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Story 03: Birth of Playspace

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January 1978

Written by Jeri Robinson

During December and January few new decisions were made. It was nearly impossible to get everyone together for a meeting. The holidays, vacations, fund raising trips, etc., kept us at a standstill. And each new meeting only added an additional person who needed to be brought up to date.

As Wharf discussions continued, Before You Were Three began showing up as an exhibit, yet no one, least of all me, was really able to define it. I felt pressured, feeling we were putting the cart before the horse, in talking about an exhibit that was still only a few untried ideas that still only existed on scraps of yellow paper. I had never developed a new exhibit before, and felt uncomfortable about tackling it this way. In our original understanding the day- or weekend-long temporary exhibit would have given Robie and I the chance to try things out. But now I was being asked to make decisions about how much space this exhibit needed, etc.

As I looked at the existing exhibit ideas, I began to question whether we really had an exhibit or not. Our program had been developed similar to the Great Pets Day concept with activities dispersed all over the museum. Would it be possible to somehow join these together in a coherent exhibit? Did they even make sense as an exhibit?

So far, Robie and I had agreed that we would like to try to work with the following concepts:

  • A Giant Crib where children could see the view they had as infants of the world. The crib would be equipped with an oversized busy box, mobile, teddy bear, blanket and cradle gym. Exactly how this would be constructed or programmed was unclear, but we wanted to build it so we could see what kids or adults would do..
  • Walking. I wanted to develop some kind of maze that would help kids simulate the various stages of walking. This again would be costly. Robie wanted to try something using photos from the book and text that included directions and suggested movements to get kids involved. We also thought of trying to get someone in who could do movement or improvisation to help kids act out the various stages of walking.
  • Talking and Feelings. Both remained areas of interest. Tackling the subject of feelings was an enormous task; the museum was already interested in doing a major exhibit on it. Since feelings develop in infancy and toddlerhood, it would fit in well here, but we hadn't thought beyond that. We felt we could handle the subject of talking through tapes. By taping children of different ages and at various developmental stages, the listener would be able to get an auditory idea of how speech progresses from gurgles to actual words. For older children and parents, the importance of language development would be stressed through additional programs and projects including selected readings and activities to foster language development.

Other areas considered for the exhibit were a "baby play area" equipped with all types of paraphernalia such as changing tables, baby carriers, high chairs, strollers, etc., that could be used for dramatic play; an area where parents could talk about their babies to kids or, as we sometimes called it, the "live baby exhibit" area. This activity had been quite successful when it had happened in the existing "Resting for Infants and Toddlers Only" area.

We considered using other areas of the museum as well. Installing an exhibit of "comforters" in the front intro cases, as well as baby and adult pictures of celebrities so that kids could see some "famous" people when they were infants.

But were these ideas really an exhibit that would teach anything about early development? They were all we had to go on. It seemed to be a pleasant mixture of activities but what would it really teach and to whom?

Next: February 1978