by MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Think of a time your child surprised you when they were very young. Did they manage to crawl out of their crib all by themselves? Did they have a new way of stacking your pots and pans after a kitchen jam session? Did they ask a question that sounded like the musings of a philosopher? Children are full of surprises, especially in early childhood, so it’s no surprise that at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, we are constantly astounded by the discoveries, insights, and aha moments that our young guests bring to life while engaging with our exhibits and programs.
But when we look a little closer, we shouldn’t be so surprised. Children are born into this world prepared to figure it out – from learning their native language to internalizing the rules of gravity, they are primed and ready to make observations, ask questions, test their ideas, and develop solutions to the problems they encounter. They are hardwired from birth to explore their world using the same practices as professional scientists and engineers.
Children also have a natural inclination to play! Play is an evolutionary tool for learning social skills, tinkering with the physical world, and building an understanding of the people and things around us. What may look like just simple play to an adult can often be a rich learning experience for a child. Play is inherently rewarding. It is fun, often social, and can lead to exciting new discoveries.
Unfortunately, this innate propensity for play, curiosity, creativity, and exploration is often sidelined in school as teachers are required to focus on academic achievement that can be measured by standardized test scores. The emphasis on reading and math leaves little time for children to explore at their own pace or pursue their own curiosities; practices which are much more similar to the way scientists and engineers learn and make discoveries in their work.
A scientist encountering a new phenomenon may spend months or years investigating, testing, and exploring before developing a deep understanding and explanation of what they have found. And yet we often expect children encountering a scientific phenomenon for the first time to develop a conceptual understanding through direct instruction, demonstration, or memorization. This type of learning may be rewarded through test scores and other conventional measures, but it does not guarantee that a student will grow to be a creative critical thinker and problem solver – skills vitally important in our ever-changing world.
As a parent, we often want to guide our child’s play towards a focused learning goal or provide instructions to direct them to a successful outcome. Instead, in this column, we will suggest strategies and provide tools focused on engaging your child in using their natural instincts for making sense of the world around them – the same strategies and tools we use to spark learning with guests at MOXI. Your child was born to explore. By supporting them as they develop and improve their skills of exploration through creative play you can keep that spark of curiosity alive in your child – and yourself!
This month at MOXI:
MOXI is open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Toddler Tuesdays: Tuesdays, April 9-30; 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Afterparty@MOXI (21+): Friday, April 12, 7 – 10 p.m.
Members-Only Early Entry: Saturday, April 13; 8:30 – 10 a.m.
Innovation Workshop Activities themed around Fiber + Textile Handicrafts all month long!