Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Motivation: The train table

The Toddler and Preschool room at the Children’s Museum is a bright and attractive place. No children under three were allowed in the space and the attendant at the door ensured that no children could leave without an adult. The entire room is constructed to 'kidscale'; this rather short adult felt like a giant as I towered over the climbing area, car, water table, and open carpet reading area. Perhaps because even the most petite adults felt ungainly in the space, most parents and caregivers chose to sit in the adult sized chairs lining the margins of play area Unique in that it was the only area we observed where there weren’t hovering parents trying to manage children’s play.

Scenario 1: Tiger vs. Train
I observed the train table where I watched children, mostly toddlers, negotiate the tiny train cars along the track. All but one of the children that I observed at the train table were boys. The first child I watched was a boy wielding a plastic tiger (I'll call him tiger-boy)who was trying to derail the train of another child (I'll call him train-boy). When the train-boy screeched at tiger-boy, the caregiver of the train-boy came over and scolded him for screeching, while the mother of tiger-boy calmly redirected her child without telling him not to attack other kids' toys. The boy who had been scolded abandoned the train while the kid with the tiger grabbed a second toy, a lion, and proceeded to bang them on the train cars. The reactions of both caregivers in this situation really bothered me. Both boys were engaging in play that was fun for them, but when the play of the train-boy was disrupted by what tiger-boy was doing, train-boy cried, either because he was angry or wanted help. Instead of being supported, he was 'shushed' and left the train table. I do think that tiger-boy's caregiver should have corrected her child or asked him to apologize to train-boy. I doubt train-boy understood why he was being scolded, and though he looked like he was having fun at the train table, he was no longer motivated to play there after this interaction.

Scenario 2: The Rules of Attraction

This boy (I'll call him magnet-boy) was adding and adding and adding train cars together but wasn’t pushing them. He seemed most interested that the magnets stick the cars together and kept adding as many cars as he could find from other parts of the train table. He was soon joined by another child (I'll call him tunnel-boy) and they engaged in parallel play for a while. While they both seemed somewhat interested in what the other child was doing, they were each more focused on their own explorations. Tunnel-boy put together a string of cars and pushed them toward the tunnel. Instead of pushing the cars through the tunnel, he picked up each individual car and placed it on the opposite side of the tunnel. Whether or not he understood that he could have pushed the cars through the tunnel, I don't know, but he was engrossed in his activity as he very carefully picked up each car and placed it on the opposite side of the tunnel. Both boys seem more interested in sticking the cars together than moving them. They repeated these activities again and again at different parts of the table. It was not evident which adults were the parents of these children, though the boys did not seem to know one another.

The time on task for both of these children was BY FAR the longest of any I observed that day. They both seemed to be succeeding in the tasks that they had set for themselves. They were given the space to make sense of their environment and adapt to it and appeared to be happy and engaged throughout. Ormond reminds us that "Learners are happy when they succeed. But they also have feelings of pride and satisfaction when they attribute their success to internal causes- for instance, something they themselves have done (p. 204)." Neither boy had an adult swoop in to praise or admonish, to manage or redirect their play and of all of the children I saw at the museum, these two seemed to be having the most authentic play/ learning experience.

For video of the play space, click here.

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