After a recent trip to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, I have 2 observations:
1) It’s incredible.
There’s no getting around it. All of the hoopla and rigmarole of Navy Pier aside, the Children’s Museum is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. If you go, you’ll see newborns, toddlers, and kids from every grade in elementary school playing in a wide variety of attractions with broad enough appeal to entertain them all. You’ll see activities encouraging kids to explore their interests in art, science, literacy, carpentry, construction, performance, and everything in between. If you go a second time, you’ll notice that there are rotating interactive exhibits to help keep the experience fresh and unique. And at some point or another you’re bound to notice that the water room alone is the size of most suburban children’s museums!
2) Incredibly, most of the grown-ups that were there that day will never know how awesome it was.
Now, I’ll admit up front that most of what I’m about to say is purely observational and anecdotal. I’ll also admit that – like most people – I have a weakness for hyperbole and oversimplification when I’m angry about something. So I apologize in advance if, in my self-righteous rage, I occasionally blow things out of proportion.
Regardless, I’m disturbed by the number of parents I saw at the Children’s Museum who seemed completely oblivious to the whereabouts of their own kids. One of the most common sights in every room was a cluster of moms and dads sitting in chairs or against the walls with their smartphones out and their Facebook Apps open. Worse yet, it wasn’t unusual to find parents sitting in or on parts of the actual exhibits. Not only were they not paying any attention to their children as they played, but they were monopolizing the play areas themselves!
And for what? So they could brag about what a wonderful time they’re having and what amazing parents they are for spending a day out with their kids? Or maybe so they could message with their “friends” about how bored they are and how difficult their children are to manage?
Either way I’m throwing the red flag, ref.
To those parents, I ask this: How much of the day have you actually spent with your kids? How much of your attention have you actually given them? And, no, taking and posting pictures of them as they dig up dinosaur bones and catch digital butterflies doesn’t count.
And, really, before you complain about being bored or feeling put out, take a look around you! Do you have any idea what you’re missing and how much there is to DO where you are right now? And, quite frankly, do you have any clue how much faster the time would pass if you simply spent it with your children?
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that young children need unstructured play time. I’m also a passionate advocate that kids need a sense of independence so they have the freedom to explore and imagine. They don’t need playdates and they don’t need daily structured activities. Today’s youth, more than any generation that’s come before them, need to learn how to entertain themselves.
But young kids DO need supervision. And they need guidance. They need rules and boundaries.
Children do not need to be “taught” or “coached” how to play. But they do need someone to play with. And, in early childhood especially, that someone often needs to be YOU. Otherwise, your kid’s likely to end up being the one shoving the smaller children out of the way in their rush to the slide in Treehouse Trails. Or the one hoarding all the rubber ducks in the WaterWays. Or even the one stealing other kids’ shopping carts in Kids Town.
And, as a side note to the parents of those children:
I wish this was the point at which I could get down from my soapbox and let you all get on with your lives. Unfortunately, I can’t. The day after the trip to the Children’s Museum, we spent a morning at the Gilson Park Beach in Wilmette (a short drive from my in-laws’ house, where we’d spent the night). Here, too, we saw the same disturbing trend. While children – some of them no more than toddlers – ran and played and even tried to swim on their own, their parents generally read, sunbathed, or puttered on their smartphones. It’s one thing when your negligence might lead to your child stealing all the safety goggles in the Skyline exhibit. It’s another far more troubling thing entirely when your self-absorption might lead to your child disappearing below the waterline. And, again, for what?
As a final note, I’d like to share the following (courtesy of chicagochildrensmuseum.org):
So, parents, please take the time to play with your children. Stimulate their imaginations, help them explore their interests, and make sure to monitor their behavior. Throw yourself into the experience and make the most of your day. If you need a break, make it a short one. And be sure to take it where you can still see and hear your children.
Most of all, please keep your smartphones in your pockets for a few hours. Facebook will still be there when you get home. Besides, if you’re going to regret anything about this day, regret not having a picture to share with your friends.
Don’t walk away regretting that you never actually played with your children.