Philosophers have theorized about how and why humans make the choices we do for hundreds of years. These days it seems like more choices are sprouting up in all aspects of our lives. From hundreds of television channels to dozens of varieties of toothpaste, Americans have a huge range of choice in what we wear, what we eat, even where we work and live.
Museums are great places to practice making choices. In fact the term “free-choice learning” is used by museum professionals to describe the museum environment. Children especially need places where they can practice making choices. A child’s life is filled with grown-ups who often dictate what they do, where they go, who they spend time with, when it’s time for lunch, and so on. Repeated practice making simple choices can lead to comfort and confidence when faced with decisions that have larger consequences.
Boston Children’s Museum is filled with opportunities for children, adults and families to make choices together. What exhibits will you visit? How long will you stay? Will you play by yourself or make a friend? Will you go back to a familiar spot or try something new? Programs are designed to make it easy to give it a try. Are you curious about the play in KidStage? Check it out. If you decide not to stay that’s OK. The Art Studio offers a choice of creative projects. Do you want to stay in Peep’s World for your entire visit? That’s OK too. While the museum offers many opportunities to choose, making those choices isn’t necessarily easy. Choosing one option often means giving up another. If you spend more time in the Climber, you may miss the kitchen science experiment. Learning that lesson is part of the museum experience.
Making smart choices is fundamental to another Boston Children’s Museum initiative, promoting financial literacy. Money Matters 2.0 is a project to develop and implement financial literacy programs for groups and families. In our Money Matters school program students role- play exchanging goods and services, having jobs and buying things in a pretend community. At our upcoming Money Matters Family Festival on Friday evening, January 23, people can explore coins, role play different professions, and design a savings box; activities that foster intergenerational conversation about the choices we make with our money. For more ideas about teaching young children financial literacy look at the Sesame Street resource, For Me, for You, for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing, and Saving, a bilingual multimedia program created to help families share experiences in developing financial basics.
Numerous recent books and articles offer fascinating insights that combine psychology, behavioral economics and neuroscience to present different perspectives on choice. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2004) psychologist Barry Schwartz claims that the bewildering array of choices flooding our brains, makes us feel worse, not better. The scholarly article Can There Ever be Too Many Options? (Benjamin Scheibehenne, 2010) counters that an increase in the number of options does not necessarily lead to a decrease in satisfaction. Dan Ariely’s bestseller, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2010) presents numerous examples of how emotions and social norms influence our choices and behavior. In The Art of Choosing (2011) Sheena Iyengar describes the importance of cultural and personal context on our choices and demonstrates that all choices are not equal. What feels like freedom of choice for one individual may cause frustration for another. Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) by Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman describes two different ways the brain forms thoughts and makes decisions. One is fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and subconscious. The other is slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, and conscious. Relying too heavily on one system over the other can lead people to jump to conclusions or be lazy, accept incorrect assumptions, and result in poor decisions.
Throughout this research there is a common theme. Practice and understanding our own thinking while we are making decisions, leads to better choices.