Cake at the Museum

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This week, a group of about seven Lower Elementary children (ages 6-9) made a Going Out trip to further their research on the art, history, and culture of Native American peoples in the Puget Sound area. (Going Out is a topic worthy of its own future post.)

They and their teacher headed up to the University District to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. As it happens, the Burke has a lovely museum café (flanked with the pine paneling from an 18th century French chateau—well worth a visit for the ambience alone). The day of their visit happened to be the same day as Washington State’s 126th birthday, and the café invited all Burke Museum patrons to come enjoy a piece of celebratory cake. You can imagine the delight with which this suggestion was received by the children.

One student expressed a desire to call his parent first—not so much for fear he would get in trouble (after all, who would know?), but because he knew his parents reserved sweets as a once-in-a-while special occasion treat. He wanted to check in before having a piece. The phone call was made, permission granted, and the group thoroughly enjoyed their treat before returning to school.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be noteworthy that a six-year-old would defer the gratification of a sliver of gateau until he had checked in with his parent first. It’s reminiscent of the “marshmallow test” of the 1960s and 70s in which 4 to 6-year-olds were given the option of eating one marshmallow immediately, or, if they held out for 15 minutes, would receive two. In tracking those children over the course of many years, researchers found the children who had demonstrated the capacity to wait—the inhibitory control—fared better academically, socially, and professionally as adults than their one-marshmallow peers.

Another layer to the story is the boy’s sense of personal accountability to abide by his family’s mores around treats. It’s a pretty safe bet that that piece of cake tasted all the better for having made that phone call.

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