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Hello everybody!

My name is Hillary and I'm the Manager of Learning and Experiences at the Omaha Children's Museum. Today I'd like to introduce you to my new friend Professor Play. The Professor is one of the newest members of the Museum, and she can't wait to play!

Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce you to Professor Play!

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, Professor.
A: Well, first thing you should know, I come from a large family. I have 8 brothers and sisters you can meet when you visit the museum. Interesting fact, we are all Professors who specialize in learning through play. Second thing you should know is that I lead classes in play at the Museum. Playing with kids is the best, and I love they think I am silly. Playing at the Museum has helped me stay young at heart.

Q: That's great Professor Play! Can you tell us why play is such a pivotal part of the learning experience?
A: That is a  great question. Most adults think play is something kids do to waste time and burn off energy, but in reality, play encourages what is called executive brain function in 0-5 year olds. The 7 Executive Function skills are Focus and Self-Control, Communicating, Making Connections, Critical Thinking, Taking on Challenges, and Self-directed Engaged Learning. Executive Function skills are crucial building blocks for the early development of both cognitive and social awareness.

Research over the last couple of decades has shown that executive function skills are an excellent predictor of school achievement, the likelihood of graduating from college, SAT scores, educational and economic achievement in adulthood and physical health. Educators have recognized that these skills often provide a better prediction of children's success than IQ.

Play is to early childhood what gas is to a car, "it is the very fuel of every intellectual activity that our children engage in." (Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff).

Q: Wow, so what we think of as simple, is actually really important. What's your favorite game to play?
A: My favorite game is called "Professor Play Says." It's just like Simon says, but since the game is named after me, I get to change the rules of how the game is played.

Q: Haha, you are silly! So what do you love most about OCM?
A: Hmm… What I love most is that both children and adults are encouraged to play. No one is too old to be childlike and play.

Q: Oh, good, because I play all the time. What are some fun games we can play at home?
A: There are so many great games to play at home that are fun and will help encourage the executive brain function in both children and adults! Any kind of sorting and matching games. Candyland. Chutes and Ladders. "Professor Play Says" and for a twist, switch up the rules and have the players do the opposite of what is said. Finish the Story. Headbands, Guess Who, Heads Up, Pictionary Jr., and Spot It are also fun and help develop those all-important Executive Brain Functions.

Q: Lots of options! I think I need to play Candyland tonight. Is there anything else you'd like to share?
A: Yes, one more thing! I want to say that I am very proud that The Omaha Children's Museum has been partnering with parents and schools for the last 40 years to help kids not "just" play, but to help prepare them be successful without even knowing it is happening. The power of play may be one of our best kept secrets. 

Thanks Professor Play, and thank you to everyone reading. We can't to see you all at the Museum!

Hillary Saalfeld

Omaha Children's Museum

Hillary is the Manager of Learning Experiences at Omaha Children's Museum. Part of the job she enjoys most is having the chance to relive her favorite parts of childhood by creating exciting programming for all the museum guests! Hillary has a Bachelor's in History with minors in Theatre and English (which explains her flair for the dramatic) from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a Master's in Museology with an emphasis in Museum Programming and Exhibit Design from the University of Washington i ...

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