Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Baby and Toddler Room

This video shows the layout of the room where only children under the age of three were allowed to play.

While observing the young children and caregivers in this babies and toddlers-only designated play area, I noticed vast differences in the ways that the guardians interacted with the children. In two specific scenarios, I saw caregivers speak to their children in drastically different ways. The first interaction I observed was between a young woman and a boy (presumably her son), who was approximately 2-2 1/2 years old. The little boy was playing at the train table, while the woman watched from a close distance. Then the boy started to walk away from the table toward an area where there were no activities or playthings. The woman quickly walked after the boy, and while pointing to the climbing area, said, "Mac, would you like to go over there? Look how fun that looks!" Then she gently grabbed his hand and physically directed him toward the play area. The other interaction I observed was between an older woman and her child, although she seemed to be chaperoning a field trip along with other parents and teachers, because all of the children and teachers were wearing matching lime green t-shirts with the school's insignia. The child was sitting in a chair surrounded by other children, and they seemed to be doing some sort of pretend play. The mother was sitting on a nearby bench watching the children and the teachers were scattered about, also watching. Then the teachers directed all the children into the shaving cream area. The one little boy stayed seated and watched while the other children all went into the other room. After about a minute, his mother got up and walked over to him, saying "Come". The boy didn't move, so the mother grabbed his arm, said "Come" again and dragged him toward the shaving cream area.
The ways in which caregivers interact with their children may have a lasting impact on children's development. In a 2 1/2 year study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, it was shown that children raised in low-income families may hear as many as 30 million less words by the age of three than children raised in high-income families (Hart & Risley, 2003, http://www.nde.state.ne.us/read/ProfessionalDevelopment/HartRisley.pdf). Since I was just a third-party observer at the Children's Museum, I obviously have no context for the two mother's that I described above. However, these two women were markedly different in their interactions with their sons. The first mother used two sentences to explain to hear child that he should go to a different area in the museum. She first asked her son if he would like to go to another play area, and then described it as looking fun, giving her son a chance to be autonomous and make the decision for himself. Then, she gently guided him to the jungle gym area and he willingly followed. In that short moment in which a mother was coaxing her child to play the child heard thirteen words. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the other mother that I observed simply used the word "come" as a command, and then grabbed her son by the arm. The child obviously got the message, but was given no explanation or choice in the decision to go to the shaving cream area. Both mothers got the same outcome, however, the two boys had drastically different learning experiences.

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