Friday, March 26, 2010

Observe First Before Interacting in Play

So you've come to the Museum to play and interact with the children you brought with you. You might be a caregiver, parent or grandparent. Before joining in on play, take a few minutes for some spontaneous observations. What you see and hear may offer some possibilities into what can be learned about a child's personality, developmental capabilities, problem solving abilities, interests, knowledge, expressions of culture or reasons behind behavior. These facets of understanding, as mentioned in our last post, offer you as a parent, grandparent or caregiver a fuller and richer picture so that you can be more successful in supporting your child in play.*

Let's see, for instance, what observation may teach us about a child's personality. While on the Museum floor with a special activity, The Toddler Slide, two important grown-ups each had a chance to observe their child interact and negotiate the shared space of the Toddler Slide. This space is designed for only one child to use at a time:
One boy, visiting with his mother, showed no fear in climbing up the 3-step stairs and sliding down the slide. A more timid visitor, a little girl, staying close to her grandmother, watched the little boy go up and down the slide. When the boy went back to playing nearby with his brother, she approached the slide and with affirmation from grandma, climbed up the stairs and slid down the slide. She smiles at Grandma, pleased with her feat. When the boy returned to the slide, her confidence had increased enough to share the space with him, with a little verbal help from Mom and the Early Childhood Specialist. (Saying, "your turn, her turn" helped define the negotiated space.) The boy's mother brought baby brother over to slide down and big brother gave him a gentle push. Noticing this interaction, the girl went back to watching others on the slide but eventually joined the boy and his brother on the slide.
What did Mom and Grandma learn about personality with this observation? While Mom may already know that her son has confidence in his abilities to navigate slides, she may have noted what he's learning about sharing space with others, that is, his willingness to take turns as long as the other person keeps up with his pace. (Note: I have the same expectation. If you go shopping with me - keep up the pace - we're on a mission!) Her gentle reminders can help with his eagerness, until he is developmentally ready to slow down his pace for others.

Now Grandma may already know that her granddaughter is cautious. What she learned today was that her granddaughter uses her cautious behavior to assess the situation before joining in playing with others. Cautious children are typically good observers. This is a trait that can be beneficial when she's older and with her peers, without parental influence.

So next time you're in the Museum, take time to discover something new about your child's personality. What do you learn when you observe children playing at the Museum? Send me your story and we may use it on a future post.

*For more, see Focused Observations by Gaye Gronlund and Marlyn James.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What Can You Learn by Observing Children?

Observation is a powerful tool! All of us observe, informally, as we go about our daily lives. We watch and listen to our surroundings. At a store I may notice the number of people near a kiosk or display and wander over to see what is catching everyone's interest. I may overhear a conversation about the latest movie release that sparks my interest to see a movie I had not planned to see. Observation can reveal information we may not have known before.

Do you ever watch children at play? When we take the time to observe children during play, we gain understanding about who they are and what they can do. Our Play Facilitators observe children playing and learning throughout their day. In fact, observation is the first method of facilitation recommended for staff and volunteers who interact with our visitors. Watching and listening allow facilitators to take their cues from what they see and hear children doing before deciding whether to join in an interaction. It gives the facilitator pause to reflect on what the child's play agenda is before interacting with the child.

In their book, Focused Observations, How to Observe Children for Assessment and Curriculum Planning, Gaye Gronlund and Marlyn James identify seven facets of understanding about children, when we take time to observe them. Whether you are a facilitator, caregiver, parent or grandparent, observation can provide us a "thorough and well-rounded picture of what is important to know about children" (Gronlund and James 2005).

"Learning about the information and knowledge children are constructing" is one of the facets of understanding mentioned in Gronlund and Jame's book. Here's an example of what that means, as observed by one of our Play Facilitators in our Math Young Explorer Area.
A 26-month-old child playing on our Peek-a-boo Bridge exclaimed, "The Museum is green," when looking through the green triangle.
During this opportunity to watch her child practice the movements of walking up and down an incline, the parent discovered her child's beginning awareness of color. "Through their play and use of materials, children often show you what information and knowledge they are figuring out and what skills they are working on" (Gronlund and James 2005). Whether you are a caregiver or parent, discovering what children can do or know about their world is useful information for understanding and planning for their learning needs.

Stay tuned! Over the next few posts, we will examine some of the other facets of understanding gained through observations and how they relate to Museum play.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Making Discoveries through Repeated Play Experiences

Repeated play experiences support a child's intrinsic motivation to learn. In a previous post we had the opportunity read about a visit at DuPage Children's Museum from a parent's perspective. "Every time we go there (DCM), there is something new we haven't explored," commented this parent blogger. "Taking the kids to the children's museum allows me to see what they are drawn to."

How fortunate we are to have daily opportunities to watch children make new discoveries and explore new interests every day. It's intriguing to listen to what children have to say when they visit our Museum. Here are a few comments overheard by some of our Play Facilitators this week:

A boy, age 9 or 10, said to his grown-up as they were approaching the Bubbles, "Behold, the Bubble Room." Who hasn't been fascinated by bubbles? Whether we're young or old, bubbles can easily hold our interest as we explore surface tension, diffraction and color.

A boy, age 6 or 7, was observed putting Interstar Links together to form a square. Then he said, "Look, if you want a diamond you just push it together like this. Then if you want a square you push it back like this." These building pieces offer endless possibilities for creativity and spatial reasoning. They can be found in our Creativity Connections Neighborhood and purchased in our Explorer Store.

A boy, age 6 or 7, walked into Math Connections and exclaimed, "Hey this is just like school but more fun." Almost everything we do involves math, yet most of us think of math as math facts learned in a classroom. Our Math Connections Neighborhood is a place where visitors can investigate and reflect on concepts at their own pace.

And grown-up visitors continue to watch their children in amazement. A parent visiting the Art Studio told one of our Facilitators how amazed she was that her daughter, age 2, used scissors for the first time during one of our Studio Drop-in programs. In the Studio children can explore and experiment with plenty of materials. Studio activities are free with Museum admission. The Art Studio is open daily from 10-12 and1-3 (unless superseded by a Creativity Class©).

Researchers are just beginning to understand some of the interactive influences in forming the brain architecture for learning and memory. Repeated play and exploration experiences, like exhibits and programs found at DCM, support the growing brain. For more information about some of this research, visit the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Visit our Web site to learn more about the value of repeat visits at DuPage Children's Museum.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Eclectic Odyssey: DuPage Children's Museum

We couldn't have said it better! Here's a 2/24/10 post from a family who recently visited DuPage Children's Museum. When children experience Museum play through repeated visits, they have opportunities to make new discoveries! As parents and caregivers, it's a joy to sit back and watch these new discoveries and find time to connect with supportive adults. Click here to read more.