Welcome to Part Two of A Day in the Life of a Playworker! If you missed Part One, please go back and read it here. We spoke with Guest Experience Manager and Playworker, Wyatt Miller, about what Playwork is, who it’s for, and what their goals are. You don’t want to miss his very insightful thoughts about his important profession.
We left off with a young guest asking for Wyatt’s help with the bank.
“Oftentimes, the door on one side or the other isn’t closed all the way, so the suction doesn’t work,” Wyatt offered as we all walked through the Grow It Gallery on our way to the bank. This wasn’t his first time.
“Oh, I don’t know, we tried that,” the grown-up with the young guest protested.
Wyatt walked into the bank, clicked the door closed, and we all saw the light on the car side turn from red to green.
“Well! Look at that! What did you do?” the grown-up asked, while the young guest pushed the green button with joy, then ran over to the other door to receive the delivery.
“You really have to give it a good push until you hear the click,” Wyatt answered, “It has to signal to the transport system that there’s no chance of a hand inside.”
Everyone beamed. Playworker to the rescue. While child and adult discovered the joys of repetition in play at the bank, Wyatt’s interview continued next to the tractor.
(This interview has been edited for space and clarity.)
CMSM: That was really cool to observe.
WM: Yeah, the bank is a fun one. It’s something kids may have never done before. Everyone knows how a bank works, but kids don’t get to be the one who gets to send the canister across. It’s so fun when you get to see kids when they have control over something versus most of their life.
CMSM: And do you find you have to help or fix things like that a lot?
WM: I will always help when a friend asks, but mostly, they figure it out for themselves or get creative with what is working. As for fixing things, that’s not really my area. We have materials created just for us that are made with these purposes in mind. I mean, if a kid tries hard enough, they can break anything, I suppose.
CMSM: Do things need regular replacing or refurbishing? Some of the exhibits have been here since this building opened. How many quarry blocks have you gone through?
WM: All of those foam blocks are still the foam blocks that we had at the start. This last month when we had our biannual cleaning, we went through and repaired them. We cleaned them up real nice, put a fresh coat of paint on all of them. They take a beating in the sand and being thrown and such, but our fabrication team is prepared for that.
CMSM: Tell us about the fabrication team.
WM: Our museum is very unique having our own fabrication team. For the most part, a lot of things that are here are built by Luke (CMSM Director of Exhibits), so he knows how they went together exactly. He’s been here since before we started, so he’s getting a better idea of “how do things break?” “How can I build things so that it won’t necessarily be childproof–because nothing is, right?–but it’ll hold up and be better long-lasting?”
CMSM: It is pretty awesome. He had a hand in every exhibit would you say?
WM: Pretty close, yeah, I think so.
CMSM: You told us your favorite exhibit. Do you have a least favorite area of the Museum to work?
WM: You know, I don’t really love being outside. I’m not much for hot weather. We rotate our Playworkers around every 30 minutes or so, sometimes even every 15 when it’s 100 degrees or something. We remind families it’s hot when we’re out there and encourage their rotation, too.
CMSM: And this year we’re going to experiment with having the Dotson Back 40 open a bit in the winter, right?
WM: Yes. Winter is such a big part of growing up in Minnesota, because it’s cold many months out of the year. It’s challenging to set it up, because Minnesota at the same time is not a super cooperative state. We’ll think, “Yes! We’re gonna get some really nice snow today! But as it turns out– no, actually we’re just gonna have a lot of cold winds. When it works, though, it’ll be great to give kids that freedom to play.
CMSM: So, you told us about setting the Museum up in the morning, what does the rest of your day look like?
WM: We do work all day, so if the Museum is open 9-4, we are here about 8-5. We get two 15-minute breaks and a lunch.
CMSM: What do you like to do on your breaks?
WM: I will go over to the staff and business offices and just sit. I didn’t know you could hear silence until I had been on the floor on a really busy night.
CMSM: Oh, that’s great. What does “closing” the Museum look like at the end of the day?
WM: Once all the guests are out of the building, we begin the work of putting all the props back in their exhibits and then we disinfect every surface that has been touched. We have a janitor who will come in and do the floors and bathrooms and the big things, but we have the job of “resetting” the spaces.
CMSM: What else do you want people to know about being a Playworker?
WM: I think for me, playwork has kind of really become this thing I do even when I’m not here. It starts out as a job, but I’ve carried a lot out. So, I don’t have kids at home, but I’ve got a little nephew. He’s just getting to the age where he’s aging out of the Museum, but Playwork has been able to influence so much about how I engage with him. I can be intentional when we’re playing. I just ask him questions like, “how does that work?” or “what makes it work that way?” Kids always have those answers. I like kind of shaping not just how I play with kids here, but then how I play with the kids that are in my life outside the Museum.
CMSM: That’s excellent.
WM: I think one of my big goals is if a family comes to play, and they see how we engage with kids, as parents, they start to take away some play principles. That they think, “how do I support my child when they’re playing?” I will never say that I can tell a parent how to parent, because that is its own thing. But play is a world that I’m getting to be more familiar with–more than just working here–and I think we can offer parents those skills. They can observe what Playworkers do and say, and take those skills home. When kids see their parents giving up the control in play, letting the kids run the show, it’s very powerful. It can be a really big bonding opportunity.
CMSM: Thank you again so much for the opportunity to observe you in your work!
WM: No problem.
You can find Wyatt at the Museum several days a week. Stop over and say hi the next time you’re visiting.