The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is targeted for children ages 0-10, which means parents or caregivers are always present. We are not a drop-off facility. One of the fun things Museum playworkers and other families get to observe is how those parents and caregivers interact with the exhibits as well.
We have found there to be three types of adults in our space:
This parent or caregiver has children with them who are old enough to handle themselves safely and can be trusted to enjoy the Museum space with minimal supervision. This adult has a book or their phone or some work. They might sit at a table in the “cafe” area while their kiddos enjoy the Mankato Clinic Tree of Forts. Or they enjoy the shade on a bench in the Dotson Back 40 while the kids in their care explore the water play station. This person might come at the same time each week, using the Museum as a way for them to get a bit of a break while the little ones get out their energy. This caregiver allows children to explore and learn without constant supervision, which promotes a sense of curiosity and instills confidence.
This parent or caregiver casually participates in the exhibits with the children in their care by watching the show at the Lauri Kuch Memorial Stage, being the customer at the Grow It Gallery cafe or the bank, saying, “Oh, wow!” when asked to, “Look at me!” This person might follow the kids around, keeping their distance while keeping a keen eye, but mostly enjoying the Museum through the enjoyment of those in their care. This caregiver provides a safety net for kids who might need help with harder things or kids who have never been to the space before and need some encouragement to explore.
This parent or caregiver enjoys every exhibit matching the enthusiasm of the children in their care. Their kids can be any age–and so can they! This person will operate the crane in Dig It!. They will create their own project in Cecil’s Imagineering Loft. They will crawl around on the floor of the Infant and Toddler Play Porch and squish their hands in delight in the Mud Kitchen. This caregiver is all-in for the activity and excitement. Kids in the care of the Player are delighted by their grown-ups’ involvement and learn new skills by observation.
All types of these parents and caregivers are welcome in the Museum. Most exciting? We’ve found the same person plays a different role on different days, depending on their situation at the time. Each type of adult offers benefits to the space and the creativity of the children in their care. (And the ones not in their care, too! Secretary Hillary Clinton famously said, “There’s no such thing as other people’s children.”) All types are good, but let’s look at the specific benefits of being the Player, both in the Museum space and at home.
Adults engage in active play in two ways: with children and without children.
Benefits exist for both independent activities and family activities and should be pursued as often as possible. It’s common for caregivers to assume there’s no time for play, but in fact, play is almost as vital to their well-being as it is to the kids’. Play reminds hard-working adults that life is fun. Whether play is pursued spontaneously or scheduled weekly, everybody wins.
Play With Kids
- Helps caregivers get to know kids better: Playing together is one of the best ways for adults to learn what the kids in their care enjoy. The children might have a new interest and want to read about it. Adults might find the connections established during play increases trust and opens lines of communication.
- Encourages adults to try something new: Kids have almost no ego, so they are far more likely to use their imaginations and let loose. Even better? They will bring their caregivers right along with them!
- Strengthens the bond between kids and caregivers: Engaging in active play together is so much more impactful than just being together. Emotional connections are made through discovery, humor, tenderness, and more.
- It’s easy: The kids more or less tell the adults what to do. No creativity needed. Caregivers just need to remember to say yes.
Play Without Kids
Engaging in play independently or with other adults can be harder for people to make time for, which is a shame, because it offers caretakers and all adults a respite from responsibility. Taking time to play provides connection to the carefree experience of childhood. Play also is shown to improve brain function, reduce stress, increase energy, develop or improve social skills, boost creativity and more!
Here are some tips to get going:
- Schedule it. While spontaneity can be the spice of life, it’s less than reliable. Assigning time in a calendar for play guarantees your availability. This doesn’t mean play shouldn’t also be whimsical and impromptu, but those moments can be considered extra.
- Remember childhood. If the idea of play sounds intimidating and wildly unstructured, people can rely on their past. Activities, sports, hobbies, and pastimes from childhood likely still motivate and inspire. Kids who liked climbing trees and building forts become adults who like rock-climbing and camping. Kids who rode their bikes for hours become adults who ride their bikes for hours! Finding those connections can be the key to getting some play time while still feeling “like a grown-up.”
- Embrace childhood. Forget the above paragraph! Adults are allowed to engage in childlike activities for fun. Coloring in color books, sculpting with Play-doh, skateboarding, basically anything that distracts from stress and pressure are on the table.
- Make it social. Play can aid in relationship development and in mending emotional or workplace conflict. Joining team sports or solving puzzles with a group can change the mindset and focus of a group. Members will improve cooperation, release tension, and even increase job or life performance.
- Keep it private. Play can be similar to meditation, where it can focus a person into the moment, easing the burden of the constantly moving mind. Sharing everything on social media has taken away the intrinsic motivation of pure joy. The focus shifts to validation when an activity is shared online.
- Be excited. Whether trying something new or sticking to an old favorite, adults who engage in play need to remember it’s supposed to be fun. No one should do things they think they’re supposed to find fun or exciting, they should do things they DO find fun and exciting. What’s amazing for one person–surfing, for example–might be terrifying for someone else. People should take the time to find out what they love and then do it. As often as possible.