My kids hate to clean up. Take a look at their playroom and you’ll see what could be the results of a mini-tornado. Stuffed animals strewn everywhere look like victims of a weather disaster. Lego’s litter the floor. Cars, trucks, airplanes and trains sit derailed and busted. Dinosaurs and superheroes appear to have been locked in an epic battle for the ages that claimed all of their lives.
These kids hate cleaning up like Donald Trump hates the media. They hate cleaning up like Hillary Clinton probably hates questions about email servers. I mean my boys truly, madly, deeply despise cleaning up after themselves or being told to do things.
I guess that’s how 6 & 4-year-old’s are.
That makes what I witnessed at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale all the more remarkable. In the play area at the museum there is a mock orange grove operation where kids pick fake oranges off trees, load those oranges into a conveyor apparatus, ride a bike to create the energy to make the conveyor move and gather the boxes filled with oranges. Finally, the kids take the full box to another belt, unload them and repeat the operation. It’s a realistic scenario that challenges kids on many levels.
Each time we visit the museum my kids spend at least 20 minutes playing there. They direct each other, setting up tasks for each child to perform. They anticipate the need for more boxes and carefully yet swiftly remove the full boxes and replace before an orange falls on the floor.
They easily incorporate new kids into the operation buy showing them the process and assigning them a job. They share the responsibilities like riding the bike or picking the oranges and, surprisingly for my kids, they don’t argue.
As I sat there transfixed I realize something: I’m watching my children at work and they’re enjoying what they’re doing.
To me, this embodies the spirit of learning through play. There are about 5 steps to the process and boys are forced to work together with each other and with other kids to figure out a way to make the operation run smoothly and efficiently. They are leaning the value of teamwork, cooperation and discipline. They are learning which skills they have and how to harness those skills for the betterment of the team. They are learning the value of hard work and the reward that comes with a job well done. They are also learning that when a task is left undone someone has to step in and perform it.
These are the moments that reassure me as a parent by providing a visual window into the true nature of my children. If we had an orange grove in our backyard the last thing that my kids would want to do is help run it. They would complain non-stop about how tired they are, how much their feet hurt or how heavy the boxes are that they have to carry. But make that orange grove part of a play area and give them free rein, they will “work” their all day.
They might not want me to know how capable they are or how willing they are to work. But through their play they’ve given themselves away. And I couldn’t be happier.