By Alix Tonsgard, MS, Early Learning Specialist, DuPage Children’s Museum
It’s that time of year: school has ended, children are bouncing off the walls, and parents are already counting down the days until the next school year begins.
Recently, when I had some time in between projects, I decided to take a play break in the Museum. At this particular moment the Museum was buzzing with life. Children of all ages, from the newest newborns to teens, as well as mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers of all varieties were sharing unique individual experiences. But as I sat and played with assorted kiddos, I observed their caregivers, and it was clear that there was a collective shared experience happening as well. Amidst the symphony of excited shrieks and giggles, vocal protests, meltdowns, and material negotiations, caregivers all around me were exchanging glances and words that communicated “I feel your pain.”
Anyone with children or who works with children of any age is feeling the effects of release from an entire school year of having to sit, follow directions, and focus attention. And even though we love our children dearly, and every spring we know it’s coming, this time of the year is hard. As I sit here and watch these sympathetic exchanges, I reflect on one of my favorite things about DCM; it is not just for the children.
Yes, we intentionally design our exhibits to stimulate children to come create, explore, experience, actively problem-solve, play, and learn. And yes, a key part of our educational philosophy is that social interactions (both with adults and peers) support the learning, which is why we train our staff to help facilitate the play.
But we also know that being a caregiver is hard and that having the ability to go somewhere where your child can run free while being surrounded by other adults that get it is powerful. I love this about DCM. I love that people come here to connect with friends or make new connections. I love that people feel safe coming here when they feel that as an adult they need a break. The ability to connect, engage, and feel supported by other adults is crucial in surviving parenthood, and the fact that we can serve as a space for that to occur makes me just as proud of my organization as all of the learning experiences that it inspires for little ones does.
I will leave you with one thing to consider though – the next time you are sympathizing with another adult over the summer struggle or are desperate to get out of the house, take a moment to empathize with your child. We are asking a lot from them all year long and their behavior is often telling us that they need our support to manage this tricky transition.
The ability to sit, focus, and follow directions is directly tied to brain development. Their brains are working in overdrive to do these things in addition to processing, trying to make sense of, and storing academic information. During the school year there often tend to be more structured and consistent routines, things that make little ones feel safe and secure. When you remove some of these systems, it can leave children feeling out of control. This time of the year is just as hard for them but for different reasons.
Alix Tonsgard is the Early Learning Specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum. She holds an MS in Child Development from the Erikson Institute. Acting as the Museum’s advocate for early childhood development and learning, she ensures that the latest research in Early Childhood Education is represented in all Museum exhibits, professional development initiatives, and public programs.