Curious Jane is camp programs that offers 1st-6th grade girls the opportunity to learn about design, building, and science in an all female environment. The organization offers girls project-based hands-on classroom activities, which promote problem solving and creativity. Recently the organization moved its home based to Gowanus, Brooklyn.
We popped in on President/Founder, Samantha Razook Murphy, and Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, Melisa Coburn to find out details about their organization, their new experience here in Gowanus, and their upcoming fall market called Gowanus Girls Indie Design + Food Mart.
Can you tell us a little bit about Curious Jane?
Samantha: I started Curious Jane four years ago…. it grew out of my own experience. I did my graduate and under graduate in design…. I also have two girls. I was familiar with the summer camps…business through my husband and through working at many of his all girl camps. So, a few years ago when the economy took a turn that was our “opportunity”….[Curious Jane] was really a combination of everything I enjoy about design and that I had worked with teens in the all girls summer camp. But I had not worked with younger girls. So, Curious Jane began bringing [the camp] to elementary school girls. I didn’t know necessarily how it was going to go…. We just started it and it has grown. We ran 78 camper weeks our very first summer…. and we just finished our fourth summer with over 1300 camper weeks…
Melisa: It’s a lot of camps!
Samantha: The girls have responded really well and the mom’s have responded positively… this is what they want for their girls.
Melisa: So, all of this is such a great combination. My daughter attended last year at the Berkley Carroll location and I was so impressed with [that] she had such an amazing time…and I was impressed with the quality of the programs and the quality of the staff. I ended up chatting with Samantha about ways we could work together. So, that connection grew out of my experience as a parent of a camper.
Do you think your program has changed the way people think about camps for girls?
Samantha: What’s typical as far as separating genders in the camp environment is more the outdoorsy camps. That is a very tried and true experience…. From my camp days…. there would be a all girls camp on one side of the lake and an all boys camp of the other side… I think it’s…providing a more classroom based program and doing that in a single sex environment which is beneficial.
Melisa: I think it’s letting the girls focus on creativity. Certainly there is curriculum and there are projects that the girls do. They pick a theme that might be of a animal nature, might be story art, it might be building…. and their projects are centered around that. But really the girls get to create! It’s about giving them that freedom to explore their own ideas and turning those ideas into something concrete. I think that’s really satisfying for girls. The parents see that and know what a great experience they’ve had.
What about this environment makes it so popular?
Samantha: To start…I think it’s the overall tone of the organization. We’re mom’s. Mom’s call, we chat with them. We’re out there in the community; we know what’s going on. Families enjoy working with us and interacting with us…. and we except their feedback. As far as the environment itself, I’d say that 95% of the girls who join us are coming from co-ed school environments. So, [Curious Jane] gives them a chance…to have a different environment during the academic year. One thing I love is that it attracts an amazing staff. Super talented young woman with so many experiences and different interested…. They come in and they create a magical setting!
Melisa: The staff is amazing. I think they bring about more enthusiasm for camp and education. It’s contagious!
What are your favorite classes?
Samantha: I love the toy design class because that stems directly from my own background in industrial design.
Melisa: My daughter took that class this year. And I have to say they were amazing! …. She was so proud and said ‘let me do a little show and tell’. She took each one of the [toys] out…and showed them off! The toy design class is just really great.
Samantha: My other [favorite] is actually our first class to regularly sell out at each location and that’s our Wired 101 class, which is with electronics. There’s a project, but it’s really open ended. The goal is to [show] there isn’t a right answer. I think for girls that this is a very important thing to allow them to do… [In] Wired 101…they don’t have to have fancy tools or fancy skills to investigate. I want them to see that everything around them can be seen in a different ways…. With Wired 101 projects we do light up [circuit] cards…and they do their own circuitry. There’s no soldering; their using wires and batteries, little motors and masking tape. They are putting these things together and they’re making them move or light up or buzz.… So, maybe, when…they see an old flashlight…they see it as: ‘Okay, I know there’s a battery housing in there, and there wire leads…and there’s a light bulb!”
So, what style of education are these programs?
Melisa: There’s not a specific educational style or philosophy, but there is an emphasis on hands on.
Samantha: It’s very hands on and some classes [are] opened ended…. Ultimately you want your card to light up, you want your jawbot to move. We put an emphasis on trouble shooting. If a 3rd grader can grasp trouble shooting that’s a huge concept. It’s like…’this stuff, it didn’t quite go, so what could it be?… alright let’s test our battery; let’s try out our LED, to make sure it [works]‘. If they can go through this process and discover this, [it's] a very large concept for them.
How did you get to Gowanus?
Samantha: I was in my house and I had too much stuff! I think it honestly was on Craigslist. I was living in Bed Stuy, so I wasn’t living in the area at all. My girls did go to school in Park Slope, so I was a little familiar with what was going on down [in Gowanus]. It was the right space for what we needed. We sort of stumbled upon it. But, since then we’ve been really energized by the small businesses, talent, and creativity that’s found in the Gowanus area. Paul [of Gowanus Alliance] is the building owner and you see him around all the time! Getting to know him and he points you in this direction or that direction. You start to find things! And Melisa and I are pretty social curious people, so we’ve investigated.
Is there a particular place you like to go and think here in the Gowanus area?
Samantha: Oh, we like the pie shop! [Four & Twenty Blackbirds.] I think like everyone in the hood.
Melisa: Yes, the Pie shop! We spend a lot of time in the pie shop. But I just enjoy walking up and down 3rd Avenue. If you’re walking up 3rd to pick up stuff from staples or if your walking to pick the kids up from school or whatever…you’re just kind of seeing…who’s passing on the street! There’s a really interesting mix of people and I like seeing who’s out there.
Tell Us About the Gowanus Girls Indie Design + Food Mart:
Melisa: …. Thinking about how to offer more programming and community events… and just loving being a part of the Gowanus neighborhood…. we wanted to combine everything we do with the community…. Gowanus is ideally situation between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens…affluent neighborhoods with lots of families looking for fun and interesting things to do….. For us the Gowanus Girls Indie Design + Food Mart was really about combining… girls / design /community. It’s really a way to extend the Curious Jane brand. And we like to shop!
We want the market to be a real experience…something with layers. The focus is on original design…. whether it’s handbags or a bracelets or food. We wanted it in a special setting and we were thrilled that the guys over at Gowanus Grove liked the idea. They felt like this would…offer something special for the community. [It's] an all girl focus event…. There will also be free Curious Jane activities to keep kids busy to allow parents to browse around and shop.
There will be a development element as well. We’re been chatting with a couple of organization in the area that do good for the community…like Gowanus Canal Conservancy. We will be giving a portion back from the event to the community.
We want to create a full experience. So, you can get something to munch on, have a glass of sangria, your kids are entertained for a bit, you’re in a lovely location…plus, we’ll have [groups] like Film Biz Recycling… Their local, and they are woman owned! They will be there hopefully selling some of the fabulous items they have. We really wanted that kind of element. Cool people meeting other cool people…with great stuff! We are really enthusiastic about this!
3 quick questions:
What superhero are you?
Samantha: Um…I’ve always loved wonder woman! ….Oh, did I pick yours?
Melisa: You totally did! Ha!
What song gets you ready to do your work?
Samantha: Justin Timberlake! Anything by Justine Timberlake. If I am going to be futzing around the office and doing supplies or making the war board [programming board], I am going to put on my Justin Timberlake, the JT Pandora mix. I am a big fan!
Melisa: …a song that I found motivating at the moment is the new No Doubt song, Settle Down!
If you had to wear a hat everyday, what would that hat look like?
Samantha: Oh, I know what mine would look like…. I talk about wearing hats a lot! ‘Okay gotta put on my bookkeeping hat, gotta put on my whatever hat’, cause we’re small, so you do everything! I am imaging a slide projector hat that I can just switch to: ‘now I am a mom, now I am the accountant, now I am whatever!’
Melisa: Wear everyday? hmmm… I am going to say that mine is less of a hat and more of a head-piece involving purple feathers of some sort.
Curious Jane camps have a variety of programs for girls. You can be fine out more details about classes online at www.CuriousJaneCamp.com.
The Gowanus Girls Indie Design + Food Mart will be taking place this Fall on Saturday October 13th & 27th noon to sunset on both days at the Gowanus Grove - 400 Carroll Street, between Nevins & Bond. More details about the market can be found here.
Bonus Your Face Off
The organization is still looking for local vendors to participate in the upcoming Gowanus Girls market. If your a vendar and interested in participating in this fun design and food event check details here.