will contain additional elements such as sand and water play,” comments Dr. David Swiderski on behalf of Mid-Valley Oral, Maxillofacial & Implant Surgery, a Catalyst Sponsor for the build.  “We feel that early learning concepts in physics and natural sciences can benefit children in countless ways.”

Though simplistic on the surface, sand and water play provides a valuable learning platform to facilitate experiences in “problem posing and problem solving” (i.e. volume experiments), texture and sound, and mathematical thinking, according to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (Wallace et al, 20101).  Such an environment also allows children “a means to release tension in a nonthreatening environment,” while additionally increasing social skills as they negotiate use of materials and play alongside other children, (Wallace et al, 2010).

This portion of the outdoor playground is an invitation for children to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty in the process.  There will be readily available adjacent storage for visitors’ shoes and coats, for those looking to play outside during all Oregon seasons.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, water activities such as these introduce children to “early physics concepts like motion and flowing water,” (Vanover, 20182).  While open play at the Museum is not guided by an instructor, caregivers can encourage development of such concepts through observing behavior, asking stimulating questions, and highlighting discoveries one’s child has made.  When caretakers stay engaged in the play process, it can be a valuable experience for everyone.

Each element of the new build has a purpose in mind, designed not only to encourage outdoor play and entertainment, but also through the lens of science and mathematics as building blocks for early learning.  Each phase has been carefully drafted by Gilbert House Children’s Museum with Learning Landscapes, a leading playground design firm that specializes in natural playscapes.

“Our work is rooted in the understanding that wellbeing is deeply tied to engaging in self-directed, creative endeavor in a safe environment,” the firm shares.  “We observe a flow state in play that many adults only dream of achieving.  You can literally see growth in high level executive functioning (self-regulation, problem solving, cognitive flexibility).  We are building brain synopsis and mental capacity.”

We are grateful for all of the experts, supporters, and volunteers who are involved in this process from beginning to end.  A groundbreaking date is soon to be announced.


1 Wallace, A. H., White, M. J., & Stone, R. (2010). Early childhood corner: Sand and water table play. Teaching Children Mathematics, 16(7).

2 Vanover, S. (2018, July, 18). The importance of sand and water play [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Improving Access with The Inventor’s Yard

We have two months to go until breaking ground for The Inventor’s Yard outdoor renovation at Gilbert House Children’s Museum.  We have great anticipation for the new play and learning opportunities Phase 1 of this build will introduce for our visitors, and are thankful for our many supporters who are making this possible.

Excitement is quickly growing for the addition of a new bubble exhibit and Nature’s Workshop on the property, but we’d also like you to know about the many improvements to accessibility that Phase 1 will bring to the Museum.

First, we have plans to remodel our Museum entrance with improved ADA ramps making it easier for wheel chairs, strollers, and walkers to access our buildings.  Visitors will also appreciate the addition of more paths and “rollable” surfaces throughout new playscape features.  Astroturf will be incorporated, allowing greater wheelchair access throughout the playground.

“We see mobility challenges all the time in orthopedics.  Mobility is huge for children,” shares CEO of Hope Orthopedics, Lorissa Addabbo.  “Learning for them includes being able to touch and see how things work.  If mobility is restricted that directly impacts how they learn and how active they can be.”

We are grateful to have Hope Orthopedics on board as our Play for All sponsor, and appreciate their advocacy for childhood learning.

Throughout the entire planning of our outdoor remodel, it has been a priority to incorporate experiences that children of all mobility levels can participate in.  All new structures will feature accessible doorways, and overhead obstructions will be limited throughout the playground.

“I see it having a big impact, as it will allow kids to have a creative space that encompasses so much sensory exploration (including bubbles!),” Addabbo adds.  “It’s a unique opportunity for the Museum and will be a treasure for Salem.”

Learn more about The Inventor’s Yard project