On my first visit to the WonderLab, I wandered through children and parents on a quest to visit every station and play with all that lay before me. My wide-eyed and grinning expression never left my face. Since that initial outing, I find myself able to achieve that same level of awe, to the point that even during the most difficult periods of the semester, I could always find respite at WonderLab. Though I have grown familiar with the different exhibits and displays, I still experience joy when I watch our young visitors discover something new. The exhilaration I see on their faces as they build, destroy, wonder, and learn has become the highlight of my week.
Every consecutive trip to WonderLab has had its own unique challenges. One of the most impactful lessons I have learned is that each problem has multiple solutions. From working with the other volunteers, I have seen several ways to deal with a variety of situations. I even surprised myself on a few trips with how I handled certain problems. There have been days where I went to the service-learning site tired and groggy, when I expected to have the worst reaction to people at any age, but I discovered that the earnest and honest way that children ask questions often elicited an earnest and honest response from me. Needing to think outside the box while my brain feels sluggish and dormant has been an exercise in flexibility and an impactful series of events.
I did not realize that WonderLab would be so influential on visitors and volunteers alike, especially since I knew so little about it before my orientation. Ignorance worked in my favor, however, since I went into the experience with no preconceived notions about what I was signing up for. The organization has been more than outstanding, and the guests have all brought their own unique additions to my experience.
On my first day at the museum a young boy approached me. We have established a wordless relationship born from the fact that we speak different languages. His father works at the university, and his mom brings him and his little sister to WonderLab while dad is at work. Every time his face lights up at one of the exhibits, I am reminded of why I enjoy going there so much. His mom is always thanking me for spending time with him, and it has been a small source of pride that they have put their trust in me. There have been a few occasions where one or both children lose sight of their mother and begin to panic. They allowed me to walk with them until we found their mom. I calmed them down and helped them to make sense of their surroundings. It was the little moments of helping them, as well as so many others, that has been so significant to me.
Watching someone realize the answer to a difficult problem, or when I can step back and let the guests teach each other, has been a reward in its own way. I want to continue to facilitate such moments. Watching someone express their passions gives me an indescribable level of joy and satisfaction. Joy becomes a visible actor on peoples’ faces when they make discovery or revelation regarding their interests. I have noticed that for many adults, seeking out new knowledge or information gets overshadowed by other responsibilities, and so they neglect self-education in their own lives. If I have learned anything from my twenty hours at WonderLab, it is that a desire to learn is something to be nourished and supported. I know for a fact I want to spend my life trying to foster in youths a desire for knowledge, so that my future students never lose the ability to enjoy learning something new.
I don’t know how soon I will begin inspiring youths professionally, but until then the staff at WonderLab has made it clear that they want me to return to inspire visitors at the museum. They are thankful to all their volunteers and tell me that I am appreciated every time I am there. WonderLab does the best it can with its constant rotation of service learners and student volunteers, and I cannot think of any advice for how they could have made my experience any better. The only change I can think of that might make a positive impact on the entire facility would be to expand the entire building. Adding floor space would allow for more exhibits, and more opportunities for the building’s guests to learn and explore. I understand the logistical difficulties in constructing additional spaces, but it would prove to have a positive impact on the museum visitors, and the Bloomington community.
Volunteering at the WonderLab has been a unique experience. From my first explorations to my recent outings, I have been privileged to work with and for people that loved learning as much as I do. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do my service learning at such a remarkable organization. I will carry the lessons from my time at WonderLab with me for the rest of my life.
About the Author: Jeremiah Saxton is a Marine Corps Veteran studying foreign language education while pursuing a minor in religious studies. He used to have a decent grasp of the English language, but after years of intense study, can now speak both English and Russian poorly. He began volunteering at WonderLab in 2019 as part of the service-learning requirement for G-203 Communication for Youth-Serving Professionals, but plans to continue giving his time to the organization because of the rewarding experience they provide. Jeremiah’s hobbies include crocheting, reading, and learning as much as possible about the world.