Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conscious Choices: Environmental Elements - Math Young Explorers

The new mural in Math Young Explorers has taken shape! Its debut has created quite a discussion among staff regarding how aesthetic elements such as wall colors, murals and art pieces can help nurture children’s learning and development.

The Power of Color and Pattern
The new Math Young Explorers mural is the final installment in a series of three Lazure-inspired pieces found in each of the Young Explorers areas at DCM. Peter Crabbe, Associate Director of Exhibits, explains that DCM adapted these Lazure murals to the Museum’s environment. Crabbe states that they were chosen for the Young Explorers areas because of their softer edges and colors, which are believed to soothe young children, ease transitions and stimulate minds. He mentions, “We have a whimsical palette already and didn’t want to lose that. However, we wanted it a bit softer." Crabbe describes each of the murals as being visually stimulating, but not overwhelming to the senses.

Some research and reports describe other ways that color and pattern influence children's learning and development. The patterns also provide visual stimulation for infants, similar to that of a mobile above a child's crib. According to the report, Color in an Optimum Learning Environment, "Color in the learning environment provides an unthreatening environment that improves visual processing, reduces stress, and challenges brain development through visual stimulation/relationships and pattern seeking" (Daggett, Cobble and Gertel, 2008). The report also states that color and patterns can "rewire the brain" and make stronger connections while fostering visual thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Additionally, it says visual patterns can "establish visual focal points on wall and floor surfaces, imply static or dynamic movement, and convey a preferred emotional response."

Besides their ability to appease and rejuvenate infants and toddlers without overstimulation, the murals also directly relate to Young Explorers themes. For example, both the Creativity Connections Young Explorers and new Math Young Explorers murals integrate math and the arts by featuring appropriate shapes and patterns. The Build It Young Explorers mural relates more to structures, featuring lines and stripes.

Enhancing the Experience
You don't need to be an expert to enhance your child's experience with art! Here are a few ideas on how you can nurture your child's development while looking at the Lazure-inspired murals in Young Explorers:

  • Use directional words related to your child's experience. Is your child looking up to see the pattern block shapes in Math Young Explorers? Perhaps, while being held, your child is looking down at a circle within the Creativity Connections Young Explorers mural. By saying these directional words and using gestures, you are nurturing language development and spatial understanding.

  • Label or describe what you see. As your child looks at the mural, talk about it using words like: (shapes) square, triangle, (colors) red, blue, green, etc.

  • Observe your child’s reactions. The way each child responds to different colors and patterns is different. Have you ever noticed a change in your child’s temperament, mood, activity level or attention related to his/her environment?

Stay Tuned!
The murals in the Young Explorers areas aren't the only artworks that enrich the museum environment at DCM. Next week, the Museum's Interdisciplinary Art Specialist, Marcia MacRae, describes the process of choosing artwork for neighborhoods and exhibits, including Math Young Explorers.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Neighborhood Navigations: Build It Young Explorers - Play with Me!

Build It Young Explorers offers opportunities for even our youngest visitors to interact and experiment with gravity, motion and construction. The neighborhood provides multiple sensory experiences and unique materials (many of which are designed and built by Museum staff).

Pushing and Pulling, Rolling and Spinning—Introducing Scientific Concepts
Similar to the Build It and Make It Move neighborhoods in the Museum, many of the objects found in Build It Young Explorers can be pushed, pulled, rolled, or spun. The objects’ differences in size, shape or texture often create different effects and make children wonder –Why?

Older infants or toddlers often approach Baby Ramps and Rollers after following a ball that has rolled past them or watching a model (such as a parent, caregiver or older sibling) demonstrate the task involved. Your child might hunt for more round objects to place on the ramp and repeat the experiment to see how they roll down each ramp. What scientific concepts do you think this activity demonstrates?

While young children are not going to understand words like gravity, motion or physics, the use of simple science and math words, like up, down, over, under, fast, slow, big and small, heavy and light, will introduce them to these scientific concepts. Additionally, what are some other things you might do to engage your child during this experience?

Here are some ideas:

  • Enjoy wondering with your child! Ask questions that begin with "Why?" or "How do you think we could?" You may not know the answers, but by sharing your thoughts with your child you model language and problem solving skills.
  • Try something different. If you notice your child placing several small balls on the ramp to see what will happen next, hand him or her a larger ball and see what happens. Does your child push the ball aside or attempt to place it down the ramp (even if it doesn't fit)? Another challenge is to hand a third ball to your child while he or she is already holding one in each hand. Does your child drop a ball to pick the new one up or does the child put the other two down first and then return to get the third?

Source: "Starting Children on Science." Early Years are Learning Years. National Association for Education of Young Children.

Enhancing every area of a child's development
An infant crawls through the tunnel in Build It Young Explorers and stops to look at his mother, who is seated at the opposite end watching. The mother says, “Are you inside the tunnel?” The child smiles at her and then looks down. It seems as if he is looking at the bumpy mat he needs to cross to get to his mother. “You can do it,” she says to the young boy. He quickly crawls up and over the bumpy mat to get to his mother. As he reaches her knees, she says, “You made it! You went over!”

When asked why she sat at the end of the tunnel and spoke to her son as he navigated his way through, the mother said she did this “just to let him know I was there.” Simple interactions like this can help children understand how to put their ideas into action to accomplish a goal; practice crawling, balance and coordination; and/or build self-confidence. Parents and caregivers that are active participants in their child’s play further nurture the development of not only cognitive skills, but also problem solving, social and emotional, gross motor and language and communication skills as well.

How Learning Comes in to Play—At-Home!
Encouraging, modeling and wondering can happen at home. Here are a few materials you can use to simulate experiences in Build It Young Explorers:

  • Blocks: Infants and toddlers enjoy building (and of course knocking down) stacks and towers using soft blocks, small wooden blocks, duplos or interlocking blocks. Use simple math and science words like tall or short.
  • Balls: According to the article, "What is Age-Appropriate Play for Young Children?" from the Illinois Early Learning Project, "Once a baby begins to crawl, toys that can be pushed or rolled and chased across the floor encourage physical activity and interaction with other people." Experiment using boxes, blocks or paper towel tubes to create ramps of all kinds. Introduce concepts related to motion and gravity by using words like fast, slow, up, down, over, under and through.

  • Scarves: Infants and toddlers seem almost entranced by an object's movement. Their eyes follow the objects, often motivating them to try to move, reach and grasp. Scarves move in many ways and are a great sensory tool because often you can see through them, creating a visual and tactile experience. Play peek-a-boo; drop the scarf above your child and ask, "Where is it going to go?" or try playing with the scarf outside on a windy day.

Source: Illinois Early Learning Project.

Want More Information? Check this Out:
The Partners in Play cards found in each of the three Young Explorers areas of the Museum provide parents and caregivers with child development information and suggestions on how to engage infants and toddlers in play.

Stay Tuned!
Math Young Explorers is back and with a new look! In a future post, we will chat about the impact that environmental design and aesthetics can have on children’s play and development.