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Please Touch Museum Explores Emotion at New ‘XOXO’ Exhibit

Kids can understand, appreciate, and express their emotions at this new interactive exhibit.

“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

These words of wisdom from Mister Rogers reveal themselves when you hold hands and touch the sensors at Please Touch Museum’s newest special exhibit, opening February 8 for a three-month run. “XOXO: An Exhibit About Love and Forgiveness” will give kids the opportunity to think about and explore feelings through a variety of interactive activities designed to help them understand, appreciate, and express their emotions.


Big concepts like empathy, processing sadness, and expressing love may not seem like they lend themselves to fun games and sensory activities, but leave it to Please Touch Museum to bring this to life. We take for granted basic social skills like recognizing how facial expressions and tone of voice tell us how someone is feeling, but XOXO makes it explicit. “Empathy Blocks” let little ones build and explore different facial expressions, while speaking into the “Tone Phones” show how your voice affects shapes projected on a screen.


Photograph by Laura Swartz


The exhibit also focuses on mindfulness, of self and of others. Kids are invited to close their eyes and touch smooth stones in a sensory bin, contemplate when someone was kind (or mean) to them and leave a message for others to read, and more. The week of February 17 will be focused on mindfulness and motion, with yoga instructors leading sessions in a quiet room just off the exhibit. The museum is also planning to host a Tibetan artist who will demonstrate the Buddhist tradition of sand mandala, which will help kids consider both patience and impermanence.


The other side of mindfulness–that of others– is achieved through collaborative activities. At one station, a partner sits, projected in silhouette, while the other draws them. At another, the two partners must sit on a see-saw and work to balance a ball in the middle of a tube. There are also phones set up so people can have a conversation across the room from each other. And the most lovely feature requires two people to hold hands and touch sensors to reveal quotes about love, from Anne Frank and Fred Rogers. Similar quotes appear throughout the exhibit (ranging from Nelson Mandela to Winnie-the-Pooh), and will hopefully inspire some interesting conversations as parents have to read and explain them to curious children.


Photograph by Laura Swartz


Elsewhere, visitors can think about what makes them mad or sad, write it down, and then send it through the shredder to let it go! Over time, the confetti-like contents of the shredder will fill jars on a wall, gradually creating a colorful mural. As Olivia Thomas, Senior Director of Museum Learning told us, it is “turning negativity into something beautiful.”


Kids will also have opportunities to create at an art-making station that will rotate projects monthly. To open the exhibit, they can make keepsake boxes out of paper using a diecut machine. And to put in those boxes? Write a message of love onto a slip of paper nearby, and use the Crusher to make it into a “love token.” Supplies will also be on hand at the art station for more freeform art exploration.


Photograph by Laura Swartz


In recent years, depression and feelings of disconnection among adolescents and teens have been on the rise, making this exhibit’s mission even more relevant. Highlighting the importance of children’s mental health and emotional development, the exhibit is sponsored by Nemours and Main Line Health. “At Nemours we are devoted to treating the whole child,” said Pauline Corso, Nemours Operational Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Delaware Valley. “That means in addition to providing high-quality medical care, we are – in tandem – treating children’s emotional and mental wellness during their care. We are proud to partner with the Please Touch Museum and Main Line Health on XOXO, which focuses on this invaluable skill, helping children understand, appreciate, and express their emotions.”


President and CEO of the Please Touch Museum Patricia D. Wellenbach adds, “Learning about emotions and empathy is equally important to learning about literacy, STEM, fine motor skills, and more. Over the next three months, we encourage families to visit this fun yet important exhibit, which reminds us of the power of love and the need to connect to others.”


Photograph by Laura Swartz.


“XOXO” opens February 8 and runs through May 10 at the Please Touch Museum, located at 4231 Avenue of the Republic in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Admission is included with regular museum admission, and as always is free for members.


Lead photograph courtesy of Please Touch Museum.

Contributing Writer