By Maggie Ewing,
AmeriCorps Museum Educator
“Can an adult sit on this?” I’m walking through Bone Zone when a visitor catches my attention and gestures to his granddaughter, who’s riding a bicycle alongside a skeleton. He laughs, pointing out the skeleton’s pedaling leg bones. “Oh, yeah,” I tell him, “it’s strong enough.” His question expresses a big lesson of my year as an AmeriCorps Museum Educator at Providence Children’s Museum: play is important for kids, but given the chance, grown-ups want to play, too.
While we’ve recently heard news about structured activities encroaching on kids’ free play time, the view at Providence Children’s Museum is of kids playing constantly. It’s easy, in the Museum environment, to see what play does for kids. Through play, they learn self-confidence, problem solving and other new skills. Working with kids at the Museum, I’ve learned a lot, too: about making time for fun, taking delight in simple things, and thinking in new ways. In short, I’ve learned to play again — and kids have taught me how.
Making space for children to play is a big part of my job. I’ve learned to act goofy to make them comfortable with their own goofiness, ask questions and make mistakes to encourage their curiosity and experimentation. I’ve rediscovered a long-forgotten part of myself that really believes that the cashier charging me $1,000 per plantain in Fefa’s Market actually means it, or that a tiny village will be washed away when a dam breaks in Water Ways. As I facilitate play for children, they put me at ease with my own playfulness.
I see other adults playing at the Museum every day. In Water Ways, a grandma holds her hands under the waterfall and exclaims, “It’s like liquid glass! It feels so cool and soft!” A mom gets absorbed in a particularly tricky bridge challenge in Iway, and a game of I’m-gonna-get-you in the Littlewoods cave brings as bright a grin to dad’s face as to daughter’s. Like me, these grown-up visitors have learned to embrace their playfulness.
Playing with kids lets me see them at their best: I’ve laughed with them, engaged with them in a low-stress way, and learned what they think and like. And play has benefits for me just as it does for kids — I know I have better days when I take time to notice that my annoyance at a friend makes me feel like a roaring dinosaur!
Working at the Children’s Museum this year has taught me to look at ordinary things with fanciful eyes, find the silliness in every situation and celebrate my playfulness. I’ll always remember that play is not just for kids.
Providence Children’s Museum will be closed September 2 – October 27 to install Play Power and complete renovations to its historic building, including the replacement of all exterior windows. The Museum will reopen October 28 at 9 AM. Visit www.childrenmuseum.org for more information about these exciting changes!