I spent today digging for dinosaur bones with the three and four year old Dino Campers in the Crown Family PlayLab. We learned all about the difference between dinos and reptiles, read a few story books, and shook our sillies out by dancing and roaring! Mondays and Fridays for the month of June I will be spending time as an intern in the PlayLab, an interactive family space where visitors can touch and play with everything. I dug for dinosaur bones, picked corn in the pueblo playground, made moon journals in the Arts Studio, and dressed up like a few woodland creatures – all before noon!
Being able to split my time between the education and exhibits departments is giving me a good idea of how specialized different areas of a large museum can be. With exhibits on the fourth floor and education in the basement, many aspects of institutional life separate the two areas of the museum. With over 25 departments in the Field, it is understandable that each area has their own individual duties. And yet, both have similar overarching goals. They both seek to educate, to communicate, and to give the visitor an unforgettable experience.
Many parents come to the PlayLab with their children and ask if it is “just a play area”. “Just” a play area?! Play is essential to a child’s learning. The ability to run, jump, skip, dress up, color, create, bang, bounce, and dig is important for a child’s development and social interaction. When I meet a four year old whose favorite person in the world is Sue the T-Rex and wants to be a paleontologist when she grows up, I know that we are doing something right.
Both of my parents are teachers and for a long time I thought that teaching in a school was my only option. As I researched work in non-traditional educational institutions, such as museums, libraries, and cultural centers, I found other paths to learning. Museums and spaces like the PlayLab allow children to explore without the boundaries of a classroom. Multiple intelligences are utilized in unique ways as our youngest visitors get to explore the Field from a pint-size perspective. Gardner would be proud!
Today, a child asked me why I would want to be a teacher in a museum. Without really thinking, I simply stated that to me, museums are like giant classrooms – they represent the world around us – and I wanted to spend everyday helping kids like him see the world. Here I was, seeking experiences to help me find clarification for my life’s path and a 4 year old helped me find the answer. Remarkable. Further proof that sometimes you need to spend a morning digging in the dirt!