Story time has always been a special event in our family. If you, too, enjoy your outings for local story times, the Frye Museum's "Small Frye" program is not to be missed.
Our visit in April, before the museum closed for refurbishment, was the first anniversary of Small Frye Storytelling, Frye Museum's collaboration with Seattle Children's Theatre to provide an interactive story drama experience the first Friday of each month. The Frye also partners with Seattle Public Library to create themed book lists that support the motifs of the current gallery exhibits.
"Mom, are we there yet?" asked my 2-year-old as we exited the freeway and headed up Cherry Street toward the Frye Museum. We had talked about our excursion over breakfast and the thought of getting to go to a grown-up museum for a special storytelling inspired a new sense of curiosity. Many questions were asked during our drive: "What's a museum?" "Why do they hang pictures on the walls?" "Why is a museum telling a story?"
"Those are great questions," I said as I pulled into the Frye Museum's parking lot. The Frye's free parking right across from the museum is a huge added convenience, especially when you are hauling tired little ones back to the car after a morning full of exploration.
Walking across the street we joined a group of toddlers and their parents. The toddlers had discovered the Frye's infinity pool outside the main entrance, one of many visual delights they would see that morning. The children loved opening the giant doors, and were immediately subdued by the stark white walls in the foyer.
My daughter grabbed my hand as the children were welcomed into the gallery, asked to leave coats and explained the "rules" of the museum. I was impressed with how the staff at the Frye was able to make the children feel welcome while setting limits for their behavior. We were then guided into a large gallery hung with portraits of families and children; a large sign stating "Beloved" beckons the visitor through.
A large carpet sits in the middle of the gallery lined with chairs on either side. Many of the children eagerly ran to find a seat in the front – you could tell some of them had been to story time before – while others situated themselves on their parent's laps.
A hush came over the crowd of children when Karen Sharp, the education director at Seattle Children's Theatre, and Chris Dewar, SCT's outreach manager, were introduced and stepped forward with raised hands. Sharp engaged them immediately with simple directions, and like the wave going around a stadium, they all rose up on their knees and froze in the shape of an animal of their choice. Giggles could be heard, but before they broke character she had already directed them on to another shape.
I wondered what this spontaneous improvised introduction would lead to. It was so fun to watch the kids get involved with the tale Sharp and Dewar spun as a precursor to Peter Brown's book, Children Make Terrible Pets. Seamlessly, Sharp led the children into the body of the story, capturing their imaginations through movement and sounds. As the last page was turned, she looked up and questioned the children about their favorite pet. Again the carpet was a whirl of activity while children transformed into the pet of their choice and were given the opportunity to meet Sharp before they went off to explore the gallery.
Suddenly granted the freedom of being able to explore, the children set off in all direction with parents in tow. My 2-year-old quickly walked through the rooms pointing to all the things she could name and recognize. Her favorite room was the exhibit "Of Breathe and Rain," where she joined other children running through the large dark room under a ceiling of sparking lights. The fascinating statues of Li Chen also captured her imagination as she discovered how he used common items to build large intricate forms.
Small Frye: Storytelling in the Galleries makes a lovely morning activity, and before heading home you can enjoy a home-brought picnic lunch in their café, or indulge from their menu. The gift shop should also not be ignored, having a nice selection of gifts and books to remember your visit.
IF YOU GO
Where: Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle.
When: The first Friday of each month from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m.
Isabel Sanden is a Seattle-area French instructor, incorporating music and language skills for preschool-age children, and a mother of three adventurous children ages 2,5 and 7.