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It may seem scary for parents, but kids need to experience risks in order to grow both physically and emotionally. Risk helps kids gain confidence, think on their own, and learn from mistakes. Taking risks is an important life skill that the Madison Children’s Museum embraces and purposely addresses in every experience.
“Children testing risks around them when the stakes are low is the beginning of what’s going to happen when they’re older and they’re making decisions as adults,” said Deborah Gilpin, President and CEO of the Madison Children’s Museum. “In the case of the climber, they climb up higher than they realize because they forget to look down and then they say, ‘What do I do, I’m up here it’s too high.’ And they have to decide: do I ask for help, do I sit and wait, do I cry. And all those things are choices we make as adults too when we face challenges.”
There’s a lot more going on at the museum than pure entertainment. It’s easy to see kids and families having fun. But what you might not see is the real work that happens during that playful interaction. The entire makeup of the museum is based on research into how kids learn through play and how they will grow through taking chances.
“It really is important and it’s one of the key values for us here because all children need to experience risk when the stakes are low. Then, as things get more difficult in life they know that they have the tools to deal with anything that might come along.”
The children’s museum offers all sorts of innovative challenges to make kids feel like they’re taking some risks, from the physical effort of climbing to new heights or just interacting with other kids they don’t know.
“Here, kids make the choices. Our goal here is to help parents get out of the way and let the children go in there and figure out which things they want to attempt and then give it a shot and learn what to do when it doesn’t go quite the way they expected,” Gilpin explained.
The risks are not from something dangerous, but instead positive risks like climbing high up in the air, doing something that is unfamiliar, or stepping out of their comfort zone to do something they’re not sure they can do.
“A child can discover what it feels like to be high up in the air. It’s kind of scary for us and kids don’t often get high views of things where there’s only a small barrier between them and what’s below. And they are doing it by themselves.”
But they’re also taking risks through interacting with others at the museum.
“One of the main things we know is that our workforce is made up of people that come from all different backgrounds and so we need to know how to communicate and connect with someone who’s completely different from us. And all that happens here everyday between children who come from throughout the region,” Gilpin explained.
Whether you’re a helicopter parent or snowplow parent there is plenty for you to learn at the children’s museum. The reality is, this is where you can practice letting go and letting your child fail.
“It’s true, they need to let their children fail when the stakes are low so that the consequences are manageable by the child and by the family. And parents really tend to make things safer for kids and this is a place we see them back off and let some of that unknown happen.”
“It all happens organically but our staff is here helping shepherd all these things along and helping everyone work together,” Gilpin said.
The museum is open year round and has typically 2-4 special programs almost everyday on all different topics so it’s a different experience every time you visit.
Learn more at https://madisonchildrensmuseum.org/ or you can always call and talk with a staff member about what’s coming up.