Wheelock Student Observations at Boston Children’s Museum: Random vs Structured Play

rw01This 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 Wheelock Student Researchers Priyanka Deb, Julia Kelsey, Shannon Hennessy, and Liz Randall.

We were able to observe and interact with many children and families who visited the Raceways exhibit at Boston Children’s Museum. Here we documented how children interacted with both the materials and people in the exhibit. This gave us a better understanding of how children play in this particular social setting. The questions we considered during our visits were:

  • What is the difference between the first time visitor and the frequent visitor?
  • Some children play randomly with the balls and tracks. Some children plan their play. What is the difference and how do they play differently?

rw02The boy in these pictures was exploring Raceways for the first time. He gravitated towards the wire ball crank station. At first he was unsure of where to put the ball and then with a little help from an adult he was able to accomplish the goal of the activity.

He first tried to insert a ball where it is meant to exit.

He was then redirected by an adult to put the balls in the correct hole.

rw03After receiving this assistance, he happily cranked the balls up to the top to watch them come down. The balls made it to the end of the ramp and he jumped for joy. This young boy’s story is one of the many we observed during our visits to Raceways.

rwn02Looking over all of our pictures, videos, and notes, we noticed that the play of younger children (ages 0-3) as well as first time visitors to the exhibit most commonly engaged in random play. Examples of random play include throwing the balls around the room or putting balls next to the tracks instead of on the tracks. Older children (ages 4-12) as well as frequent visitors of the exhibit participated in structured play more frequently. These children were already familiar with the different activities in Raceways and knew exactly what to do at each station.

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