I have this motto I live by. It’s even become the tag line for my web page and social media accounts: Viewing the world through a cracked lens and a jaundiced eye.
With everything I have seen in my forty-six years of life, I have a unique worldview. One of the things I have extreme opinions about is parenthood.
Far too often I will see young couples buying video games for themselves, and not their children. I’ve taken my son to birthday parties that were more for adults, and less for the children. I’ve even overheard a conversation at Walmart, where a young woman was telling her husband that buying a tablet for their child would be a good way to keep that child out of their hair.
Look around; you must admit there are a lot of people who get parenthood wrong.
This past Tuesday when Chris Babcock, our Editor-in-Chief, asked me to visit a new business called Tiny Xplorers I was ambivalent. I thought I was going to be visiting a place where parents can just drop off their children so they can go out with other adults, or have a kid free day.
I was wrong and surprised all at the same time.
Tiny Xplorers is the brainchild of Nora Yokota. She started it after she couldn’t find a place for her son to play, and learn. It’s not just the children who are playing or learning here. It’s also the parents who come with their children. Most day cares – which Tiny Xplorers is not -and children’s learning centers focus only on the child.
By this, I mean that you drop your child off and come back some hours later to pick them up. There is no place for the parents in that equation. Nora and her husband Jeff are changing that paradigm.
“My inspiration for this business surfaced as a result of the lack of facilities in the city that provided my son with the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences,” says Nora. “I wanted to provide a place for families in El Paso, where they can interact with their children to help them build a strong foundation for learning.”
Tiny Xplorers focuses on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. They have also incorporated digital media art into the learning model. What the team at Tiny Xplorers focuses on is creative play, rather than active play.
It is a rewarding experience and undercover learning. There are iPads where they can play and learn. A robot that they can work with and control. Blocks they can use to build with. But it goes beyond this. Tiny Xplorers also has rooms with specific play and learning goals in mind.
These play areas are something I’ve never seen in El Paso before. I love them, and the idea behind each one of them.
Let’s cover the rooms that Tiny Xplorers has.
The first room is digital media arts room that is loaded with Osmo. Osmo is an award-winning game system that will change the way children interact with the iPad by opening it up to hands-on play. That fits right in with Tiny Xplorers, getting them to think outside the box.
“Every activity has a little bit of thought behind it,” says Nora. “Literacy is such an important component of a child’s upbringing. That’s when language begins. A child that is read to will have a wider vocabulary.”
Tiny Xplorers has a wide selection of books that parents can read to their children. “I believe that anyone that can read and write will succeed. If we neglect that part of a child’s education, they struggle.” They also have a story time where the children can become active participants of what they hear.
Another room is the Band-Aids Hospital. In this room children are exposed to career opportunities, such as being a physician or vet. They get to dress up in costumes they have, and pretend to be saving a life, or curing diseases, and vaccinating cats and dogs.
“Band-Aids was done because most children are taken to the pediatrician, that is an environment that they are familiar with. Also, a lot of them have a pet at home,” she says. “So, often time they know that to feel better, they have to see a doctor. So we wanted them to have that experience, and utilize the tools that doctors use.”
The next room is the Hometown Heroes. “You know El Paso has just about every kind of occupation when it comes to security, like the police, DPS, State Police. We also have the military, the fire department. We wanted to honor all those people,” Nora says, and Jeff agrees.
“We hope Hometown Heroes takes the shape we envision it to be. The hero is the policeman that says hello to you in the morning, the neighbor that helps you with a flat tire. We wanted to emphasize the importance of everyone in our community.”
On their web page, there is a section where they can submit their hometown hero for recognition. After you’ve read this article, and maybe visited Tiny Xplorers, you and your kids can sit down and nominate a hometown hero via an online form.
All the rooms are community-based. “In my eyes,” Nora says, “this is a community center. It’s not a museum that sits in downtown with a huge facility. This is like the mom and pop learning center that is based on the community. That we hope is the community we serve. Let’s give them the chance to be the doctor or fireman. Let’s offer them the chance at role reversal. The learn a lot from mimicking the adults they see.”
And she’s right, they do learn, and Tiny Xplorers is out there, creating a new educational niche that is needed.
There is also a grocery store where children can learn to shop, wait on customers, and decide just what to make for dinner. “I wanted them to be the grown-up who gets to go shopping, get to be in the kitchen making dinner,” says Nora. “These are experiences that they are exposed to every day, they already have foundational knowledge of, and we wanted to add to that.”
Then there is a theater section. “Everyone is an actor or actress, they like to role play, like to dress up,” She says. They do. Kids are naturals at creating stories. Here, there are instruments, costumes, a piano like the one in the movie “Big” where they can dance and make music.
These are just some of the things found at Tiny Xplorers. There is so much that not just a child can do, but an adult can participate in. I don’t want to give away too much; I want you to visit! It’s a great place to be, play, and learn.
There are also structured activities. Several times a day they have some activity, as a group.
“We have daily activities,” says Jeff “These cover art projects, storytelling, theater, and a lot of hands-on activity that will work on coordination.”
These same activities are also incorporated into the birthday parties, and private parties they can host. In fact, over the two days I visited with Tiny Xplorers I was able to witness some of these activities. The kids enjoy them and are learning at the same time.
They also have camps planned for the summer. There is going to be a digital media camp, a Lego camp- I want to go to Lego camp, so if you’re willing to loan me one of your kids, I’ll not only feed them, but will help them build a castle.
They have so much planned. So many ways for your child to play, learn, and grow. And not just them, but you as well. You are there, in the middle of everything, playing and pretending with your child. You’ll meet other parents, and your kids will make connections with others their age.
It’s truly a rewarding play experience for your kids.