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History of the "Before You Were Three" Project April 1977

Written by Jeri Robinson

April 1977

During the spring vacation week of 1977 the museum cosponsored Great Pets Day to promote the book of the same title. The museum donated the space, and the event expenses (extra staff, materials, consultants) were paid by the publishers.

Several weeks later, Cambridge resident Robie Harris, coauthor along with Elizabeth Levy, of Before You Were Three, a recently published children’s book on early childhood development, came to talk with Elaine Heumann Gurian, director of Visitor Center, and me about the possibility of doing a similar day to promote her book or using the book’s subject matter for an exhibit.

At this time, brainstorming of new exhibits and expanded programs for the Wharf, the proposed new home of the children’s museum, was underway. I had already expressed an interest in developing some kind of exhibit to give child development information to both kids and adults. Initially, it was only a suggestion, based on my experiences with parents and the issues that had arisen while developing programs and working with both the intern staff and the public in the Grownups and Kids area of the museum. (Grownups & Kids was installed in 1971 to provide preschoolers with creative learning experiences involving arts and crafts, science or cooking, and to give their parents ideas for trying similar activities at home using low-cost, easily found materials.) During these sessions questions such as: When will she ever learn to share (in reference to a two year old)?; When will he learn to use scissors? Or comments such as, He has no attention span; His work is always sloppy; or He can’t do it, he doesn’t go to a creative school; were often heard. Exhibit staff, too, often had questions about developmental levels or age appropriateness of activities.

We were all dreaming about our ideal exhibit areas. My dreams included a much larger area for mixed grownups and kids activities. This area would also include a safe environment for infants and toddlers to crawl or play in so they could get out of their back packs and stretch without being run down by older kids. Parents with preschoolers could find here an assortment of homemade games and other materials to use to play with their child. Or scout leaders could find samples and directions for the craft projects that were taught in the space. I wanted to foster parent-child interactions within the museum setting, but felt that there had to be certain environmental and programmatic changes that had to happen before this could take place.

I shared these thoughts with Robie and decided to read her book. I read it and then gave it to an eleven-year-old girl and her five-year-old brother to read. They both liked it very much and tried to do some of the suggested activities such as trying to re-experience the stages of walking from “airplaning” to “cruising” or trying some of the variations of crawling. These children had a two-year-old sister and according to their mother the book had not only given her the opportunity to reminisce about their early lives but also made the children more aware of what their baby sister was experiencing. I learned from Robie that many children had done similar things and that the book had wide appeal. I wanted to work with her in some fashion. The more we talked, the more we agreed: this was a topic that kids would be interested in. We decided to look into the possibility of doing a day around the book, similar to Great Pets Day. Robie thought that her publisher, Delacorte, along with several other people might be willing to fund it.

Robie and I met several more times during the spring to brainstorm ideas for a day based on the topics in Before You Were Three–how children begin to walk, talk, explore and have feelings. Robie went on tour during the summer to promote her book and I began to work on proposed expansion of early childhood services at the Wharf.

Next: October 1977