This post is part of our series of articles by Wheelock College students documenting their observations of the many different kinds of learning and adult-child interactions taking place at Boston Children’s Museum every day. This post was written by students Kaitlyn Talbot, Nico Cantu, Becca House, Azeema Shaikh and Emily Lewis.
In a Museum full of activities and spaces focused on the play of young children, what is the role of an adult? Do they stand by and let the children explore the spaces for themselves or do they prompt the children on how to use different materials? As a Wheelock College research team we observed multiple times in two sections of the Museum: Arthur’s World and Children of Hangzhou. While observing we considered these questions:
- What role does the adult take?
- How do children and adults interact in Children of Hangzhou as compared to Arthur’s World?
- With such rich content, what do children do in Children of Hangzhou?
In Arthur’s World, a little girl was playing with her nanny in the kitchen. The girl moved to the scale and asked, “What’s this?” The nanny replied, “A scale, so you measure the weight of different things compared to this,” as she pointed to the red can, labeled “20 oz.”, on one side of the scale.
The girl put a plastic orange on the other side of the scale, but it rolled off. Then she put the broccoli on the scale and watched, but the scale didn’t move. Next, she picked up the broccoli, put a pan underneath it and placed it back on the scale.
“That’s really cool,” she said as the scale moved a little.
She continued to add more objects to the other side of the scale. “How is that still heavier?” she asked.
The adult in this situation only needed to scaffold by giving the information about what a scale is and what it does. Then she stood back and let the child do more exploring. Scaffolding is a powerful contributor to a child’s learning process. It is the support given during the learning process by an adult or peer which is tailored to the needs of the child with the intention of helping that child achieve his or her learning goals.
In the Children of Hangzhou exhibit, a mother brought in her four children, aged 7, 4, 3, and 2.
They immediately went to the kitchen where there is a refrigerator, kitchen table, oven, bowls of plastic Chinese food, soup, and chopsticks.
The mother made a pretend meal with two of her children. She asked them, “What goes into the soup?” and her daughter quickly said, “Mom you know the greens go into the soup.” Her oldest son then got his mom’s attention by saying, “Look how much chicken I have in my bowl.”
The mother then went to the kitchen table with her two youngest children, who were pretending that they were having dinner together. One child stood on the chair to get a better look at what food was on the table. Her youngest daughter struggled to hold the chopsticks, and her mother told her, “Look – just pretend, hold them like this.” Her daughter then tried to imitate her mother.
This adult played a larger role in her children’s play. She scaffolded a lot and engaged the children on how to use the more culturally rich materials in this exhibit. The children needed more scaffolding to develop an understanding of what the materials were and how to use them.
Overall, adults often take the role of scaffolding with their children as they play. The amount of support and scaffolding that takes place seems to be higher in Children of Hangzhou, possibly because of the culturally rich content.