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Re: Unimaginative Kids...



I volunteer in the Discovery Room at the Smithsonian's Natural
History musem (which actually lacks any dinosaur stuff, but we won't
go there this morning ;) ).

I think in general, kids are full of wonder, curiosity and
imagination - you just have to know how to key into it, which is
incredibly easy (any little weird or gross tidbit draws them in and
just let them start asking questions from there).  The hard part is
breaking through to some of the parents, who are just looking for a
place to sit down after their kids have dragged them through the
museums all day.

The Discovery Room (DR) has all sorts of wonderful stuff for patrons
to handle, mostly various rocks/minerals/rock formations, taxidermied
animals, and anthropological "stuff".  When I bring down the stuffed
porcupine and start to go through my spiel, kids will zoom from all
corners of the room to listen and then pet him and ask questions.  If
we open up the box of "Toys Around the World" and demonstrate great
old-fashioned toys (Jacobs' Ladders, puzzle games, etc), eyes are
wide and you hear a resounding chorus of "oh cool!", and the Game
Boys are tossed aside for these decidedly low-tech toys. And they all
stand in awe of the polar bear, first tentatively petting him, then
touching his claws, then finally hugging his legs and standing in
front of him for pictures.  And telling kids the Insect Zoo has
tarantual feedings every hour generally has them dragging their
parents out of the room so they can go see.

However, I have had so many parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc.
try to treat the DR like it's day care.  While the DR staff answer
questions and have our own little areas of expertise or
demonstrations, the idea is to have parents sit down with their kids
and learn WITH them.  So after that's established , they come up and
complain that there aren't any interactive computer screens to touch
(as opposed to, say, interacting with the big hunk of magnetite and
all the paper clips and bottle caps we have scattered all over it or
playing some of our African/South American musical instruments).  

Granted, I think with the Smithsonian this phenomenon tends to be
exaggerated.  After you started at Air and Space in the morning, hit
the National Gallery sculpture garden/ice skating rink, and then run
over to Natural History, your average adult is foot-sore and more
tired than the kids, who are refreshed after sitting down for 15
minutes and eating lunch, or who have been carried by obliging
adults.  Some adults just aren't into museums and extracurricular
learning, and whether we like it or not, they are the ones who take
the children from one place to another.

Overall, I tend to blame disinterested parents over disinterested
kids - even the most jaded, Nintendo-playing kid finds something that
will interest him or her within five minutes.  Kids are usually
begging to stay and the parents are usually taking them away for one
reason or another.  This isn't the norm, but I'd say a good 25% of
our patrons are like this.  What's heartening is a different 25% are
wonderful with their kids, pointing out cool stuff and encouraging
them to learn as much as they can.  We even have our "regulars",
where the kid zooms straight to his favorite activity every time he
or she comes in.  My favorite family, though, was the one from a few
years ago where the father worked for United Airlines.  At least one
weekend a month he would take his family for trips to different
cities to see different museums or cultural attractions!  I told the
kids that even if they didn't realize how lucky they were now, they
would when they were about 20 or so ;)

There's also one more problem - sometimes the people who are supposed
to work with the kids don't actually want to be there.  I love kids -
their honesty and willingness to learn always puts a smile on my
face.  I listen to their questions, and try to encourage them to ask
as many as they can.  But I have had more than one parent say to me
"It's so nice to have someone work in a kid-friendly room that
acutally LIKES and understands children."  The first time I heard
that I was startled - it never occurred to me that you'd work or
volunteer in museum exhibits (as opposed to the research wings) if
you didn't like (or at least tolerate) people, especially children.

Anyway, that's my take on kids...

Toni Geoly
Falls Church, VA

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