Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Where Do the Children Play? - Newport

In January, a crowd of nearly 60 parents, teachers, childcare workers and environmental educators joined us at St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport for our sixth community screening of "Where Do the Children Play?" – we’ve been doing this for a year now! We had yet another lively, fascinating discussion – one of the best yet.

The panelists responded to the film first:

Susan Cooper, Director of the Newport Recreation Department, said it was her third time seeing film. “Bottom line: play is valuable. And we have to set the example, to play too.” She talked about the Healthy Newport 2010 initiative, to encourage the community to play more and support healthy bodies, minds, imaginations.

Dr. Keivan Ettefagh, pediatrician with Aquidneck Medical Associates, evoked the image of kids climbing trees – “How many parents want padding and a helmet? We’re so safety conscious… Let kids solve their own problems. If adults solve them, they’ll never learn to do it themselves.” He spoke about the fear factor: “Who will be watching our kids play?” We have to let go, trust that they’ll be ok – and teach them safety.

David Forrest (Physical Education teacher, St. Michael's) started with a math problem: School is 8 hours, kids average 4.5 hours screen time, 9 hours of sleep, 1.5 hours dining/commuting = 23 hours (during the school year). “It doesn’t leave much time for play – kids are overstructured.” He described a fixed up park across from his house, but there aren’t kids unless there’s a coach or umpire – “they’re not on their own, and that’s where true skills come in.” Kids don’t play for the sake of playing, they have a purpose.

Mimi Carrellas (Physical Education/Science teacher at St. Michael's) spoke about getting back to basics – teaching kids to jump rope, hula hoop – and helping kids have fun with phys ed because they’re in so many organized sports. “Play is where kids develop passion.” Kids need to learn that “it’s ok to make mistakes – some are afraid to take risks. Free play helps with locomotor skills.” Museum director Janice O’Donnell commented that, “It’s funny that adults are teaching kids to play.”

Bernadette Griffin (Pre-Kindergarten teacher, St. Michael's) has seen a shift in ways kids play, to using books as laptops and pretending they’re video game characters. “Parents have to make a conscious effort to give kids unstructured time.”

Some highlights from the audience conversation:
  • A parent said it’s a problem in Newport that you don’t see kids in neighborhoods, they’re not outside
  • Dr. Ettefagh: The problem of our neighborhoods – they’re pods that don’t connect, with only one entrance
  • Mimi: “Do our kids have the memories we had as children, of play and fun?” Janice: “With no grown-ups. Those were my best memories.”
  • A father spoke about fear and the example set by parents: “We do not go out and meet our neighbors.”
  • A parent who moved to Newport from outside Cambridge because everything was too structured there said that Newport feels freer, easier. Her family changed their entire lives to come there but “you have to find the community you feel comfortable in.”
  • A speech pathologist and parent of young children noted that, “all toys talk, make noise or are from TV shows or movies. Kids have very specific ways to play with those toys and don’t use their imaginations.” (And we LOVE that she mentioned she’d read David Elkind’s The Power of Play while visiting the Museum, in our Play Power exhibit!)
  • The panelists on toys: “The ones kids like are blocks, legos, dress up – those last forever.” “Let kids use toys in unconventional ways – it’s better and requires using their imaginations.”
  • A staff person from a childcare center questioned whether the school system is part of the problem. Parents ask, “Why is my preschooler playing all day? When’s he going to learn something, get ready for kindergarten?”
  • And a parent responded that her kindergarten son complains about no time for recess.
We ended with an excited crowd with so much left to say. And the conversation about the importance of kids’ unstructured play continues on the Museum’s PlayWatch listserv, and during two upcoming film screenings/discussions:

Tuesday, March 16 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Temple Beth-El
70 Orchard Avenue
Providence, RI 02906
(click here to download a flyer)

Tuesday, March 30 | 7:00 - 9:00 PM
University of Rhode Island
Flagg Road Kingston, RI 02881

Spread the word and stay tuned for more details.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was sorry to miss it in Newport - hope to catch it in Providence. And, yes, my kindergartner complains that they "NEVER EVER get to play" at school. Sad...