As an employee of Boston Children’s Museum who has worked with kids, parents and educators for two decades, I thought I had a clear view of what an “ideal” visit to the Museum should look like. Now that I have a child of my own, I realize that this idealized view, while well-intentioned, was (to be honest) not-quite-realistic. As a new parent who now visits with my almost-two-year-old I have a fresh take on what it means to be a dad with his child at such an active, engaging and sometimes overwhelming place. In future posts to this blog, I will periodically share my perspective as an educator, museum professional and father, and where the needs and goals of these three perspectives converge…and where they are at odds with each other. I’ll also write about how you can bring the Museum experience home, and be the coolest dad (or mom…) on the block.
I would first like to say to all of you who visit our Museum, that you should take care of yourself as well as your children. The most tiring experience I ever had at Boston Children’s Museum was as a parent following my child around for 3 hours as he wandered from exhibit to exhibit (never tiring himself…ah to be young!). I have spent full 8 hour days in the past interacting with children and families, but never felt as drained as I did the first time my son and I came to play together. I have new-found respect for the wranglers, the tinkerers, the players among our visiting parents who give so much of themselves in the interest of their child’s development, learning and engagement. As Museum staff, we idealize the family visit as one in which parents should be engaged at all times, playing with their children, actively asking them questions and challenging them to try new things. The reality is that you, the parents and other adult caregivers, are responsible not just for your child’s engagement, but for their safety, their social development (ex. “Please don’t pour water on your neighbor’s head.”), their schedule (nap time, lunch time, etc.), their health (“Blueberries do not belong in your nose.”) and more. Poopy diaper? Check. Bruised knee? Check. Tantrum number four? Check, check, check, check. In this maelstrom of activity, your energy level will invariably not keep up with that of your child’s. We share the following message with our staff about our adult visitors, so I share it with you as well: when you are in the Museum, play with your child when you can, but sit down when you need to. Take a load off. Share encouragement through nods, a thumbs up, a “go try that”. Recharge your batteries and take care of yourself while your kids play. Then, when you are up for it, get in there and play alongside your child some more. But take care of yourself, because you work very hard as a parent, and a visit to the Museum should be enjoyable not just for your child but for you as well.