Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where Do the Children Play?

On February 4, more than 75 people – parents, teachers and community members, representing schools, daycares, libraries, the zoo, parks and recreation, urban planning and more – gathered at Lincoln School for a screening and discussion of Where Do the Children Play?, a thought-provoking documentary that examines the need for children to have time and space to play, especially outdoors.

Throughout the hour-long film, the audience was engaged and responsive - there were frequent bursts of laughter following comments made by the kids interviewed as well as constant murmurs of recognition and understanding. So
me points I found especially interesting:
  • Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: "Kids see nature as an abstraction. There’s a disconnection, a nature deficit disorder."
  • One expert said she's most concerned about suburban kids (versus urban and rural) because they're more isolated and often lack imagination. She talked about visiting urban and suburban classrooms and facilitating an activity where kids created their neighborhoods from cardboard boxes. The urban kids worked together to create communities – schools, hospitals, parks – populated by smiling neighbors. The suburban kids mostly worked alone and created a mall, big box stores and parking lots – void of people.
  • The concept “professionalization of parenthood,” referring to the trend of workplace productivity and effectiveness carrying over into parenting, leading adults to schedule their kids' time as efficiently as they do their own work commitments.
Museum director Janice O'Donnell moderated the discussion that followed, along with fellow "instigators" Giovonne Calenda of Lincoln School and Leo Pollock of Southside Community Landtrust. The idea was to have a "community conversation," to engage the audience members in thoughtful dialogue about the issues raised by the film, launched by asking, "What are you doing, wish you could do, thinking about doing?” Here's what people had to say:
  • Chris Hitchener from RWP Zoo spoke about the powerful connection between environmental education and play, saying that “nature helps you start to focus on the moment.”
  • A parent from Providence expressed concern that she doesn’t know a lot about nature, and thus how to be with her kids in nature. Janice responded that it doesn't matter what you know, “what’s important is finding a connection to nature together.”
  • Staff from the Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls spoke about their new playground, a natural space designed to give kids "a flexible, fluid space to play in supervised but child-directed way," developed in collaboration with kids and parents. (And the audience broke into applause when the mentioned they'd ADDED time to recess!)
  • Another parent talked about her efforts not to overschedule her kids and the delicate balance of playing with them versus just starting things, then leaving them alone – “the more relaxed I am and the more I let them do, the more we play.”
  • Anisa Raoof, editor of Kidoinfo, explained that she uses her website to get parents off the computer and to bring the community together, to remind parents that there are so many great things they can do with their kids.
  • In response, an audience member mentioned the idea of joining a nature group, like RI Families in Nature.
  • A Lesley University professor who teaches teachers to work with different modalities in arts curriculum, including movement & kinesthetic learning, reminded the crowd of President Obama's pledge to revisit No Child Left Behind legislation and urged them not to let him forget. "We need to think boldly, beyond just math and science literary – it’s not about how much math you know, but how you can problem solve.”
  • Scott Wolf of Grow Smart Rhode Island spoke about promoting zoning changes to create more mixed use, walkable communities. He also shared a reminder for the business community: "if we want creative people, we need to ease up on standards-based education."
  • A parent mentioned a recent conversation with other parents about summer camp and noted that many parents were competitive about camps and desperate to get their kids in. She also talked about a very young child with a Nintendo whose parent said it was "good for 15 minute car rides" – instead of encouraging him to look outside, learn about the world. Her powerful closing words: "I think parents are afraid to spend time with their children… and I’m concerned.”
As Janice shared in an email to a colleague, "the discussion after the film was lively and informative. It was hard to get people to leave, they were so engaged in talking with and learning from each other. Really just what I was hoping for - a community conversation. "

We CAN'T WAIT to do it again (Wednesday, May 6, 6:30-8:30pm at the Highlander School) and to keep the conversation going – and growing.

The screening was presented with assistance from the U. S. Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that works for the restoration of play in children’s lives.


XLBRL said...

I've seen page after page of gushing reviews of this documentary, and, if you don't mind, I'd like to offer another opinion.

I found the documentary to be rather alarmist, self-serving, and often contradictory.

It is certainly true that some parents are guilty of regimentation of their kids' playtime. But I found many of the "solutions" offered by this film to be just as regimented and contrived as the activities they frowned upon.

Beneath it all is a not-so-subtle pro-city, anti-suburb bias, with more than a little praise for the secular religion of multiculturalism.

As many have pointed out, the kids are the best part... the things they say about their experiences are very touching. We adults and parents should shut up and listen to them... and I hope the adults and parents who made this film would kindly include themselves in that group.

The best thing my parents did for me as a kid was give me time for myself and my friends to play in nature. It needn't be more complicated (or politicized) than that.


David K
San Francisco

Megan Fischer, Providence Children's Museum said...

David - thanks for sharing your thoughts. Museum staff watched and discussed the film before we decided to screen it. We didn't agree with every idea presented and debated screening it publicly. We considered some sort of disclaimer - "the views presented are not necessarily those of the Museum." After much debate, we ultimately realized that we wanted to have an audience discussion after the film, and that some controversial ideas would foster a lively and interesting conversation - and that's exactly what we've seen. The parents and educators in our first screening probably didn't agree with everything they saw, but they didn't get too bogged down by the problems. Instead we had a hopeful conversation about exactly your point - the importance of getting kids outside to play. And that very simple idea is what we're hoping to leave people with after seeing and discussing the film.