This blog post was written by our Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, and is pursuing a degree in Child Life.
When I first began my internship at Boston Children’s Museum, I loved exploring and learning about the exhibits. I was curious to know how children responded and engaged with each exhibit, and how children’s behavior changed between areas in the Museum. I decided to observe in four Museum exhibits; Peep’s World, Kid Power, KEVA, and the Japanese House. I chose these four because they differ greatly from each other in both environmental design and the type of activities included.
After completing my observations in exhibits around the Museum, I considered what these observations demonstrated about child engagement both within and outside of the Museum environment. Keep reading for suggestions on how to bring favorite Museum activities and lessons into your own home!
In the Japanese House, children are often quieter and more cautious than in the rest of the Museum. The Japanese House is an authentic silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan that is approximately 100 years old. Children likely recognize that this is a special environment compared to the rest of the Museum and adjust their behavior accordingly. If you want to facilitate your child’s participation in an activity that requires quieter voices and calmer bodies, try talking and demonstrating to your child how special the activity is. For example, if you are looking for a more peaceful dinner time, try setting up your home like a “fancy” restaurant; this could mean simply adding real or fake flowers to the center of the table and playing quiet music in the background, or going all out and making pretend menus (with only a few options).
Kid Power has a series of stations designed to inspire children to be active and move their bodies; one such station is a seat attached to ropes that instructs children to “Use your power” and pull themselves up using the ropes. Some adults help their children pull the ropes and lift the child’s weight for them, while other adults instruct their children on how to pull the ropes instead of directly helping. The children who completed tasks independently often spent longer focused on each activity. When working to inspire persistence in your children, consider offering guidance rather direct help. Next time you’re at a playground and your child is asking for help crossing the balance beam, maybe hold your hand just a few inches away from theirs. That way you are there to catch them if they start to fall, but you are also demonstrating your confidence in them to make it across the beam independently!
Visitors spent longer in KEVA and Peep’s World than in the other exhibits I observed. Peep’s World is designed for young children and includes a cave to walk through, shadow play, the Imagination Playground, and a large water play area. KEVA consists of large platforms and bins of KEVA planks, as well as structures built out of KEVA planks displayed to inspire visitors’ own creations. Both are fairly open-ended; in other words, they allow lots of room for children to interpret how they want to manipulate and play with the materials provided. If looking to engage your child for an extended period of time, consider providing them with open-ended materials. But that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy KEVA planks! Do you have extra plates, cups, napkins, and straws from your child’s last birthday party? Challenge your child to build something with the leftover materials – if you are excited about the project, they will be too! Or, borrow an idea directly from Peep’s World and paint with water. All you need is a cup for water, a paint brush, and a few rocks for your child to magically change the color of with their water brush!
To brainstorm more activities that your child may enjoy, take time during your next visit to observe their likes and dislikes; notice which exhibits keep them the most engaged and replicate these activities at home. But don’t worry if an activity doesn’t work out exactly as planned! Children explore and experiment to figure out how this world works, and they will often find completely unique ways to play. Embrace this, and wherever your child’s creativity takes you, I hope you enjoy the adventure!