There is something magical about children at play. Adults often reminisce about childhoods spent roaming the neighborhood, playing with other children, not an adult in sight, told to come back when it got dark. Some communities even sounded a horn to tell the kids it was time to head home.
When Jacob Wetterling was abducted, reality changed for generations of children in central Minnesota. Adults no longer feel safe letting kids venture distances unsupervised. Children’s free time is now filled with scheduled “play dates” and structured activities. Parents are busier working to pay for kids’ activities, planning, driving and juggling schedules.
Government initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have put the spotlight on schools’ test scores. Learning has become less about developing a natural curiosity and drive to discover and more about benchmarks and test taking skills. Experienced educators know that it’s skills like resiliency, emotional intelligence and self-control that determine success in life and these are skills best learned through the free play that is getting pressed out of school days and busy lives.
Play is a basic need of young children and adults alike. It is the way human brains are wired to learn. It is crucial for stress relief and mental health. One of modern society’s greatest challenges has become finding ways to get back to our roots of play. Play includes those creative experiences that happen when we carve out the space and time for free exploration, trial and error, and creating with others.
The Great River Children’s Exploratorium will be a place where parents can sit back, relax and delight in their children’s play. A place they can be confident that their children are safe to explore and learn. A safe haven, away from the noise of daily life, where adult caregivers can play and rediscover their inner child. While geared toward children from birth to ten, it will meet a need deep inside all of us.