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Exploring the World with Grandchildren: A Day at the Tech Museum

Joined: 3/30/2016
Posts: 2
Planning for Play – Keep it Simple

When I was a teacher, my lesson plan book went to school with me every day. During summer vacation I planned the year’s goals, objectives, and activities; and during short breaks and weekends I tweaked them to allow for the emergent curriculum that happily sneaks in when we allow it to do so.

When I began caring for my granddaughter nearly five years ago I planned ahead also. At first I simply made sure that the house was dusted and the carpet, where infant Bean spent much of her time, was vacuumed. And that I had a safe space to change her diaper, and a rocking chair to sit in.

As she grew, my plans became gradually more complex. I arranged activities ahead of time that I thought would appeal to her, made sure I had tasty snacks in the house, CDs of pleasant music to play at nap time. If the weather was calm we took walks, so I planned grocery shopping and meals around our outings. She looked forward to coming to my house and playing with the games and toys I arranged for her, and we spent lots of time snuggling, listening to music, working in the garden, and reading. In the spring we played in the garden. She would hide stuffed animals in the bushes while I weeded, help me sow seeds or harvest fruit and vegetables. Sometimes we’d bake, or cook, or watch a film together.

How time flies! Bean is in preschool now, and her days are scheduled to the hilt. Getting up each morning, eating breakfast, getting dressed, getting in the car . . . before 9:00 a.m. she’s already had lots of “have to’s” and then she’s in a classroom until noon and aftercare until 2:30. Two days a week I pick her up early, but she’s often tired and sometimes all she wants to do is to eat and watch a movie on my iPad. I try to offer her a different experience than she is getting at preschool, and sometimes I simply do not plan anything at all. On those days we just go with the flow, and I find that I am planning less and less.

But how we look forward to holidays and vacations . . . Then we can go exploring!

Exploring with Grandchildren

If you have the luxury of extended time with your grandchildren, I encourage you to explore. Explore the outdoors. Explore your community. And explore even more widely, using public transportation when possible, so that you can talk to one another while you travel, and make choices about what to do and in what order. Explore the world together.

During Christmas break, Bean and I traveled to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, but we did it in a creative way. Instead of battling downtown traffic and driving around looking for a parking space while Bean stared at the back of my head, I drove instead to the Light Rail station and parked my car, then bought a day pass and we rode the train downtown. Since this was a new activity for us, I planned a little; just enough to learn where the station was, that the train would go where we needed it to, and that there was a park and ride lot in which to leave my car. I also checked the menu at the Tech Cafe and the hours, and went online to purchase tickets to the museum and the iMax theater.

The Imagination Playground caught Bean’s eye as soon as we entered the gallery. Across the room was a huge and tantalizing pile of blue foam blocks, noodles, troughs and balls, But between us and the blocks was an equally interesting pile of sticks and rubber bands, and Bean immediately kneeled down to explore them. Seriously. Wooden dowels, a couple of feet long, and a bowl of orange rubber bands. A young woman smiled at Bean, then demonstrated how to fasten three sticks together to form a triangle. “Would you like to try?” she asked. And they were off. After about 15 minutes I moved to a nearby couch to watch as the two young women, one about 20 and the other nearly 5, explored various ways to connect sticks and rubber bands to form multi-faceted objects that gradually grew bigger and bigger and more complex. It was so simple, yet so wonderful to see the thinking that was taking place, and in such a safe environment. Bean’s body and brain were happily engaged in this pursuit for nearly an hour, and only by reminding her that the iMax movie was about to start could I pry her away from the “Beams and Bands,” as The Tech staff call this activity.


The movie was a National Geographic film about humanoid robots. As we entered at the bottom of the ampitheater, I expected the size of the iMax theater would impress Bean, but in the calm way so many Generation Alpha children accept the amazing, she simply selected a seat (way too close to the screen for my comfort), ate her popcorn, and waited for the movie. The massive screen soon filled with up-close- and-personal introductions to several robots, and we were engrossed as they were taught to set tables, fold laundry, and repair space vehicles. Her favorite robot, called iCub, was designed to look like a baby, and to learn like one too, and it clearly captured her little girl heart. If they sold iCubs in the gift shop, I’m afraid we’d have been taking one home.

Connect the Dots

As we walked out of the theater, the request came. “I want to build a robot, Grandma. Can I, please?” Well, it just happens that The Tech offers exactly that opportunity. Without leaving the lower level, we found our way to the Social Robot Gallery where Bean was offered the opportunity to “design, build and program a real robot using sensors, controllers and actuators.” The young woman who greeted us did not question Bean’s young age, but simply took her to where the robot bases were stored, pulled one over to a rack of robot parts, and explained how they work.

Basically, there were input devices, like switches of different kinds, and output devices, such as lights and wheels that turned around. Each component could be snapped on to the robot base, then cabled together so that various kinds of input created designated output. But better even than that were the hats and clothes and miscellaneous other items that could be attached, like fish. Social robots, indeed!

All this accessibility of cool stuff made for a wonderful day. We had other adventures as we strolled around Christmas in the Park, just across the street from the museum: we got zapped by an artificial snow machine, ate sweet and crunchy churros, and laughed at the mechanical elves in the exhibits. Back at the light rail station, we climbed onto the wrong train and had to get off at the next station and start again. Bean had fun with that. From my perspective, she learned a life lesson – getting lost isn’t so bad. From hers — it was a great story to tell Mom and Dad when we got home!

Oh, and the multicolored lion at the top of this post? After all the great stuff we’d done that day, it was the lion statues at the light train station that Bean wanted to photograph to take home. Emergent curriculum once again. I handed her my iPhone and off she went.

Marlene Bumgarner
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