Night at Penn Museum: popular kids’ sleepover program returns this fall

August 15, 2013

Editor’s Note: West Philly Local contributor and West Philly resident Jen Horner and her son checked on Penn Museum’s 40 Winks with the Sphinx sleepover program a few months ago, but we didn’t get a chance to run the story about their experience because all subsequent sleepovers in the spring/summer were quickly sold out. As tickets for the Fall 2013 – Summer 2014 of 40 Winks with the Sphinx season go on sale today, we are publishing this story now.


Photos by Jen Horner.

It’s funny: Ben Stiller has been very helpful to scientific institutions in their quest to reach young minds and generate new revenue streams. The 2006 movie Night at the Museum is not the only inspiration for overnight kids’ programs – the Franklin Institute has been doing it for years – but I did feel my life imitating art when I took a late night flashlight tour through the mummy chambers of the Penn Museum with my ten-year-old son. “Forty Winks with the Sphinx” is a popular monthly program for kids age 6-12, and while it plays on the premise of the movie, the grandeur of the museum and the enthusiasm of the staff override all residual cheesiness.

We found plenty to like about Forty Winks. From 5:30 until the first scheduled event of at 6:45 we had the run of the museum. Staff and security were on site, and as a bonus, things were set up for the next night’s crazy-lavish wedding. (There were gigantic crystal chandeliers and velvet drapes all over the Egyptian gallery). My son and I had fun following the scavenger hunt booklet. At 6:45, we convened in the auditorium for a short orientation followed by a live “game show” wherein kids examined artifacts from the museum and guessed what they were used for. This moved briskly but lasted long enough for most kids to get a chance on stage.

40winks3From 7:45 on, we were free to try four activities, eat dinner (we packed it ourselves), roam the museum, or actually watch the movie Night at the Museum. Of the lessons, we liked the cuneiform best – it’s the ancient Sumerian writing method of pressing patterns into clay. I cannot describe the satisfaction we felt when the instructor looked at my son’s finished clay tablet and read his name out loud! Where else could you meet a person literate in ancient Sumerian? We also learned some Egyptian hieroglyphics, and we had a chance to (respectfully) examine a real Peruvian mummy. Yoga was too crowded so we skipped it.

The best part of the night was the Expedition at 10. Everyone has to bring their own flashlight because they really do turn out the lights. Things were organized so that small groups moved through key exhibits without spoiling the illusion of being alone with the mummies in a vast, dark museum. I must say, the guides – mostly Penn graduate students – were very charming and smart, and good at talking with flashlights in their faces. There is a lot of truly cool stuff in the museum, plus my son met a fellow Angry Birds fan. By 11:30-ish, after negotiating the crowded restrooms, we ended up back in the Sphinx room for lights out.  Continue Reading

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Fireflies and popsicles at The Woodlands this Tuesday

August 5, 2013

fireflyThe Woodlands Mansion and Cemetery is partnering with The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University to bring a very cool event to nature lovers of all ages. On Tuesday, Aug. 6 everyone is invited to the Firefly Night  from 7-9 p.m. at the cemetery at 40th and Woodland. Bring your blankets, picnic and flashlights and witness these wonderful glowing bugs that the Woodlands grounds are full of after dark.

Insect experts from the Academy of Natural Sciences will be on hand to share their knowledge and expertise with buggy activities, live insects, and a one-size-fits-all firefly costume for visitors to try on. The Lil’ Pop Shop, a local artisan popsicle shop, will be onsite too with their popsicle truck.

This event coincides with the exhibit Glow: Living Lights, which is currently on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences (until Sept 29, 2013). Glow: Living Lights takes visitors on a journey through land and sea in pursuit of creatures with the incredible ability to produce their own light. Fireflies are some of the few animals lighting up the dark through a mysterious process called bioluminescence. For more information, visit The Woodlands website.

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Write mightily, kids of West Philly!

August 2, 2013

Come this fall, Mighty Writers will ink its missive on the streets of West Philly.

The beloved Philly nonprofit dedicated to teaching Philadelphia’s youth to think and write with clarity will open its third location, Mighty Writers West, housed in People’s Emergency Center at 3861 Lancaster Avenue. Fall programs will launch September 16, and former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall will serve as Mighty Writers West program director.


This is a new Mighty Writers site in West Philly. They are looking for someone who can replace the words “Make Your Mark” with “Mighty Writers.” (Photo via Mighty Writers’ Facebook page).

“We’re excited because the kids and volunteers we meet in West Philly will define the flavor of Mighty Writers West,” Maggie Leyman, Mighty Writers’ development director, told West Philly Local.  “We’ll incorporate a lot of what we’ve learned in South Philly, but we can’t wait to learn what gets West Philly kids excited, and what gets them writing.”

According to Leyman,opening locations in the North, South and West locations of Philadelphia was Mighty Writers’ intention from the start, as the non-profit’s “honing in on three neighborhoods” it sees as underserved and “reasonably far apart.” In West Philadelphia, she said, Mighty Writers will be able to reach those kids who have traveled to the South Philadelphia location for past workshops, as well as kids who wouldn’t travel to either location, but are interested in its programs. Still, the non-profit does understand that the entire city “needs more accessible and free out-of-school programs.”

“Our executive director, Tim Whitaker, always says that you could put a Mighty Writers, or pretty much any writing program, every ten blocks and you’d see programs filled to capacity,” Leyman told West Philly Local. “The whole city is underserved, as far as kids’ educations are concerned. We wish we could put a Mighty Writers in even more Philly communities but that would take some serious funding.”

Mighty Writers will host an open house at the new location in early September “to welcome people into Mighty Writers West so they can sign up for programs, meet our staff and volunteers, and see what we’re all about,” said Leyman.

Mighty Writers West is also currently accepting applications for its afterschool program for students in grades 5-8 residing or going to school in one of the following ZIP codes: 19104, 19131, 19139 or 19143. For more info and to download an application, click here. Application deadline is August 15, 2013.

Annamarya Scaccia

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New preschool/afterschool with ‘living green’ approach opening at 45th and Walnut; Open Houses July 30 & Aug 16

July 29, 2013


Little Green School House teachers (from left to right) Tyler Colvard, Dionne Wright-Chambers, and Rowan Machalow.

Rowan Machalow and her partner Tyler Colvard, both teachers, are opening a new preschool this fall, called The Little Green School House, at their home located near 45th and Walnut (219 S. Melville St). Apart from teaching music, art, yoga, science, reading readiness, math, and drama, the school will have a special emphasis on living green – kids will also be learning things like “composting in a worm bin, planting and growing food they can eat, preparing and eating local veggies, cleaning and beautifying our block, visiting a local chicken coop, sorting materials for recycling, and using recycled materials to create art.”

The preschool will have full-day and half-day options and will only have 12 spots available, since Rowan and Tyler would like to “keep it pretty small.” Besides them, there will be two other qualified teachers in the program. Kids from almost 2 years old through 3rd grade (for after school programs) are welcome to apply. You can check out the space and meet the teachers at one of the Open Houses – on Tuesday, July 30 and Friday, Aug 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit, email or call 215-222-0208.

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Play On, Philly! going global in Thursday concert

July 24, 2013

Play On, Philly! students performing last year at Saint Francis de Sales School.

Play On, Philly! students performing last year at Saint Francis de Sales School. (Photo Mike Lyons/West Philly Local)

The talented kids from Play On, Philly!, the innovative music and social development program based in West Philadelphia, will be playing live this Thursday, July 25 in a big ensemble concert. The concert will feature musicians from grades 1-9 who are participating in the program’s summer session.

Students in wind ensemble, string orchestra and full orchestra will tackle the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s La Comparsa and A La Media Noche, a Puerto Rican folk tune. Paul Bryan, dean of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, will conduct the students, who concentrated on world music over the summer. The ensemble is made up of 120 students from St. Francis de Sales School, Freire Charter Middle School, the Jubilee School and West Philadelphia Catholic High School.

The performance begins at 7 p.m. at West Philadelphia Catholic High School (4501 Chestnut St.). Entrance through parking lot on 46th Street between Chestnut and Ludlow.

The West Philly-based Play On, Philly! began in 2010 at the Saint Francis de Sales School with 110 kids ages 6-13. The idea was to bring enrichment to their lives through music. Last spring renown jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis stopped by Saint Francis de Sales to talk to students in the program. Students go through a rigorous training program that includes three hours daily of after school instruction by some of the city’s best teaching musicians. Students enrolled in the tuition-free program learn an orchestral instrument and receive instruction in music theory, composition, music history as well as ensemble performance. Play On, Philly! hopes to establish a program in every city neighborhood.

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Cool off: West Philly public outdoor pools and spraygrounds

July 8, 2013


John B. Kelly Pool in Fairmount Park/Photo via John B. Kelly Pool’s Facebook page.

As the summer is in full force, here’s information on where in West Philly and vicinity you can find a free outdoor pool or sprayground to cool off. If you know of any other pools/spraygrounds not included in the list please let us know at or in the comments below.



Pool Hours: Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Baker Recreation Facility (Map)
5431-43 Lansdowne Ave.
Phone: 215-685-0261

Cobbs Creek Recreation Facility (Map)
280 Cobbs Creek Parkway
Phone: 215-685-1983

John B. Kelly Pool (Facebook page)
4231 North Concourse Drive (Fairmount Park, by Please Touch Museum)
Phone: 215-685-0174

Kingsessing Recreation Center (Map)
4901 Kingsessing Avenue
Phone: 215-685-2694

Lee Cultural Center Recreation Facility (Map)
4328 Haverford Avenue
Phone: 215-685-7655

Mill Creek Recreation Facility (Map)
743-81 N. 48th Street
Phone: 215-685-0260

Myers Recreation Center (Map)
5800 Chester Avenue
Phone: 215-685-2698

O’Connor Pool (Website, Map)
2601 South Street
Phone: 215-685-6593

Sayre Morris Recreation Center (Map)
5835 Spruce Street
Phone: 215-685-1993

Shepard Recreation Facility (Map)
5700 Haverford Avenue
Phone: 215-685-1992

Tustin Recreation Facility (Map)
5901-29 W. Columbia Avenue
Phone: 215-685-0258

39th & Olive Playground – Mantua (Map)
39th & Olive Streets




48th & Woodland Playground (Map)
1414 S 47th Street
Phone: 215-685-2692
Hours: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mon-Sat, closed on Sunday.

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