This week as I prepare to present a workshop for child care center administrators entitled Taking the Lead, I’m reminded of how my children did that just that recently on our trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Aware of the museum’s reputation as being the best in country, visiting it was a top priority for our summer vacation.
With directions from our hotel in hand, I nervously navigated the unfamiliar one way city streets and got us there with no trouble. Once we arrived and secured a map, I came up with an agenda to cover all four floors and take in everything in the time we had.
I was able to keep the children moving at a pace that would ensure we made it to all of the exhibits, despite how excited they were with the incredible interactive dinosaur exhibit – it simulated what it would have been like to walk the earth along with the prehistoric creatures and provided the opportunity for children to act as archeologists, paleontologists and even dinosaurs nesting on their eggs. Moving them through Avatar was fairly easy, but Miniature Rooms was like herding cats since they envisioned how their Littlest Pet Shop animals would thrive in those spaces. Finally, I persuaded them to move on. I was a mom on a mission, after all.
But then we moved on to the second floor which housed the Egypt exhibit. The moment we boarded our “Egypt Air” flight, my well plaid plans flew out the simulated airplane window. The entire floor was devoted to the exhibit and was a dramatic play dream. As my children donned aprons and worked in the open air market stocking, arranging and selling fresh produce and canned goods, then prepared meals in the fully stocked kitchen of a Cairo village house and served them to me and other passersby, I realized why the museum is renowned. The children put on traditional Egyptian attire and rode first a donkey and then a taxi through the city streets. By this time, other children had joined their play and they all worked together in the herbalist shop measuring out remedies for various ailments for one another. While I was thrilled with how engaged my children were, I was still fretful about not seeing everything and began to urge them to finish up so we could move on. Their response stopped me in my tracks. “Mommy, we want to stay here with our friends! We love Egypt!”
Wow, what was I doing? I’d brought my children to the museum because I wanted them to have an educational experience, yet there they were totally immersed in learning and I was trying to drag them away because I had an agenda. The mom of two of the other children who’d also been trying in vain to move her girls along and I exchanged a look. Apparently we’d come to the same realization because we simultaneously set down our purses and sat down to watch the play. Because it was so much more than that. Our children were truly exploring Egypt. And as we followed them to the coffee shop situated near the Nile where we were served a much needed refresher, we agreed that we could both do with the real thing. We also agreed that despite being from out of town and wanting to see the entire museum, it was time for us to let our children take the lead.