Boston Children’s Museum is loud. Kids are noisy and the Museum has a lot of them – 500,000 people fill the museum with their voices every year. Shouts, laughter, complaints, sobs, questions. That is a lot of noise. I was recently asked to write a blog post and, sitting at my desk adjacent to an exhibit, it can be difficult to wax philosophical about museum education over the rumble of so many voices. But, whenever I feel this way, that the noise of play is an impediment to work, I try to catch myself. Behind every sound is a story. And hearing a good story changes you. And so I stop trying to squeeze out the distractions and listen to what the Museum has to say.
As Culture and Performing Arts Educator responsible for the music programs here, I think a lot about sound and how children express themselves with it. Through concerts, classes, workshops, activities, and other programs, we encourage visitors not only to express themselves creatively, but also to take joy in the creative expressions of others. Much of our programs are oriented around being a good audience member – not in the sense of sitting still, facing forward, and being quiet – but rather in being an eager and engaged participant in exchanging stories. We encourage visitors to listen to, take aesthetic pleasure in, and be emotionally engaged to the stories of others. This has significant implications regarding emotional health, social skills, and cultural competency. Listening is how we show a sensitivity to someone else’s experience and how we learn about one another. It empowers people to be more thoughtful producers and recipients of each other’s stories. If we can do that – encourage young children to take pleasure in and be emotionally connect to the stories of others – that will go a long way towards laying a strong foundation for empathy-building and perspective-taking.
Behind every sound is a story. And hearing a good story changes you. So the next time I sit down to write a blog post, I’ll make a point not to block out the ambient noise, but to listen to a few of the 500,000 voices that echo through the Museum each year in the hope that I might be changed by what I learn. That I might hear a new story and be a different person for having heard it.