Life Lessons from Children in PlaySpace

Emily Meiji Yue

Boston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. Look for articles each month about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, and about how children learn in the Museum, here is a reflection from Emily, a researcher at MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab:

As an undergraduate researcher at MIT’s Play Lab, I have the pleasure of working with children 1-2 years old at the Museum. In my particular study, I’m looking at what children assume about a group of objects based on what they know about just a small sample of that group. Week after week, as I roam PlaySpace looking for children to participate in my study and enlighten me to the intricacies of their developing minds, I love seeing children enthusiastically exploring the world around them with a curiosity that seems to dwarf mine in comparison.

PlaySpace is a small world unto itself. Children enter the exhibit, running, toddling, or crawling, as quickly as their legs will allow. In the house at the back of the exhibit, the sound of the doorbell (to me as mundane as the sound of a telephone) is constantly ringing and letters are continuously being sent and received by these friendly visitors. To them getting a turn to drive the car or push the shopping cart is a privilege greatly to be desired. Parents have a hard time tearing their children away to go home, or even to have lunch or change their diapers. I find myself asking, “When was the last time that I was so excited about the little things in life?”

I have seen children sit and watch the fish lazily swim by in their tank, and I wondered, “When was the last time that I stopped to enjoy the unadulterated beauty of the world around me?”

I have seen children immerse themselves in the activities at the (appropriately named) Messy Sensory area without any self-conscious regard for how they looked, their little faces covered in paint, or their arms up to the elbows in shaving cream. When was the last time that I dared to do what I liked without caring how I might appear to others?

I have seen 3-year-olds at the train table picking up trains and giving them to babies they don’t know, babies who are barely old enough to walk, let alone understand what toy trains are. When was the last time that I gave so generously and selflessly?

Here at Boston Children’s Museum there are new things to be learned for everyone, from the smallest baby in PlaySpace to the researcher standing at the door, and I have learned more than I thought I would when I first started my study at the Museum. From the small sampling of people I have witnessed I have seen excitement about life, appreciation of the world, freedom and daring to follow one’s heart, and acts of kindness toward others; generalizing the characteristics of this small group of people to those of all humankind, I believe the world will be a wonderful place.

And it still makes me smile when I see the look of pure wonder on the face of a child enraptured by floating bubbles.

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