International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – UK & US – Part I

Pam Hartley is VP of Play Experiences, Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh, NC (US)

Pam Hartley, VP of Play Experience, Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh, NC (US)

Pam Hartley’s job is child’s play. Seriously.

She serves as Vice President of Play Experience at Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina (US). Marbles defines its main mission: to inspire imagination, discovery and learning through extraordinary adventures in PLAY. 

“For some people,” observes Pam, “PLAY seems frivolous – what you do between important things. (At Marbles) “we’ve articulated that PLAY is so much more! PLAY builds community. We play together.”

Pam was creating play experiences when Marbles first opened its doors six years ago. The museum is in the space previously occupied by Exploris, a children’s museum focused on global education, where Pam also worked. Exploris was her first job after graduating from The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Pam’s ties to North Carolina began when she was in third grade. That’s when Pam, her mother and step-father moved to the small town of Andrews, in the middle of the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. Pam lived in Andrews during the school year, but spent summers with her dad in Leeds, England, where she was born.

Thinking back, Pam is certain that her experiences as a child in two distinct parts of the world strongly influenced her career choices and her passion for creating opportunities to learn.

Marbles welcomes visitors to a large space full of opportunities to learn through play. “We design exhibits with a goal and a play plan,” explains Pam. The team asks and answers

Marbles Kids Museum has welcomed over 2.5 million visitors from across the US since it opened in 2007

Marbles Kids Museum has welcomed over 2.5 million visitors from across the US since it opened in 2007.

three  key questions:

1. What is the play plan?

2. How will the play plan engage children in  different ways, depending on their different moods, learning styles and who is accompanying them on their visit to the museum?

3. What exhibits, graphics, materials and program scripts will inform children and allow them to own their exploratory play?

Adds Pam, “Many children’s museums are based on collections, but Marbles is not set up that way. We’re focused on children’s exploration of their world and how children learn.” 

“Marbles’ corporate sponsors, the county, and others are celebrating childhood with their commitment,” says Pam appreciatively. “We help young children develop school readiness skills and we give kids an opportunity to see that they can be successful.”

Pam traces her success back to her own elementary school years…“In third grade,” Pam explains, “I started with extension activities in an AG (academically gifted) program. The program was called GAIT (Gifted Are Important, Too). When I finished work early, I’d join a pull-out session where I’d choose an activity file from a big box full of creative options – word problems in math, puzzles, all kinds of extensions to the curriculum – and work on it with Mrs. Irons, the AG teacher.”

Mrs. Irons became Pam’s most memorable teacher; she served academically gifted students from grade 3 – 12. Pam remembers Mrs. Irons as a strong-willed, no-nonsense, attention-getting teacher. She exuded confidence and expected a lot,” says Pam, “but through the years she was a helpful counselor as well as a teacher. She listened and she cared.

Pam still appreciates how Mrs. Irons “gave me a voice.” The GAIT program offered wonderful hands-on opportunities to develop skills and creativity. Pam remembers modeling a sculpture of a Cyclops as part of an elementary school focus unit on Greek Mythology. Exhibiting her work foretold of Pam’s future.

In Moneypalooza at Marbles Kids Museum the money is make-believe but the learning is real.

In Moneypalooza at Marbles Kids Museum the money is make-believe but the learning is real.

In college, Pam began to develop the philosophy that she applies to her work at Marbles. “I got invited back to Andrews to talk about the impact that GAIT had on me growing up, and I realized that I hadn’t been ‘gifted’ so much as I had been lucky!” Pam realized that confidence is the key; something she’d learned from Mrs. Irons.

Pam recalls developing an interest that continues to this day to provide opportunities for young people to be confident in themselves and aware of opportunities ahead. “I began to believe,” Pam continues, “that children need to dream big; make choices based on the confidence that ‘I can do this;’ apply positive thinking; and not be held back by economic disadvantages.” 

“I knew that the kids I’d grown up with in Andrews hadn’t had as many experiences as I’d had,” Pam continues. She remembers thinking that every child deserves to learn like she had, with activities that spark creativity and build context before skills. This approach mirrors the Core Curriculum. Marbles’ programs, including the museum’s IMAX movie experiences, align with Common Core and North Carolina Essential Standards.

Marbles offers field trips and other special activities for grades K – 5, but Pam says that the museum’s “sweet spots” are families of children ages 2 – 6 who engage in Marbles’ Playlosophy: Play Matters. Play is how children learn best. Through play, children discover who they are, how to solve problems, express feelings and share ideas. Play builds a foundation for academic success, physical development and emotional well-being.

In Moneypalooza and all of the open, colorful, attention-getting areas of Marbles you’ll see children engaged in what the museum calls “a series of little life experiments that help them figure out how the world works and discover their place in it.”

Pam is challenged and delighted with her place in this unique children’s museum. Pam’s story and a tour of Marbles Kids Museum will continue next Wednesday with Mid-Week Focus. No ticket needed; just stop by for more ideas and inspiration on more ways to help your students be successful in school and life.

Hope you’ll check in on Monday for Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers. Meanwhile, please send comments and subscribe to

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet





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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are acting sluggish in class.

Solution: Show "The BIG E," for ENERGY, an enlarged letter E (or other first letter for the word energy in your alphabet), available in craft stores. Remind the class that energy is a must-have item to get good work done. Tell the class to show you "The BIG E!"

Related Posts: Show Off "The Big E"