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I worked as a Playologist at the museum today.  It was awesome – face painting and water colors were the specialty of the day for 27 children, aged 3-5.  It was great fun to interact with the kids and inspire them to create something new and different.

And it was great experience for me too.  I’ve recently become interested in early child development and how children learn through playing.  I’ve enjoyed watching kids explore the museum, touching exhibits, figuring out how things work.  They throw things, push things, move exhibit items around.  And all the while they’re learning (what exactly they’re learning, I don’t know, but there’s a quote on the wall from Einstein that says play is the highest form of research so hopefully something is working in those pint sized brains).

While the kids play and explore, I witness their personalities at work.  It’s fascinating to see how incredibly broad the personality spectrum is:  some kids are shy, some are pushy or outgoing and others seem completely lost. What I have found so far is that most kids just need someone to pay attention to them, someone to care that they exist and to help draw them out of their shyness.  Even the quietest child comes alive with a few well-placed smiles of encouragement.

But then there are the divas – the ones who have been told since birth that they are awesome and the best at whatever it is they could be the best at by 4 years of age. Those little girls, yup, they are usually girls, are quick to point out how great their painting is and how bad another’s is.  They are the girls who look up at you under their lashes and ask to be praised.  I had a little girl today who was painting with water colors and she was doing a marvelous job, painting within the lines of her butterfly, taking her time and methodically going from one section to another with a carefully chosen color.  It was really above where the other kids were and she knew it.  In fact, she pointed out how much better hers was than the kid sitting next to her (who coincidentally had discovered that all the colors together make brown, and was busy smearing this color all over the page).

How to praise her for her attention to detail and beautiful work, without inadvertently making another child feel bad???  (In the end I resorted to the “you all are awesome” mentality that doesn’t actually work in the real world.  Oh well, hopefully 2 hours with me won’t scar them for the rest of their lives).

Anyway, when you observe children at play, you get to observe some really interesting personalities in the making.  It makes you wonder how much of a personality is already determined and how much can still be influenced.  Is it a ball of clay ready to be shaped by anything and everything, or is a sculpture with a few soft spots pliable under the right tool?  In my short time at the museum I would have to say that you get a pretty good idea of who each child is, whether an athlete, diva, granny, shy bear, brainiac, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing, etc.  But they are all still capable of learning something new and of developing new facets to their natural personality.

They never fail to teach me something too.