Very Busy Toddler

Each time your child visits the museum it’s a brand new experience.

“Treehouse…been there, done that,” you might think after your first or second visit, but not so fast— for kids, the museum experience is never the same.

It’s true! Children are constantly creating new experiential memories that scaffold them to higher thinking. Think of it this way: On one visit, your little one learns how the nuts and bolts work. During their next visit, those very skills help them to build a massive structure in Skyline that you will take a billion pics of and gram the tags #childgenius #futurearchitect #chicagochildrensmuseum.

Studies show that the best way to learn is by making experiential connections.

Take it from me: I can tell my mother how to use Snapchat, but it’s not until she sends me a ton of selfies of her as a puppy…or swapping faces with my dad (seriously, Mom: Enough)—that’s when I know she has learned this new skill.

Play creates the same experiential connections to power amazing brain-building results. Between birth and five, children make more neurological connections than any other time in their lives. If only there was a place designed for children where they could learn through play…oh, wait… There is!

Now that you know all of the amazing benefits of play and experiential learning, let’s take a closer look at some of the exhibits at Chicago Children’s Museum.

Treehouse Trails

Ah! The great outdoors without the bugs and rain. Use all your senses as you explore the trickle of the water from the waterfall. Practice your hand and eye coordination as you catch fish in our stream. Make a delicious meal, and real life connections, as you play in the cabin. Play in the canoe, climb a rope, and go down the slide as you take safe risks…and get out some energy.

Very Busy Toddler Video 1 blog image

Fun Facts (for your next playgroup): Crawling into Reading

Few things make me cringe. While stepping on a rogue Lego with bare feet tops the list, a parent stating that their child skipped crawling and went straight into walking comes in at a close second.

Now let’s get this out of the way: Am I suggesting that children who pass over the crawling phase will never develop properly? NO! I’m not saying that.

I am saying: Crawling is awesome! The simple act of scooting about literally builds the brain structures a child will use their entire life. Many of the same physical skills necessary to successfully crawl are used later on for reading.

The link between crawling and reading

Crawling into reading

Crawling aids in the development of visual skills. When crawling from one place to the next, a baby will use her binocular vision to look ahead and visually determine where she wants to go. Put simply, binocular vision is when the eye alters its focus between distance and up close. This teamwork of eye functions is used in both reading and writing.

The eyes aren’t the only thing working together. Crawling and reading require both sides of your brain to communicate with one another in a movement pattern called Cross Lateral Integration or Bilateral Coordination. These fancy terms refer to crossing the midline of your body. The act of crossing your midline promotes stimulation in the Corpus Callosum (AKA a million of nerve fibers joining the two sides of the brain.) This cooperation between the brain’s two hemispheres is essential for the appropriate development of various skills— including reading and writing.

Crawling into readingAnother essential skill shared by crawling and reading is problem solving. When little ones are learning to crawl they are planning, strategizing, and reflecting. These skills develop so they can navigate around obstacles and create new paths— the same skills later used in reading comprehension!

Do crawlers have a leg up when it comes to academics? While many studies have linked crawling to early proficiency in reading, there are many readers who have never crawled a day in their lives. However, crawling is adorable and if there’s a chance that the simple act of moving about will help your child develop stronger motor and cognitive skills, why not encourage them to linger in the crawling stage?

So the next time you gram an adorable pic of your little one crawling, think bigger than #crawling. Go ahead and share some of these sweet facts with our #CCMfam. Heck, throw in a #ChicagoChildrensMuseum for good measure!

-Ms. Rachel

Q&A with Beth Wilson, Director of Early Learning Initiatives!

If you’ve ever been to the Pritzker Playspace- our exhibit for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, you’ve probably shared a chat and a laugh with Beth.

CCM-Beth-Wilson

What made you interested in early childhood development?
I went into early childhood education because I had been in formal education for elementary education and realized in that program that I wasn’t so much interested in teaching kids what they should know but helping kids grow and develop at their pace and through play, so early childhood is where that fits in.
I think early childhood is so wonderful because you are able to work with children in such a formative stage. It’s a rapid period of growth and development and amazing things happen in the first 8 years of a child’s life. And I am interested in helping children grow into smart, happy, healthy people!

What is something people may not know about the Pritzker Playspace?
Well, what is really great is that the space is set up to be just right for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
The kids are super engaged, in this intimate enclosed space, while parents have great conversations. They know their children are safe, they can see their children and they are playing at the right level for them because there are no big kids in the space. Parents talk with us as facilitators and with each other, and share ideas about parenting. They talk about their birth stories, the issues they are facing and it’s just a really cool community. So it’s much more than just a space to come play, it is a place to connect with other people.
It [the playspace] is really fluid, the kids self-initiate and the families self-initiate. And I think that is what is most surprising, that you may leave having made a friend or gotten a new idea about what to try at home.

Do you have any favorite moments in the playspace?
One of my consistently favorite things is when kids come over and over again and we see them once a week for the first 5 years of their life. We have had several families who have grown up here, who feel a part of it, who come in and tell us about their week. They are excited to play and explore, so that is the best part I think of what you get in the playspace.
Even just today, looking around the space, there were moms talking to each other, nannies talking to each other, I was talking to a dad, just all these great conversations and then I look around and there are like 7 people breast feeding, just so relaxed, so comfortable, their kids are happy. Those are my favorite moments when I look around and think, wow we a really are creating a community here.

You are an early childhood expert and the mom of an awesome 3 year old (with another baby on the way!) is there anything you didn’t feel prepared for when you became a mom?
A part of parenting that was tricky and surprising is just how much emotion you have tied into this relationship with your child and how much you learn about yourself and how much you learn about interaction and your own feelings. So sometimes the things that I “know” given my studies or what the research says is different than what is coming to me naturally because of my own feelings or emotions. It illuminated the complexity of parenting. There are so many grey areas and parents are just really trying to do their best all the time and it’s a really hard and important job.
I think it makes me more thoughtful in my practice. I think as long as you are coming from a place of love and then taking time to reflect, you are going to be an awesome parent!

Moving With Confidence

Mary Sue Reese, Early Learning Program Manager at Chicago Children’s Museum, shares her experiences of watching our youngest visitors taking “safe risks”.

I’m sitting on the floor as I watch a toddler climb onto a tall stool and slowly stand up. She looks like a strong and stable warrior as she makes her ascent to vertical. Her mother, along with every caregiver in the Playspace, watches her perform this feat. As soon as she makes it to standing, she squats down confidently, climbs off the stool and continues to play. 

Baby Stand

There wasn’t a single cry out to “Be careful!” or an outburst of praise after she successfully descended; instead, her mother described why she had chosen only to observe. She explained that it was safer for her child to have the opportunity to challenge her body and master skills. She had observed her daughter practice this skill before and sometimes felt judged when she allowed her child to take similar risks on the playground.

On another occasion I observed a young child attempt to sit in a child-size rocking chair. Her limbs became tangled as she climbed forward on the chair and attempted to maneuver herself around. 

Her mother looked at me and said, “I’m trying really hard not to rescue her. She needs to learn to figure these things out, but it’s so hard to sit and watch!” 

Eventually, the child untangled herself independently and crawled out of the chair. 

I asked, ‘Does she sometimes surprise you with what she is capable of?’ 

The mother responded, “YES! She really does!”

 At Chicago Children’s Museum, even the youngest visitors have opportunities to take safe risks and challenge their growing bodies with the support of confident caregivers and CCM staff. When infants are allowed to move in their own time and in their own way, they explore the many ways their bodies can move without restriction, and toddlers who seek out challenging opportunities are empowered to advance their abilities and gain confidence as independent movers and thinkers.