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Story 03: Birth of Playspace

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Sidebar: Afterthoughts by Robie Harris

Written by Jeri Robinson

Excerpts from a memorandum to Jeri, Elaine, Janet, and others, May 2, 1978 (one week after the exhibit opened)

The thing that impressed me most about those nine non-stop days were the interactions that took place among the people who came to see the exhibit. It helped us understand better how people think about the first three years of life.

When parents participated in the exhibit with their kids, they immediately started talking about their kids' accomplishments in their first three years. Most parents remember their young children as being very competent. They would say, "You learned to walk and took your first steps, and we were so proud of you and excited when you did that, and you were at Grandma Millie's. When you said your first word, you did it so well and so quickly." Parents have a sense of pride in their children's early development, which they communicated to their kids.

Parents stood all around the crib while visitors of all ages (from one-month-old babies to grandparents) were in it, and talk with one another. Who knows whether they were talking about the long lines outside the museum or the fact that their toddler was very tired, or whether they were reading the signs above the crib and beginning to talk about development, but there was a nice sense of camaraderie. This happened not only with women, but with men, too.

When we asked parents to sit on our "Ask the Experts" rug, hardly anyone turned us down. The parents ranged from being very good to superb conveyors of information about development. Sometimes we had five or six parents sitting with their infants. It gave parents a sense of status, albeit fleeting (five to ten minutes), about the job they had. Some parents did it for two hours.

People felt comfortable enough in the exhibit and in the museum environment to open up. A mother who had not been to the museum before, came with her two-month-old baby and toddler sibling. She sat down and immediately began to talk about the fact that she was feeling very upset about her new baby, (none of this was elicited by anyone in the exhibit). She had quit her job and given her toddler all of her attention and this child was now very advanced, etc. But now she had a new baby, and because she has two children, she can't give her new baby half the attention that she gave her other child. Would this new baby be OK? The guilt and concern she felt! We talked about the fact that this new baby was not just getting attention from her, but was getting attention and learning from the older sibling, and that no two children in the family are alike, their experiences are different, but they all seem to balance out one way or another. Other parents joined in with similar feelings.

This kind of situation happened maybe fifteen or twenty times during the week—sometimes in great detail, sometimes just a fleeting question. It happened with a nursery school teacher who had a young student who would have a tantrum every time the parent came to pick her up. She wouldn't want to go home. The teacher wanted to know what it meant. She also told us that the tantrums were diminishing, and we told her that it sounded like she was doing a very good job. But we asked if there was anybody in her profession whom she could talk to about this child and what was going on. Had she checked out the home? Turns out there was a social worker she could talk to, but it never occurred to her to talk to her, so she went home with that piece of information.

Many fleeting moments of people needing support in the jobs that they were doing with children. How do you support the adults who are with children, be it parents or professionals, teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors in the field—all those hundreds of professionals who are dealing with children?

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