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[whitespace] Kid with Scissors Making the Cut

Who needs the three R's when we can learn important stuff at Scissors Clinic?

By Kelly Luker

YOU WANT PEACE and quiet? Then take a big, big detour around the Children's Discovery Museum on Woz Way. Flashing lights, the ringing and whirring of exhibits and, of course, the screaming, chattering laughter of hundreds of hopped-up crumb-catchers signals bad news for the contemplative among us, but it's a little piece of heaven for parents.

The buzzword "quality time" gets an excellent workout at this interactive Disneyland for the hungry mind. There's the fire engine parked right inside the door, and "Arthur's World" in the backyard, where tykes can visit PBS aardvark Arthur's kitchen, library and pup tent. There are all kinds of bells and whistles, beans and magic scattered throughout the Crayola-purple structure.

Silicon Valley is the neck of the woods where successful geeks flow like code from Stanford and Bellarmine, so it's never too soon to get a good educational foundation. Fortunately, the diapered future-dotcommers can get their feet wet at the museum. And their hands muddy and the joint messy for that matter, thanks to Dalia Brown.

The museum's Early Childhood Educator took a look around and noticed how neat and orderly the toddler classes and events were a few years ago. Problem was, she wisely noted, kids aren't. They're short, sloppy and have the attention span of, well, a child. In her first position as an intern with the museum, Brown began doing some serious thinking and studying about how kids and their parents interact. Before you could sing "a-tisket, a-tasket," Brown tossed out the grown-up tables and chairs and replaced them with Lilliputian furniture. Next, she lobbied for linoleum, since kids and carpet just don't mix.

"You can't be a children's museum without letting them be messy," the Isreali-born educator laughs. Although she has been in America over 20 years, Brown still speaks with a rich accent, peppering her conversation with Yiddish expressions.

The more Brown watched her tiny tots, the more she thought about adding classes. Not on stupid subjects like we had to suffer through, such as algebra or social studies. No, it should be Important stuff that kids have no idea how to do--like making noise, making messes and making up stories. To that end, Brown offers "Messy but Good," "Noise to Music," "Creative Art Experience" and "Action Stories Class."

But what brings us together today is "Scissors Clinic"--not class, mind you. For kids preparing for a lifetime of tennis, Pilates and golf clinics, it's never too soon to get that one-on-one focus from a pro. In this case, it's about getting primal exposure to making the cut.

While it may look straightforward to us, the Scissors Clinic and its setting integrate as a microcosm on how to reach toddlers. The Early Childhood Center is a separate room glassed off from the rest of the museum. It's geared toward two-to-four-year-olds--and older kids are not welcome unless they're part of the toddler's family. "We adhere to our commitment to be informal and let the children drift in and out," says Brown. "We get the child interested when and where he's interested."

A dozen ankle-biters are tearing about the ECC this morning, and when Brown announces Scissors Clinic, two or three amble over.

"Kids love scissors," smiles Brown. But, she says, that is no thanks to this country's goofy ideas on education. "There was this American mesheggena [crazy thinking] that kids should learn how to cut by kindergarten," snorts Brown. "But cutting is difficult."

Blunt-edged safety scissors are used, and never leave the table or the watchful eyes of adults. The point of Scissors Clinic is merely to allow the tots to practice the joy of cutting, without cutting off their fingers.

Brown is assisted by Brenda Rogers, the Program Specialist, who is gently manipulating the tiny hands of Fraser Walker, a Scottish native visiting the museum with his mother, Katherine Walker.

"Thumbs up!" chirps Brown brightly. "Keep the wrists up!"

Fraser is doing his best, dressed smartly today in a firefighter's hat and hula skirt, but the budding motor skills just won't comply. San Jose resident Taryn Selski is also having a bit of a struggle with her two-year-old fingers. But Taryn's four-year-old brother Travis is an old hand at this. Warming up with straight lines, he moves quickly into "V"s and finally, in a stunning burst of dexterity, navigates a spiral.

Taryn watches enviously, then rips her construction paper in half. "That's right," beams Brown. "If you can't cut it you can always tear it!" Yet another valuable lesson imparted to the next generation: always look for the shortcut.

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From the August 17-23, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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