How does a child get to know the world and learn things? It enhances its knowledge about the world two ways: because of senses (by watching, listening, touching, tasting and smelling), but also thanks to mind and thinking process - by analyzing, comparing, generalizing, grouping, classifying etc..
The basic training in perception of the world we get during prenatal development – we train our hearing, by picking up sounds from beyond the ventral shell (we also memorize the sounds pretty well, that’s why we react differently to our mother’s voice, than that of other women); we swallow the amniotic fluids, thus developing the sense of taste (and our fondness to do so depends on what delicacies our mom just ate!); we touch the uterus around us and suck our thumbs, using the sense of touch etc.
Once the child is born, it is really well equipped with cognitive features (far better, them we considered them up to recently). It has an innate predisposition for learning the most important things: it favours discerning human faces to other optical stimuli (regardless, that prenatal development stage gave it few occasions to practice this skill), it looks for the edges of given objects and focuses its untrained sight on them. In terms of hearing, human voices are what it pays most attention to, especially female voices. As you can see, our senses work quite good since birth.
Even much more complex skills are acquired in a very early stage. As an experiment, babies aged 3-4 months were shown a simple animation, consisting of two squares – in some experiment sessions the green one either moved closer to the red one, hit it and made it move (just like in real life); another time the red square moved on its own (without being hit by the green square), in other sessions – movement occured a few seconds after being hit. It turned out, that the babies’ attention was drawn by various things – they focused mostly on phenomena, that were improbable. Apparently, the babies already had knowledge of what’s likely to happen, and what might be out of question.
How is this possible? It turns out children don’t have to wait for school education, in order to build their knowledge. They are born scientists! Their enthusiasm and an explorer’s passion is enough to feel any academic scientist feel insecure. They expeirience all sensory stimuli with remarkable keenness, form hypothesis, test them by conducting experiments (some of which are enough to give their guardians a heart attack…). Their explorative behaviour is something to admire, while their innate cognitive curiosity seems to be boundless. Where an adult needs a manual and just looks around sheepishly, when facing a new device, a child needs but a few moments to discover, how certain things work (isn’t it the case whenever we switch our old mobile phone for a new model?). That’s why there is no instruction manual for any of the Buzzz! Gallery exhibits.
A child doesn’t learn from a mere book, or by listening to explanations and instructions (on the contrary, giving it to much facts is often the best way to lessen his curiosity). This was proven by two American scientists E. Bonawitz and P. Shafto with their team, who introduced the kids a special toy, designed to have many hidden features . It turned out, the way this toy was being presented influenced the kids’ interest in it, as well as the urge to explore it and discover its functions. Kids who were provided with full information on the toy and were given all instructions, wre playing with it for only a short time and quickly lost their interest in it.
Kids learn by expieriencing everything themselves, during the course of action (it’s called the synpractical thinking and learning). That’s why children at Buzzz! Gallery are not just passive audience, mere recipients, they are not wasting time on strolling among exhibits they can only watch, but instead, they perform actions themselves! ‘But children’s actions are but pointless games’ some might say! Pointless??? PLAYING IS LEARNING! And it’s very effective! Remembering various information and courses of action is a lot easier, when it’s a side effect of just having fun. Let’s not look down on kids’ games nor let ourselves treat it with indulgence rooted in our sense of superiority. It’s not a waste of time.
Learning during the first 6-7 years of life looks just like that - it seems to be just a side-effect. When a baby plays with a rattle, it’s not to practice firm grip, while a kid in kindergarten does not build a complex construction using blocks, because he decided to improve the sight and movement coordination or to perfect his skill of joining blocks. Children play out of curiosity, and the action itself is fun for them. Only during school years the subconscious learning starts being accompanied by deliberate studies (which by no means should substitute the former!), with the intention of learning about something, understanding it and memorizing.
Another typical feature of a child’s method of learning: it’s emotional engagement. Although emotions (e.g. joy, melancholy, sadness, envy and fear) act like a flashlight, which stresses certain characteristics of an object or situations at a given age (for us, adults, it’s much easier to remember an event or a book which influenced our emotions, then one we have no special feelings towards), their role in kids’ method of learning is priceless: a complete lack of emotions actually prevents any successful learning.
Where adults notice something and memorize it by using their knowledge, logic and thinking (e.g. about the great meaning of a feature or event) , kids – lacking this knowledge – act on feelings. They determine, what will get the child’s attention, what will they wonder about, what will attract them and, consequently, what will be memorized. It’s good to be aware of that: boredom is one of the greatest enemies of learning (as much as lack of emotions or passiveness). Emotions, which accompany acting on one’s own (like curiosity or uncertainity if something will work , joy of success or anger and frustration caused by failure) make the children’s sympractical learning method, performed by action, so effective.
Buzzz! Gallery takes these processes of child’s learning into consideration and tries to provide best conditions for learning through actions and emotions. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
There is a niche with a meadow painted on the wall, while red cords hang from the ceiling. Pulling them turns on recordings of animal calls suitable for a meadow scenery, but also sounds of wind and rain. There are pictures on the ceiling, right next to where a cord is attached. That way a child can see the animal making each particular noise, and that helps the child create a pattern in its mind, which uses both hearing and sight.
Buzzz! Gallery exhibits make use not only of sight and hearing, but also other senses, even smell (and that’s hard to achieve in museum or gallery surroundings) – scents are emited by pressing buttons on a round, red table. The child has an opportunity to expierience the smell of a violet or pine, but also deer and fox. A tree hollow in the wall has buttons of various surface. It’s up to kids to find two buttons of the same surface without using eyesight, just by their sense of touch. Success in doing so is confirmed by frog’s croaking, while a mistake is signaled by cow’s mooing. While walking up the stairs, a child can understand the way a bird flaps its wings! Railings are in a wavy shape – by moving hands along the railing, the child learns, that bird’s wings move in a wavy, sinusoidal way, instead of straight movements. Here we join the sense of touch with kinetic perception, linked to percieving one’s own movements.
You can practice balance and movement coordination on a hanging bridge – perfectly safe with its net spread beneath, yet very exciting – its rocking forces a child to maintain balance, but also overcome fear. Similar training is provided by a platform with railings and glass floor, under which you can see a maze of corridors designed for a ball. With the use of balance, a child can make the platform move and the ball roll along these corridors.
As you can see, Buzzz Gallery exhibits engage all senses (except taste, maybe!), and multi-sense perception helps making representations of introduced objects, makes learning effective, especially when supported with child’s actions employing cognitive, movement and emotional features.
We should also pay attention to a form of egocentrism typical of kids aged 6-7, which makes it impossible for them to look at a thing from someone else’s point of view, rather than their own. The exhibits at the gallery help the kids understand, that the world through someone else’s eyes can look completely different, than through their own… We mean the stylized, woden heads of a snake, a fly, a dog and a fish. Through a visor placed inside the wooden frame, you can see, what the world looks like to these animals.Kids can expierience, how differently those creatures see the world – with various focus, colours, or even number of images (like the mosaic in the eye of a fly).
And what should parents and other guardians do, while their kids explore different exhibits? They can either join the child in its exploring groove, or look calmly at exhibits, discovering details a child might overlook in excitement, like animal tracks (squirrel, heron, moose and beaver), painted on the floor, leading to visors, which show pictures or films of animals, their environment and habits.
Once the visit at Copernicus Science Centre is over, parents should often recall it, while talking to their kids and together they can plan another visit!