Saturday, August 16, 2008

In Praise Of The "Yes" Zone

Familiar with the concept of the "yes" zone?

As a Late Blooming Mom, I learned of this term only recently, but I've quickly learned to love it.

A "yes" zone is defined as any place in which you don't have to constantly tell your children "no," as in, "No, you can't do FILL IN THE BLANK," the blank generally being something dangerous, unhealthy, or not age-appropriate. In a "yes" zone, they can do pretty much whatever they please. And if they ask if they can do something, you can keep saying yes.

Taking your kids to a "yes" zone is a wonderfully relaxing, fun experience: a time to enjoy your kids, not bark at them or worry about saving them from something could mean a trip to the emergency room and stitches. You don't have to argue with them about whether or not you'll buy them anything. The only time you may find yourself saying "no" is when it's time to leave, and they want to stay.

God bless the visionary folks at Los Angeles' Skirball Cultural Center for installing NOAH'S ARK, the ultimate preschooler's "yes" zone. Today was our second visit there, and it was blissful. Yes, it's in a museum, but everything in that exhibit is hands-on; touching is not only allowed, it's encouraged. There are rope nets and ladders to climb, that lead to cozy kid-sized balconies and nooks in which to wave down to parents. There are mechanical animals that can be hand-operated with cranks, machines at which kids can make rain, thunder, lightning and wind, a huge toy ark into which toy animals can be loaded, small cabins in which pretend food is stored in baskets, and even make-believe poop the kids can scoop. There's an arts-and-crafts room staffed and loaded with project supplies (we traced stencils of birds, cut the shapes out of magazines, and glue-sticked them to the table). There's an outdoor water feature, a mist fountain that makes rainbows ... the one place where our kids said "no" to us when we wanted to run through it (apparently it was a bit scary for our three-and-a-half year-olds). And there was even a live show in the amphitheater, in which a storyteller told us about traditions in Africa, played African percussion instruments, and imitated various wild animals, which prompted Thing 1 to exclaim, "He's so silly!" Blessedly, there are also snacks available.

I can think of few days with the kids as conflict-free as this one.

That's the beauty of the "yes" zone. The kids choose their activities within the zone, but they're all safe, fun, and relatively restful for mom and dad. Sure, we did have a moment when Thing 2 decided the exhibit's elephant, which made quite a loud sound when kids pulled a rope to set it off, was too scary. But she was soon pacified when removed from the immediate vicinity of said elephant, and brought into the arts and crafts area.

We managed to escape without the kids asking for a toy in the gift shop, where we allowed them to play for a few minutes. And by the time we left, they were so tuckered out they fell asleep on the brief car-ride home. They woke up briefly when we transferred them into their beds for nap time, but they soon succumbed to sweet dreams, as did Late Blooming Mom: napping when your kids nap is another mom secret I've come to learn.

"Yes" zones aren't easy to find. Our local playground is full of minor perils (e.g., running in front of a swing and getting hit, falling off the monkey bars) and in a hot month like this one, liable to leave mom or kid suffering from heatstroke. Most museums have very limited kid areas, or are meant for kids far older than preschoolers. Indoor play spaces are notorious for being closed for private birthday parties on the weekends, when we need them most.

But when you do find a "yes" zone, it's like taking a mini-vacation, without having to pack more than the usual (sippies, snacks, spare clothes).

Thanks again to the folks who brought us NOAH'S ARK. Before we left, I spied above us the white dove who brings the branch back to the ark after the storm has passed. After the stormy mornings we've had of late -- trying to get out the door for camp on time -- this was a welcome respite.

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