Written by Shana Fung
“Hello, hello, hello, and how are you? I’m fine, I’m fine, and I hope that you are, too!” These are the first lines of the catchy Hello Song that Miriam Leviton, our Stroller Tour Through History educator, sings to welcome baby historians-in-the-making to the New-York Historical Society at the start of every stroller tour.
In anticipation of our upcoming stroller tour on Friday, August 11, we sat down with Miriam to chat about how she became our resident baby whisperer and what she enjoys most about working with the youngest of museum visitors.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: How did you know that working in early childhood education was for you?
Miriam Leviton: In college, I had an internship at a children’s museum making art with the 2-year-old kids during parenting groups, and I was hooked. The kids were so full of wonder, so creative, and always noticed the smallest things with total delight. In turn, I started looking at the world differently, and started noticing things in relation to what they would like, and it made life a lot more fun! I realized then that the “under 4 crowd” was for me.
DCHM: Early childhood is roughly defined as being from birth to 2nd grade, which covers quite a lot of developmental milestones (e.g. first steps, first words, potty training!) Do you have a milestone that you most enjoy seeing the kids you teach achieve?
ML: I do really love when kids start to clap. It’s the most joyful milestone!
But I absolutely love watching the process of language acquisition. To see kids go from pre-language, to babbling, to saying words, to stringing words together, to all of a sudden using multi-syllabic words and speaking their own thoughts—it’s incredible to me. A silly but special example is kids I’ve known since birth, who refer to me as “Mi” when they first have words, and then eventually get to “Miyum” and then all of a sudden can clearly say “Miriam” (which is a hard name to say!) It mimics their language acquisition in general, but it’s an example I always notice with kids I’ve known for years, and it makes me so happy.
DCHM: What is your earliest memory?
ML: I remember a bee landing on my arm at a playground and me standing still while looking at it because I didn’t yet know it could hurt me, so I just looked at it and eventually it flew away. I have no idea how old I was but I’m guessing around two-and-a-half or three.
DCHM: What is your earliest museum memory?
ML: My parents took me to see a Claes Oldenburg retrospective, and I remember all the huge Pop Art food, specifically the hamburgers. I was raised vegetarian, so I didn’t know what they were until I asked.
I also remember going to the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum and seeing this animatronic saber-toothed lion that was biting a woolly mammoth. It really scared me!
DCHM: What makes the Stroller Tour Through History program so special?
ML: New-York Historical Society is a building that probably looks very different from any other building that babies have been in. From the moment we greet everyone in the lobby and I see kids looking up at the high ceilings, it’s clear that they are taking in all new sensory experiences. Most museums that look like N-YHS aren’t always family friendly, but they are incredible spaces, full of amazing artifacts, and at N-YHS the kids can actually explore the space without their parents having to be stressed that they are going to break something.
Time and history are completely abstract for kids (even elementary school age sometimes!), so the tours focus on what children under 2 can connect to within the collection and the museum, which is a very unique and special way to go through a history museum. Thinking about textures, sounds, colors, and shape is a very different approach to exploring a museum, and yet, it is the best way to get these little ones excited and engaged in the very same works that people of all ages come to enjoy.
Parents take great delight in seeing how happy and engaged their kids are and how much they get to see as well, because I can tell that some have no clue how a stroller tour in a history museum is going to work, and I can understand that! It only reinforces what we are trying to do and makes it feel more special at the end when parents are so grateful that they came and the kids are waving goodbye, so happy.