One child recalled a seemingly simple gesture: A friend picked up something the child had dropped. For another, kindness arrived in the form of a golden dress sewn just for her. One young adult expressed gratitude at parents who “helped me get through college.” A younger student was thankful for a lunch shared.
At the dinner table, on playgrounds and in spiritual homes, lessons of kindness, love and forgiveness are favored fodder for raising good people. Now these deeply human themes have found their way to an unusual setting — the Minnesota Children’s Museum — inspired by one of the kindest people of all.
“XOXO: An Exhibit About Love & Forgiveness,” was produced by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, guided by the teachings of Mister Rogers, who called that city home. The exhibit, sponsored locally by New Horizon Academy, runs through Jan. 6, 2019.
“It’s a great exhibit for kids — but also a good reminder for adults,” said museum spokeswoman Courtney Finn. “It’s full of activities that help visitors reflect, connect and explore emotions in a positive way.”
That includes emotions we’d prefer to stuff, like anger, fear and sadness, noted Blake Ward, the museum’s experience manager.
“It’s important for kids to have outlets to explore those things,” he said, “and it helps parents to see this through their child’s eyes.”
XOXO features 13 hands-on components, including a manual shredder for negative emotions, sharing walls, empathy blocks, a reflection table and a teeter-totter which, everybody knows, doesn’t work without partnership. There’s also a mystery device that delights children by encouraging them to talk to one another. It’s called a telephone booth.
Lighting is intentionally dimmed to create a calming effect. Quotes cover the walls from history’s forgiveness champs: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank, Mother Teresa.
Finn said the sharing walls have been extremely popular among children and adults. One prompts visitors with the question, “What do I do when I feel mad?”
Answers vary from “start counting,” to “write poems,” to “step outside and take a deep breath” to an amusing adult-penned, “Write angry Yelp reviews.”
More poignant, though, is the prompt: “How has someone been kind to you?” The framing of the question is a reminder to all of us to count our blessings. To pay attention.
“My mom made me muffins on a sad day,” wrote one child. “They have played with me,” wrote another.
Finn, who manages social media for the museum, noticed a particular interest among parents in the shredder, which encourages visitors to write down their angst on a piece of paper, then push it through and watch it destruct.
“I’ve seen quite a few adults posting that it feels really good to let it go,” she said.
The exhibit has been popular with school groups, such as an energetic bunch of Head Start students laughing and flitting from activity to activity on a recent weekday morning. But families are finding their way here, too, for a fun outing that’s also big on benevolence.
Nate Merrill, of Hopkins, brought his kids, Jack, 5, and Katherine, 3, to XOXO. “Obviously, this is something that’s needed right now,” he said.
Marea Kinsella, of Oakdale, was on her third visit to XOXO with her kids, Rory, 5, and Teddy, 3, who headed to the teeter-totter. Rory also made heart-shaped boxes at the art station. “It’s fun to see all the things they can do with crafts as a way to express their feelings,” Kinsella said.
Some parents come in thinking they’re going to introduce the concepts of kindness and forgiveness to their children, Finn said, before finding themselves flashing back to their own childhoods.
“People have stopped me to thank me for this exhibit,” Finn said.
“One woman told me, ‘I feel like I’m in therapy.’ ”