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Story 03: Birth of Playspace

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Sidebar: Playspace - Take 2 (1979-1982)

Written by Jeri Robinson

In its new Museum Wharf location, Playspace was really beginning to gel. The familiar Castle and Slide were still focal points. The earth tone color scheme was carried through on the new, lower wall and gate. Carpeted areas and modular seating had become standard. Even the congestion caused by a location near the museum's front entrance seemed familiar. The museum was now open to the general public in the mornings when parents and young preschoolers found it most convenient to visit.

A few significant new components were added to the 1979 Playspace model. The Parent Resource Room was developed in the fall of 1981 to put informational materials where the users were. Teacher and parent training programs were now an important part of Playspace, and it was desirable to eliminate the need to be constantly running back and forth to the museum's Resource Center library. As Playspace grew busier, the Parent Room could provide a quiet area for reading, resting, nursing or small group activities without separating parents from kids who wanted to continue playing.

Playspace 2 audience was not only growing larger, it was growing younger. In recognition of the fact that all under-fives are not alike, a forerunner of the present Baby Pit was designed to separate the crawlers from the toddlers. Finally, large explanatory graphics at the exhibit entrance provided a necessary introduction to the exhibit and its purpos

Onward and Upward
Playspace 2 also revealed problems that would have to be addressed in making the transition to Playspace 3. Some of the issues were:

  • Location: To alleviate congestion and encourage visitors to tour more of the museum, it was decided to move the future Playspace up to the third floor where it would be encountered toward the middle of the visit. We solved one problem and created another when parents lugging babies and/or strollers up several flights of stairs found new the location inconvenient.
  • Crowd control: Overcrowding was partially alleviated by the new third floor location and a new schedule. First and second grade classes would no longer be booked into Playspace. Groups larger than ten were required to make a reservation; no groups were booked into times of heavy individual family use.
  • Respite: The staff had observed that a family's museum visit was often terminated due to the fatigue or discomfort of its oldest or youngest member. If visitors could be provided with a place to rest for a bit, or to feed and change babies, perhaps everyone could enjoy a longer visit. We thought that bathrooms incorporating lounging and nursery facilities would not be a satisfactory solution because we wanted this respite to be part of the museum experience. To encourage the respite concept and a more peaceful "tone" to the exhibit, Playspace 3 would be moved from its high traffic location. Exhibit seating and the Parent Room would also encourage break time. The staff would try to match appropriate activities to the energy levels for the toddlers' and parents' day.
  • Parent expectations: Many parents, feeling the pressure to raise "Superbaby," were looking to the museum for answers. Resource information in the Parent Room was selected to represent many shades of opinion. It encouraged parents to learn from their children, each other and a variety of sources rather than expecting "solutions" from the Playspace staff.
  • Staffing: Playspac attracted frequent repeat visitors. The staff as well as the audience felt the need for continuity of personnel. Playspace experimented with several staffing alternatives to the museum procedure of rotating interpreters throughout the exhibits on an hourly basis.

Next: Sidebar: Playspace - Take 3 (1982-)