An inquisitive girl takes a closer look at Boston Children’s Museum. Photo by Paul Specht.
by Anna Housley Juster
Toddlers and preschoolers are very curious about everything around them and excited to experience it with their whole bodies, ready to learn new things and have fun.
At art museums or the art galleries of children’s museums, both kids and adults can feel just like the girl in the picture book The Museum by Susan Verde (Abrams, 2013). These “field trips,” whether it’s with a class or just your family, ignite something fun and exciting that also benefits a child’s development. And often it’s not just about the act of looking; toddlers and preschoolers enjoy participating in art activities and exploring colors, textures and materials in art studios like the one at Boston Children’s Museum, for example. Inspired by professional artists, children recreate and/or represent art. This process enhances their imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Particularly at children’s museums, kids benefit in many ways through self-directed play. It may seem simple to an adult, but play contributes to brain development. According to Fraser Brown, author of Play & Playwork: 101 Stories of Children Playing (Open University Press, 2014), when children choose what to play and create their own rules, they maximize their whole development. The benefits of play for children include cognitive/academic, physical and social-emotional practice, as well as creative, literacy, STEM and problem-solving skills development, says Rachel E. White, who wrote The Power of Play: A Research Summary on Play and Learning for Minnesota Children’s Museum in 2013.
As children’s museums are committed to promote early learning through play, museum staff intentionally create exhibits and develop programs with professional play facilitators who interact with children in the exhibit. Particularly with toddlers and preschoolers, children’s museums’ work is based on the latest brain development research. For example, when children are collecting as many golf balls as they can carry and putting them all into the tracks, they physically walk/run and chase balls. Inside their brains, children are recognizing the causality of balls and constantly constructing theories of gravity. They might interact and collaborate with other children or caregivers to collect balls and put as many balls as they can on the tracks. This process involves negotiation, social-emotional development, and communication skills and language development.