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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

How to make the most of a museum visit



I got a newsletter this week from the Suncoast Waldorf School and one article that caught my eye was this one on how to visit a museum or historic site without overwhelming the kids. The focus, they say, should be on letting a kid learn and discover on their own without cramming them full of fast facts as you race around. I liked the reminder not to "over-answer" any questions. Let them struggle a bit and find out the answers for themselves. Here's what they say:

Summertime is fast approaching and many parents and children have opportunities to visit museums, historic villages/settlements, and other vacations that include facts and information.  Is this too much information?  How do we allow our young children, tweens, and teens to enjoy these fascinating places of interest without overwhelming them with too many facts and sights?

Follow Your Child's Lead:  My suggestion is to simply walk around the museum in a normal way and see what comments and questions naturally arise from your children.  With my children, I have avoided any graphic or disturbing pictures or displays.  This may sound too obvious, but sometimes you have to be really quick when a display pops up (which sometimes has me questioning what the managers of the exhibit could have been thinking...or not thinking).

Beware of "For All Ages"  Whenever I see something in the the promotional literature that claims "for all ages," my radar goes up.  I have experienced this is code for "potentially very inappropriate images for young children."  Museums, galleries, and exhibitions, in general, are fertile ground for this kind of developmental "one-size-fits-all-approach" in order to draw people through the door.  Of course, there are exceptions to this but they are few and far between.

The Over Answering Trap:  When a comment or even a question arises from a child I feel it is perfectly fine to respond in such a way that deepens the wondering, rather than feeling a need to answer and potentially fall into the trap of over answering.  Responses like "Yes that is a question isn't it?" "Mmmm, yes",  "I was wondering about that too" are worth considering.  In the age of "googlaization", where we rush for an answer without letting the child struggle and muse with the question, we risk adding the already endemic problem of impulse control and the inability to delay gratification.   A helpful metaphor for this is the idea that a muscle can grow strong only if it meets resistance.  Likewise, our child's inner capacities and brain development flourish when we allow them to live with the question.  The key here is to allow them the space to process information they receive in their own way rather than on the adults schedule or desire to "edu-tain" or prematurely socialize before the child has the ability to properly understand the information they are being given.  Giving information too early and over-answering can either deaden the wonder a child experiences or make something that was just a casual question into something scary.  If this happens, the child soon learns to not ask questions.  What an awful loss since it is so beautiful to see a child babble out dozens of simple little questions each day as they experience the wonder of the world.

Allow the Learning to Unfold:  As all parents have seen, the processing of a question in a child's life often takes the form of imaginative play, or drawing, maybe even dreaming.  The question may come and go over a number of weeks but as it fades away something very special has taken place.  Not only has the child's limbic system and frontal lobes of the brain been given a gentle work out, but her ability to be creative, innovative, and adaptable has just expanded and strengthened.  These capacities are going to give them what they will need to navigate and thrive in their future in a fast paced world that is full of change.  Wonderful isn't it that this pathway of resilience is achieved by the parent doing nothing more than giving space for the child to cook the conundrum?

Kim John Payne, Author of
Simplicity Parenting

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[Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 2:26pm]


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