A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Museum For Little Kids

(Above: Playing at Habitot's Waterworks exhibit)

Child development experts say we learn more in the first five years than we do during the whole rest of our life.
Think about what it must like to be a toddler. You face the daunting task of programming your own brain to create order out of chaos.
You have to learn cause/effect, up/down, in/out, hot/cold, light/dark and thousands of other abstract concepts. And the best way to do this is through unstructured play in an environment rich in these concepts.
These are the make-or-break years. If children don't get this crucial learning experience, they'll be playing catch-up for the rest of their lives.
Curiously, although there's no lack of resources in the Bay Area for older kids, there are pitifully few truly educational places for children five and under.
But there's one shining exception: Habitot, the hands-on children's museum in downtown Berkeley that celebrated its 11th anniversary this year.
Here the little ones can play at their own pace in a variety of stimulating environments. While they're happily finger-painting, making sculptures with clay and creating collages in the Art Studio, they're building their hand and finger motor skills, hand-eye coordination, abstract thinking and symbolic understanding - skills they'll need later when they learn to read and write.
They're also learning concepts like form and shape, which they'll need when they study geometry and science.
At the Waterworks - featuring a river ramp for creating and damming streams, a pumping station and a water table filled with waterwheels, buckets (with holes), pitchers and fishing rods - they learn about gravity, motion and the power of falling water.
In the Back to the Farm exhibit, they learn where their food comes from at a small-scale barn with chicken coop, fishing pond, ride-upon horse, hay bales and child-sized John Deere tractors.
Habitot's one-of-a kind exhibits, including the new Firehouse exhibit, which opened in October, allow children to become heroes in their own imaginary play.
But all this could soon come to an end because Habitot is facing a funding crisis.
The villain, of course, is the recession. Since mid-2008, foundation grants and corporate sponsorships have dried up; and several long-term individual donors have been unable to fulfill their pledges. Executive director Gina Moreland slashed expenditures by 8 percent last year and another 7 percent this year, but Habitot is still facing a $100,000 deficit.
Cutbacks can only carry Habitot so far. What's needed is for the community to step forward to keep it going. If you or someone you know benefited from Habitot's wonderful program, or if you believe we all benefit when family relationships are nurtured as they are at Habitot, now is the time to give back.
You can contribute individually to Habitot's $10-a-Month Club by calling 510-647-1111, ext. 31.
But I'm hoping you readers will get creative. If your company, service club, church group, fraternal organization or just bunch of friends want to invent your own fundraising project - for instance, you could "adopt" one of the exhibits - call Moreland directly. Her number is 510-647-111, ext. 11.
Habitot is a priceless asset for the whole community, whether you have a child or not, because these kids are the only future we have. So it's up to us to step up and save it.