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In order to create effective learning environments, the way in which we think of these activity centers must be reexamined. The activities must: be self chosen and self directed; value means more than ends; have structure or rules dictated not by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players; be imaginative and non-literal; and involve an active, alert but non-stressed frame of mind. Children’s’ activity centers found in our local museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, historical sites and other institutions typically focus on various ways to illustrate a specific topic or subtopic. This is often done in a very narrowly directed manner, leading toward a final predetermined conclusion. These experiences often fail to capture the child’s attention while providing only a very limited understanding of a concept or idea, failing to connect it with the overall context in which it exists.

As our understanding of the process of learning expands, we have become increasingly aware of the role of play and its necessity to our development and health both as children and adults. Specifically, play has the potential to encourage social interaction, to promote the sharing of ideas, to support active discovery and to allow individuals to expand well beyond the limits of what is provided, resulting in a deeper and more lasting understanding. To elaborate, children must be allowed to select which part (or parts) of an activity (or activities) in which to participate (or not participate); enough alternatives must be provided so that they can involve themselves in a manner that makes them comfortable and that they find enjoyable. These activities must provide clues but remain open ended; they should have no beginning, end or expected result and should allow for mixing and matching with no rigid structure or guidelines as to their use. The components should stimulate but not overwhelm; peak interest, but not appear to be overly complicated or inaccessible. These targeted activity centers are what we call EduSpaces, children’s places of exploration, learning and imagination. They aim to bring attention to a specific focus or topic while still maintaining the basic principles of play. Instead of illustrating, they aim to provide doorways to different worlds, stimulating interest, stirring the imagination and opening the potential for deeper learning and future innovation. By incorporating these concepts into these types of spaces in our local institutions, we can lay a strong foundation for current and future support and ultimately further the educational mission of these facilities.