Besides being an educator for the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I am also a mom. I know all too well what it is like to be unsure of oneself as a parent. That is one of the reasons we have set up our programs with the parent in mind. We want to encourage your confidence as a parent and, as your child’s first teacher.
One of the ways we do this is by encouraging one-on-one interaction during the museum visit. Often we ask parents to lead simple activities in the galleries that are open-ended and encourage observation and conversation. For example, we might ask infant/toddler parents to find all the boats in a gallery space or simply describe an object. If it seems odd to talk about having conversations with your little one, remember recent research is making direct correlations between how much a parent talks to their child and their literacy.
Preschooler families might be asked to create a story or make a list of questions they have about an object. In both of these scenarios, we are encouraging independent thinking, literacy and providing time for you and your child to learn together. It is also giving the parent practice having open-ended conversations and ideas of how to use museums when there is not an educator around.
All of our classes include a classroom component, where teachers have carefully thought out and prepared art projects, dramatic play areas and sensory experiences. The classroom experience is less structured and gives you and your child time to explore their interests. In order to help our parents make the most of their time, we make the following suggestions:
1. Let your child choose the activity and how long they want to stay at that activity.
2. There is really no wrong way to do something – let them be creative and get dirty.
3. If they are frustrated, ask them if they want help. Otherwise, let them solve the problem on their own.
4. While you observe your infant, narrate what they are doing. Ask older children about what they are doing or why they made certain choices.
With these guidelines, parents can feel confident that they are giving their child autonomy and encouraging their interests. They are also giving them space to figure out problems on their own – this will lead to more confidence.
Are there things that you struggle with as a parent when participating in classes with your child? Let us know, we would be happy to help.