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Story 03: Birth of Playspace

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Sidebar: Playspace - Kids Play & Parents Learn

Written by Jeri Robinson

I knew from the beginning that this wasn't just about kids. It was as much about the parents as it was about the kids. And sometimes it was more about the parents. Because if we did things for them, then we knew vicariously their children would flourish as a result.

Jeri Robinson, Growing Up in the Museum, November 2005

Playspace has been so important in terms of being able to watch families grow, and to get inside visitors' heads.

I remember once sitting in Playspace with another mother who was watching her toddler go up and down the slide, time and time again. I watched the mother's body language and noticed her getting more and more puzzled by what was going on. I sat down with her and learned that she thought the child had some kind of retarded behavior, because she was doing the same thing over and over again.

So we sat there and watched together. I was able to help her watch the child's body language change, to realize that this child was really mastering going up and doing the slide fifty different times. And that each time the child went up and came down she would watch other children and she would try it a little differently. The child's body language was changing. You could just see the power growing in this little, tiny being. By the end of that twenty-minute interlude, the mother began to understand that repetitive behavior is a strength, a sign of learning, and not a sign that there is something wrong.

I realized again how little parents often understand about normal development. If we hadn't taken advantage of the moment and the mother hadn't been comfortable enough to say what was on her mind, she would have probably stopped her child any time she tried to do something more than twice for fear that the child was getting into a rut versus being able to understand that there was real learning going on.

Jeri Robinson, Excerpted from Philadelphia Stories Interviews, May 1995

I remember being at "my museum,— The Children's Museum, in Playspace, which is a really wonderful early childhood space. It was one of those seminal experiences that took me a step back from being an administrator and a museum professional. I was there as a parent.

My daughter Emma was playing. She was a toddler.

She was just playing and I was doing the parental thing: talking to other parents, getting engaged about what they did as parents. I guess I wasn't noticing that Emma was walking up and down on this ramp about 100 times. As a typical parent, I was looking at my watch and I said to myself, "Okay, it's time to go.—

Then Jeri Robinson came over to me and said, "Look, in the past five minutes she's just learned to navigate this little ramp.— Then I was reminded to sit and watch what is a very simple learning process. But it was a real moment where Emma learned a real skill within the course of about fifteen minutes.

I think parents tend to miss those moments because they think what they're seeing is boring behavior, but really this repetition is what kids need to learn. From then on I looked at repetitive behaviors differently. I began to watch them for their progression—and they're little changes over time—rather than for being more boring moments that I can't stand to watch.

Eleanor Chin, excerpted from Philadelphia Stories Interviews, May 1995

Next: Sidebar: Afterthoughts by Robie Harris