Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Discovery for the Ages

With the temperature below 50 and the winds whipping around the San Francisco hills, we nixed the plan to take Zadie to the zoo. Instead, we crossed the bridge to The Bay Area Discovery Museum. We were a bit dismayed that much of it is outdoors and the winds were no friendlier in Marin. And were a bit discouraged at the beginning— there were xylophones (strangely-tuned, I might add), a storyteller reading books, an art room for painting and drawing. Between the five of us, we had just paid $60 to do the same things we had been doing with Zadie in our home— xylophones, stories, drawing and more! And better, I might add.

But still it was a well-designed and well-thought-out child-friendly place and Zadie did bounce from one thing to the next engaged and entertained. A whole room on circles, a window to paint on, an outdoor Imagination Playground blocks to assemble and more—plenty for a 3-year old to do.

In the art room, I was particularly struck by all those little hands making and shaping, cutting and pasting and assembling, feeling and touching, along with the intense concentration of kids from 2 to 12. So clear that such things are perfectly aligned with what humans are intended to do and have done for multiple millennia. From shaping tools to weaving baskets to building bridges to constructing skyscrapers, “hands-on” living is the way it spozed to be. And of course that includes strumming strings and drumming skins, writing words, bouncing balls and beyond.

So it got me thinking that in some places, at least, we understand that kids need to experience the world through their hands and their handiwork. But what about adults? Why do adult museums just have rooms with paintings for people to look at and not also have some rooms for people to try their own hand at making art? Why don’t concert halls have xylophones in the lobby (or in a separate enclosed room)? Why can’t adults still play with stuff like kids do in public places?

In much of the world, then and now, there are no museums or concert halls, just people making art and playing music every day, ordinary folks with no special labels like “artist” or “musician.” The “Discovery Museum” in such places, for kids and adults alike, is the fields and the forest and the village square— no extra charge. But the price we’ve paid for modern living is this weird compartmentalizing of human possibilities into distinct and discrete fragments so that we pay a price to see someone else’s handiwork or hear their musicianship or enter a space that invites exploration and discovery.

Well, I’m used to museums and concert halls and playgrounds and since we have them, why not open them up a bit further to make them a place where all ages can continue to make and explore and discover with their own two hands.

Just a thought.

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