Where Learning and Play go Hand-in-Hand

Life Skills Education

 What is life skills based education?

They are the executive function and decision-making skills that act as the building blocks necessary for children to apply the knowledge they acquire at a young age to real world problems and situations. It is the ability to think abstractly, to communicate effectively, and to find practical solutions to problems. They provide children with the important tools necessary for development like making new friends, dealing with bullying or insecurities, and learning to think independently.

Some of the life skills that children can develop at The Museum are:

Life Skill: Critical Thinking

Learning how to think critically is an important life skill children need to develop in order to make sense of information, analyze, compare, contrast, and make inferences. It is a skill that we continue to develop throughout our lives.

 

How to provide critical thinking opportunities for your child throughout the Museum:

  • Providing opportunities for play. Let your child test how things work through informal learning opportunities.
  • Asking open-ended questions. This allows your child to critically think and develop their creative problem solving skills.
  • Not intervening immediately. Allow your child to complete a task on their own. This allows your child to hone their executive functioning skills. If your child is getting frustrated, ask open ended questions that will provide them with enough information to solve the problem. If you need to intervene, take this opportunity to model your own critical thinking by verbalizing the steps you are taking to come to a solution.
  • Helping your child to develop a hypothesis or an educated guess. This encourages them to think in new and creative ways as they take the time to navigate problems and determine what will happen next.

Life Skill: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

While playing, your child is developing emotional, social and cognitive skills through visual, kinesthetic, and auditory prompts exhibited throughout the Museum.

 

 

 

 

By creating self-directed, engaging learning opportunities, you are:

  • Creating a secure environment for your child. The Children’s Museum at Saratoga provides a physically and emotionally safe environment for your child to learn and play. As caregivers, by remaining present and engaging them throughout the museum presents a feeling of security for your child and can teach them that they can come to you with a problem without feeling ridiculed or embarrassed. This feeling of safety is invaluable as they become older and sets the stage for a trusting relationship between parent/caregiver and child.
  • Raising goal setters and achievers. Each exhibit in the museum allows you, as caregivers, to motivate your child to set and work towards achieving their goals. Whether it be an engineering challenge in the STEM room or learning how to count and sort in the bank, each exhibit lends itself to the development and teaching of valuable skills. Allow your child to think about what steps they need to take in order to work towards their goals, then help them come up with a plan for success. By engaging with them throughout their exploration of the Museum, you are supporting their goals and acknowledging their achievements.
  • Engaging with your child socially, emotionally, and intellectually. The Museum creates opportunities for learning that are concrete and active. Even though children are playing they are also engaging in meaningful and purposeful learning; they are socializing with other museum guests, self-regulating their impulses and emotions, as well as, being exposed to early mathematics, literacy, and science.
  • Encouraging curiosity and problem-solving. By setting goals and bench-marking success, you are enabling your child to work through their problems by cultivating their own solutions. Allow your child to test their solutions. If they do not work, help them work through their failures. Teach them that a failure is just an opportunity to try out a new solution until they find something that works. By encouraging your child to be persistent, you are building their self-confidence.
  • Helping children value learning. Children are mini apprentices. They absorb information at a rapid pace and model behavior after the people around them. When you value learning, your child will inevitably value learning. By engaging your child in play-based learning throughout the Museum you are making their learning experiences both worthwhile and fun.

Life skill: Communicating

Communication is more than just understanding language, speaking, reading, and writing. It is a skill that determines what we want to say and realizing how it will be interpreted by others. Good communication skills allows your child to think about their own thoughts, needs, and desires; it allows them to express these thoughts clearly and concisely. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in a child’s language development. Children who are read to and spoken to a great deal are more likely to have larger vocabularies and better grammar than those who aren’t.


Ways to nurture your child’s communication skills within the Museum:

  • Talk to them. Narrate each exhibit; tell your child what they are seeing, what they are touching, and what they are doing.
  • Read to them. The Museum promotes early literacy. Whether it is through physical books, signage, functional print or programming, your child will inevitably be exposed to language and literacy as they navigate their way through the exhibits. Not only is reading a good predictor of successful communication skills, but it will also promote a love for books and reading.
  • By using dramatic play to tell stories. Each exhibit acts as a backdrop for an elaborate story where your child can develop characters, conflict, and adventures! Your child will use expressive language to act out each storyline.
  • By using technology sparingly. The Children’s Museum is a huge advocate for unplugged, play-based learning experiences. Technology does not respond to a child socially which is a huge proponent of language development. Sure, technology may be interactive, but it is not responsive to a child’s ideas which is a powerful force in creating better communication skills.

Life skill: Perspective Taking

Perspective taking allows your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider situation from a different perspective. Children who develop this ability are less likely to get into conflicts or offend others. They are more likely to resolve conflicts because they are able to imagine and respect other point of views.

 

How to promote perspective taking within the museum:

  • Through Socialization. Teaching children how to get along with others is equally as important as teaching them how to be independent. Social interactions help children start to develop a greater sense of self and navigate what is expected from them.The Museum offers countless opportunities to play and work harmoniously with others, whether it be playing together in an exhibit or working through a challenge during a program. By allowing social interaction with other children, you are helping your child reach their developmental milestones as they mature and become full members of society.
  • By Playing Pretend. Use dramatic play to allow your child to explore their feelings and have a greater understanding of why they are feeling a certain way. It is also a great way for them to try on different people’s perspectives as they act out different roles and scenarios.
  • By helping your child feel known or understood. When your child becomes upset that they are unable to complete a task or throws a tantrum because it is time to leave the Museum, it is easy as adults to become frustrated. Take a step back and take a look at the broader picture, it is a normal reaction to get upset when you are disappointed. Your child has not learned a mature way of dealing with this disappointment constructively, so their emotional reaction is to throw a fit. By showing your child that you understand where he/she is coming from and helping them get past those feelings, your are teaching them coping skills that can be applied later in life.
  • By using other-oriented discipline. Take the time to talk about other people’s perspectives. The Museum is a place where your child can witness real life examples of how their actions may affect others. For instance, they will inevitably be placed in a position where they will have to share. This is a great opportunity to explain why it is important to share and how playing cooperatively is a vital life skill- it will help them make and keep friends.

Life skill: Focus and Self-Control

In a society that is filled with endless distractions and information overload, children need to be given the opportunity to develop focus and self-control. Learning how to pay attention is an essential part of setting and achieving goals.

How to increase your child’s focus and self-control within the Museum:

  • Allow your child to become fascinated by an exhibit. The Children’s Museum at Saratoga gives your child ample opportunity to discover something they care about in depth. Allowing your child to explore an exhibit for an extended amount of time allows them to develop focus which is essential for the development of long-term learning.
  • Encourage your child to make up stories. By encouraging dramatic play, you are sparking your child’s imagination. As your child adapts to the ever changing circumstances of story lines and the roles their characters play, they are required to develop flexible cognitive thinking, as well as, learning how to self-regulate their emotions and impulses.

Life skill: Making Connections

Making connections describes how things are related to each other and how they work within the physical world. As your child grows and develops, they make connections in order to master their worlds and have a better understanding of how to be successful in the world that we live in. They master these connections through classifying objects based on similarities (size, shape, color), determining how they are different (these blocks are red, but these red blocks are different sizes and shapes), the relationship between objects (forks and spoons are physically different, but they are both used for eating), and by using creative thinking techniques to develop their own unique perspective that goes against the norm (instead of using forks and spoons for eating, they are now building materials for a tower).

Supporting your child’s ability to make connections:

  • Embrace Mistakes. Mistakes happen! They are a necessary part of learning and making connections. Children are able to make connections more easily when they are able to tie that connection to a real-life mistake.
  • Encourage Play. When children play they are making connections within their environment.
  • Play Games. By playing games like “I, Spy” or “Shape Hunts” your child is able to make connections through the sorting of size, shape, and color.
  • Promote New Connections and Unique Perspectives. Help your child see new connections they may not have noticed or to see things in a different way by using open-ended questioning, like what do you see, what do you think it means, and what do you think would happen if we did it backwards?

Life Skill: Taking on Challenges

Challenges can be frustrating, but facing them head on allows us to reach our greatest potential.  Children who take on challenges, rather than avoiding them, tend to do better in school and in stressful situations.

How to grow the challenge-taking skill:

  • Encouragement. Allow your child to take on reasonable challenges. Encourage your child to play and interact with other children, this will help shy or nervous children to come out of their shell.
  • Make sure their stress levels remain tolerable. Create a safe and reliable environment for your child to grow and learn. By being present, you are showing them that they can turn to you for support when they are feeling overwhelmed by a challenge.
  • Be Patient. It takes children time to build the confidence that is needed to take on a challenge. Your child needs a sense of security while they are learning and they need you to remain patient as they are developing this skill set. Each time they are presented with an opportunity to take on a new challenge and to work hard to achieve their goals, they are becoming more and more self-assured.