Building Better Brains

Touch, talk, read, play in a new way at the Pink Palace

While it’s true that child-rearing does take a village, sometimes just one building has a big role to play.

The Urban Child Institute and the Pink Palace Museum (with additional financial contributions from the University of Tennessee Neuroscience Institute, the Kiwanis Club of Germantown, and the Louisiana-Mississippi-West TN District of Kiwanis International) have partnered on a new exhibit that brings the brain-building ideas of The Urban Child Institute to the hallowed halls of Memphis’ 80-year-old icon of natural history and science. The Early Advantage, an early childhood brain development awareness exhibit, opened November 12th, and runs through mid-February.

The Pink Palace is the ideal venue for the exhibit, designed to entertainingly and impactfully reach TUCI’s target audience of parents, soon-to-be-parents, and the vast child-rearing support system of grandparents, relatives, neighbors, and other caregivers that contribute to the important early years of a young child’s life.

“The Pink Palace has always been an important part of childhood in Memphis, and because of this we’ve taken children’s growing brains seriously,” said Steve Pike, director of museums. “Partnering with The Urban Child Institute was, if you’ll excuse my bad joke, a no-brainer.”

Experiential features hit on activities that are crucial to healthy brain growth in the first years of life, and thus, at the crux of what The Urban Child Institute does. By demonstrating how babies see, hear, and put language to their world, visitors learn about cognitive, emotional, and social development in the brain, and how these aspects of human life are dependent upon each other. They are also foundational, as healthy development in these areas leads to social, academic and professional success throughout the life span. It’s all about getting started on the course from the word go.  

“Working with the Pink Palace was a really good choice for us,” says Katy Spurlock, director of education and dissemination for TUCI. “The staff at the Pink Palace really understand the importance of the early childhood brain development message and were willing to stick with us through this planning process and offer us space at the museum for the exhibit’s debut.”

“It’s important that people in Memphis are exposed to the ideas and science of the exhibit because we all — as citizens and parents — need to understand what is developmentally appropriate for children, particularly in these first years of life. Young children are not ‘little adults,’” says Spurlock. “Their brains and nervous systems are still very much in the development phase, and they require a stimulating environment with repetition of positive experiences in order for the brain to develop optimally. One great example is that children under 2 should not watch TV because their brains get nothing from watching a flat screen and hearing voices coming from the screen. They need and thrive on repeated interaction with a loving, caring adult in order to learn sounds and language among other developing skills.”

The exhibit emphasizes smart parenting behaviors that lead to positive outcomes, like reading to and playing with your kids. The exhibit is not designed to shame caregivers into making some profound change in their behavior; the exhibit is there to be a North Star, guiding us, as a community, to a bright future with smart, capable kids. Kids who will one day be in charge.

The exhibit shows parents and caregivers that doing it right does not require expensive toys and gadgets but loving care, attention, and positive experiences — which all of us are capable of when we apply a little bit of understanding about early child brain science to our own patience and parental instinct.


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