September 21, 2010

Young Inventors Thrive at the Tech Museum

On a recent visit to downtown San Jose we explored The Tech Museum. I'm consistently awestruck by the number of enriching outings in the Bay Area, and The Tech was no exception. Greeted by words from Bill Hewlett inscribed on the entrance wall, I wondered if the exhibits would live up to his vision: An abiding curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn how and why things work are the hallmarks of innovation. Creativity is nurtured by being receptive and encouraging.

Testing battery connections and outcomes

Building circuits, floating magnets, and learning it all from a diverse group of video taped kids in the exhibit display

Discovering  how water flow makes the propeller shift speed

Playing a game of 'tip the table'

We started on the top floors and had fun with the alphabet robot, inventions to assist the third world, and a simulated bobsled. But the engagement really deepened on the lower levels where kid-friendly exhibits were abundant. In one room, there were hands on science experiments with videos of children talking you through the demo. We built circuits, split light into different colors, and connected gears. In the "Invention at Play" area, we balanced weights on a tippy table and adjusted water flow to power a propeller.

Usually my favorite part of a museum is to observe the kids as they explore and experiment. However, this time my favorite part was watching a video about the value of Play. I was actually trying to take notes on my iPhone until my battery died (thank you golf pencils and scratch paper for contributing to this blog post).

Some key points:
  • Real world hobbies help us become inventive (we need to get a feel for the shape of the world)
  • Don't underestimate the capacity of a child, and give them the freedom to invent
  • Play is a conduit for understanding the world
  • Technology should not be a substitute for physical play
  • Beware of toys where you consume fantasy rather than create fantasy (i.e., over-engineered toys that pre-package the narrative and limit the child's ability to create)
  • The very best educational toy for a child is another person
Although many may agree that the above points are obvious, someone at the museum thought those messages were worth communicating. That, in itself, must be a commentary on the times.

Also participating in Delicious Baby's Photo Friday!


Amy @ The Q Family said...

I love visiting science museum with my kids. It's so good to have many options in your area.

Thanks for taking note and I totally agree. My kids play well together when we eliminate TV and electronic toys and leave them with just building block, bears and cardboard box. I'm surprised at many things they have created themselves even though sometimes I wish they will clean up afterward. :)

Dominique said...

The point about consuming the fantasy vs. creating it reminds me of the type of building sets I had as a kid (mostly just a box of blocks and pieces) vs. the sets I see now where the pieces seem like they're always presented to be built in a particular configuration. I always thought my box of mis-matched blocks and pieces were probably a lot more fun to play with :)

Lynette said...

It sounds like you are really blessed with a lot of really great outing opportunities in your area - and you know how to find them! I'm with you 100% on play being the entry point to gaining an understanding of how the world works.
I always really loved the play my kids experimented with in the water at bath time - you can learn all sorts of things about volume, displacement, heat exchange, gravity, etc. all while playing (and getting clean - maybe!)