Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Talking About Play in Portsmouth

Last week, we had yet another fascinating discussing following our 4th screening of “Where Do the Children Play?,” this time at the Pennfield School in Portsmouth. Each has been different, and we're amazed to see how many layers there are to this conversation.

This screening drew an interesting mix of educator/parents, people representing nature organizations, and folks working in sports and recreation – and the discussion kept leading right back to powerful moments from the film. Many people were struck by a scene that showed vast differences in the way city kids and suburban kids constructed their neighborhoods from cardboard boxes – the city full of smiling people and open doors, the suburbs full of parking lots, big box stores, and not a person in sight.

The conversation:

• Panelist & pediatrician Beth Lange, president of the RI chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, remarked that “play happens anywhere.” She encouraged parents to encourage imaginative play anywhere, using anything and to talk to their child’s pediatrician about their kids’ play.
• Panelist Andy Arkway from Aquidneck Land Trust talked about the importance of giving people meaningful experiences in the outdoors to encourage a more profound connection to nature and responded to the part of the film where experts lament the decline in creativity that follows reduced playtime: “it’s not just who will be the free thinkers, but who will be the next generation of environmentalists if we don’t teach kids to care?”

• Panelist Rob Cardeiro from Norman Bird Sanctuary talked about how he sees Richard Louv’s idea of “no child left inside” entering the collective consciousness and that, regarding kids’ play, “the important thing as a parent is to take a step back, hold yourself back, see it happen.”

• Will Glennon, athletic director at Pennfield: “What I see working with kids in a playful environment – in gym class and on the athletic fields – is a dampening of creativity” because organized sports & other activities constitute so much of playtime. “I want kids to make choices about what sports and activities they do.”

• A 2nd grade teacher at Pennfield said she felt sorry for young parents who feel the need to enroll their kids in activities and don’t want to miss any opportunities. She supervises recess and said, “it’s the only time in the day when kids can just play – free play – and even older kids let go,” that it’s their time to be creative.

• A reminder that children do better in school if there’s ample time for recess!
• During a discussion about the amount and impact of technology in kids’ lives, Dr. Lange said that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before the age of 2 and to limit to 2 hours a day after that – which several parents said still seems like a lot. She said that kids are getting used to “sound bites,” that technology is affecting their attention spans and “you lose them after 30 seconds, the next commercial break.” She talked about attention and obesity being major problems and that, when a child walks into her office, she can tell right away how much screen time he has.

• Several parents talked about the importance of talking to other parents, of kids’ friends, about how much screen time they’re allowed.

• A Pre-K teacher at Pennfield: “The challenge for the educator today is that parents have high expectations for technology in the classroom” (although hers is a technology-free environment) and that, because of parent expectations, “there’s no room to play. We’ve gone from learning through play to…'What are they learning?’”
• A mother of 3 who recently moved from Norway agreed about parents’ expectations and said it’s different here. “Other parents expect me to have a plan for ‘play dates.’ The culture is so efficient”… but to play and get in touch with nature takes time.

• “I hate the word play date… it sounds like play has to be scheduled.”

• Andy: A lot of adults are not comfortable outside, so it’s important to provide opportunities for them to feel comfortable. More about the role of adults: “Where do the adults play? We’re such a selfish society now, everyone doing individualized things.” “When kids don’t see their parents playing or enjoying the little things or learning – how do they learn to?”

• A teacher suggested: “Organize a game and teach them basic rules, but within that, allow them space to create.”
• A parent said parts of the film made him feel guilty – other parents and teachers agreed – but moderation is the important thing, to “do the best that you can.” Another said “even if it’s 60/40, look at what you are doing, not what you aren’t.”

• Susan Cooper, director of Newport’s Dept. of Recreation, said she’s trying to “connect the disconnected” and would like to create a website that lists all of the island’s activities and free play opportunities in one place. “We have to look at the example we’re setting… if parents are on cell phones, texting their friends… then we say ‘go out and play’” – it’s hypocritical. She’s pushing to get more funds for parks and urban spaces – and to get the “no child left inside” bill passed.

• A woman who was struck by the city vs. suburbs scenario described above said she could relate. She grew up the city and had to negotiate constantly – with people, public transportation. She was always with people and, when she moved away from the city, at first felt isolated and uncomfortable being alone. She didn’t know her neighbors and they didn’t introduce themselves.

• Museum director Janice O’Donnell said that it’s important to meet neighbors and for grown-ups to be outside, too – “it’s how we can make our communities more family friendly and kid friendly.”

• Rob: “In suburbia, each ‘enclave’ can be so different” because you don’t know what sort of neighborhood or neighbors you’ll end up with, but it seems like the urban experience is somewhat more uniform.

• Beth: Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg has a book where he describes “the buoyancy and resiliency of childhood” – we may live in isolated neighborhoods but can learn to adapt. She also talked about the medical ramifications of kids not being outside, such as vitamin D deficiency and lack of physical activity.

• We need to give kids confidence by entrusting them with responsibility – and we need to challenge our children.
Whew…. What a conversation! If you missed it, don't worry - we have another coming up in just two weeks:
"Where Do the Children Play?" documentary screening
Tuesday, November 10
6:30 - 8:30 PM

Friends Academy
1088 Tucker Road, North Dartmouth, MA 02747

Panelists include Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust director Dexter Mead; Children’s Museum director Janice O’Donnell; Friends Academy director of outdoor education Charley Pelissier; and developmental psychologist Dr. Richard Rende.

Click here to download a flyer. For more information, contact Megan Fischer at fischer@childrenmuseum.org or visit the film’s website.

Presented by Friends Academy, Providence Children’s Museum, Children's Circle Nursery School and Smith Mills Weekday Nursery and with assistance from Michigan Television.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Join the Conversation!

Providence Children’s Museum is hosting two community conversations this fall to bring people together to talk about some of the issues affecting children’s opportunities for unstructured, self-directed play. The conversations are free and open to the public.

Making Places for Play
Thursday, November 5 • 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Join a discussion about how to build community, engage families and inspire child-directed play through placemaking. Hear from local people who have strengthened their communities by creating playgrounds, parks and gardens – including representatives from Brown Street Park in Providence, the Children’s Garden Network, Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls, and Ponaganset Middle School in North Scituate – and share your ideas.

Building Community
Wednesday, December 2 • 7:00 - 8:30 PM
By fostering strong communities, together we can give children more freedom to play. Hear from individuals who have built and sustained community in their neighborhoods and beyond – by organizing a neighborhood block party in Barrington, community events and gardens through Southside Community Land Trust in Providence, and monthly hikes with Rhode Island Families in Nature – and share your thoughts and strategies.

The conversations will be held at
Providence Children's Museum
100 South Street • Providence, RI 02903

Please join us! RSVP to Megan Fischer at fischer@childrenmuseum.org.
These conversations were inspired by discussion topics on the Museum's listserv, “PlayWatch: Connecting the Community to Promote Children’s Play.” To read the PlayWatch archives or to join the list, visit www.playwatch.org.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting in Costume

Like most of our exhibit props, the Museum's costumes live a tough but well-loved life, inspiring transformations for child after child who tries one on to become someone (or some animal) and taking weekly spins and tumbles through the washer and dryer.
It's always exciting to update costumes and introduce new ones. In Coming to Rhode Island, we knew it was time to make some beautiful new aprons to enhance children's roles as cooks and clerks in Fefa's Market, a 1961 Dominican bodega. We knew we wanted bright, friendly fabrics that boys and girls would enjoy that also suggested the style of the 60s. It made perfect sense to consult our skilled and talented Carole Ann Penney, who brought together her love of the Museum, fabrics, and sewing to craft aprons specifically with our visitors in mind.
Carole Ann created 8 new aprons so that we have plenty of extras to switch out during regular cleanings. Carole Ann and fellow Experience Coordinator Lindsay Kilgore modeled the new aprons to show that they fit (some) big kids, too! See more images of the process and finished product on Carole Ann’s blog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tales from Underland

Under where?
The Museum’s exhibit team – known as the “X-team” – has recently spent a lot of time discussing and finalizing plans for Underland, a new subterranean adventure that will open in the cave in The Children’s Garden next June. They even had a meeting where they set up some prototypes and murals in the cave to get a better sense of the physical space – and donned tails, to channel their inner creatures!
X-Team meets in the cave

As Carly Loeper, exhibit & program developer, explained:
“The process of pulling together Underland sketches and written descriptions and translating them into a mock reality in the actual space is a valuable and revealing one. You don't know if a shoe fits until you try it on and walk around a bit! This way we can picture how families will move through the space and see what elements we might grow, shrink or tweak. It was a great opportunity to get the X-Team into the environment to meld minds and then invite the whole Museum family in to learn more about the project and get excited!”
Other staff are invited to play

Another recent meeting found the X-Team surrounded by natural materials for inspiration. We’ve all begun collecting items that have fallen from the trees – like acorns, pinecones and chestnuts – to use in the exhibit. (You can be a part of Underland, too, by helping us gather natural items for play. Leave materials with the staff member at the Admissions Desk and we'll use them when the new exhibit opens in June!)
And the first wave of cave construction has begun. Chris, James, Hillel, Julianne and Annie worked hard to empty the cave of gravel last week to prepare it for the concrete foundation that will be poured on Monday.
James and Chris do the dirty work - literally.

The cave will be closed to visitors from now on as the early work continues… stay tuned for more developing news and tales!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nori's Night Out

On Friday, nearly 300 Museum members, staff and friends attended Nori's Night Out, our annual member party and enjoyed a festive evening full of delicious food and hands-on fun. Guests learned about the exciting new learning environments opening in The Children’s Garden next June and were captivated as over 100 colorful balloons were dropped in the ramp!
Thanks to Chris, our exhibit designer, for making this happen. Visit our Facebook page for more photos. Did YOU take photos at Nori's Night Out? Please upload them!

And look for images of the upcoming exhibits next time you visit the Museum on this new display board, designed by Valerie, our graphic designer:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Creature Laboratory

On Saturday and Sunday, kids (and adults!) got a chance to create with recycled materials, inspired by the Mechanical Menagerie ramp box exhibit. Here’s what they made – and some details about their process:
A boy made a jellyfish with his mom and dad. The jellyfish caught 2 fish and a seahorse in its long yellow legs!

One girl decided not to make a creature, but a school. She used a large cup for the building and a bottle cap and coffee cup lid for a playground. She added pipe cleaners to the roof of her school as the finishing touch… balloons! But as she waited for her brother to finish working, she kept having more great ideas. In the end, she added a house and “trash can” to her school. She created a whole neighborhood!

Another boy spent almost an hour in the Creature Laboratory. First, he made a stack of cups. He explained that he was learning “speed stacking” in gym class, that he worked with a partner to stack and unstack cups as fast as they could while racing other teams. Over time, he added to his creation and in the end had an awesome cup structure.
A mom made this giraffe!

A squirrel and tree

This program is yet another example of how much kids enjoy open-ended activities and the opportunity to explore and “mess around” with interesting materials. Thanks to Experience Coordinator Liz Leahey for taking these photos and collecting stories of the kids’ process and creations!

Look for more kids’ creations in future posts.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Play Documentary Screening

It's been months, but it's finally time for our next screening of "Where Do the Children Play?" This time, the Children's Museum is partnering with The Pennfield School to present a free public screening of this provocative documentary, which examines an issue of growing concern among pediatricians, mental health experts, educators and environmentalists: more and more children are growing up with few opportunities for unstructured play, especially outdoors.

An audience discussion about the ideas explored in the film will follow, led by Museum director Janice O'Donnell; Aquidneck Land Trust stewardship director Andy Arkway; Norman Bird Sanctuary executive director Robert Cardeiro; Pennfield School athletic director Will Glennon; and pediatrician and RI American Academy of Pediatrics chapter president Dr. Elizabeth Lange.
The film will be shown

Wednesday, October 21
6:30 - 8:30 PM at

The Pennfield School

110 Sandy Point Avenue
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Click here to download a flyer.
Click here to learn about our last screening in June.

For more information, contact Megan Fischer at fischer@childrenmuseum.org.

The Children's Museum hopes to schedule more screenings of this thought-provoking film in communities across the state. Interested in hosting a screening in your community or at your organization? Please let us know by emailing the address above - we'd be happy to help you organize it!