Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Where Do the Children Play?" - Providence

Last week we hosted our 7th (!) community screening and discussion of the powerful documentary "Where Do the Children Play?" at Temple Beth-El in Providence. After having done this so many times over the last year, it amazes me that the conversations continue to be so rich – and so different each time. I also continue to notice new things about the film, even after more than a dozen viewings. A thought that struck me this time, from Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, lead author of the 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics report about the importance of play: Childhood is becoming parent and adult driven, no longer child driven.

From our conversation:

Museum director Janice O’Donnell: “Kids are not playing the ways they used to, they’re not outside. Saying kids need to play is like saying ‘you should eat food.’ It’s important that we’re convening a community of people who care about these issues.”

Panelist Renee Rudnick, assistant head of the Jewish Community Day School (JCDSRI) talked about the impact of the film and the community screenings: “Colleagues went to a previous screening and were struck by the film. We showed it to our faculty and silence fell over the room. They reflected on their own childhoods, nostalgic for being outside.”
She spoke about how the film affected thinking about what goes on at the school, inside and out. “We saw the film in January and made a commitment to having outside recess as much as possible, and teachers thought about how they could bring education outside.” They created a garden – classes have their own plots, parents come in to work, even in the summer, and the school uses some of the vegetables in hot lunch. Teachers also agreed there was a decline in creativity in kids, in being self-starters and are thinking about how they can overcome that in their classrooms. “This documentary gives us the courage to look for a way out, to be able to talk about these issues in a different way to parents.”

Panelist Scott Wolf, executive director of Grow Smart RI presented another layer to the conversation: “There’s not enough attention to how we design our communities, how our kids grow up, how we live our lives. Grow Smart is interested in designing communities that work for people and is working to break down barriers, to have more mixed use, more walkable communities, to change zoning codes, redevelop existing buildings and communities.”

Panelist Dr. W. George Scarlett of Tufts University said he shares the values of the film but he also questioned it on a few points: “This generation of kids is growing up to be just as good as us. We always think the next generation is going to hell. Think about racism in the 50s, when I was growing up. We trade problems but we also trade compensations.” He also questioned the “mistaken idea that organized sports are harmful, and video games,” and commented, “there’s a lack of appreciation for the diversity of the ways kids play.”

A professor of graphic design spoke about changes she’s seen being an educator and in a creative industry: “Kids miss out on unpredictability [because of the] predetermined outcomes of video games, although there are benefits to hand-eye coordination. Students are not that resourceful, which I attribute to lack of play, or too much organized play. They want to be told what to do, to have their hands held.

A kindergarten teacher: “Adults – parents, teachers, grandparents – have to evaluate their roles, the balance of getting involved in kids' play and of stepping back.”

George: “Play, nature and educational issues get lumped together in the film. We need to think about them independently and need to get back to a constructivist, progressive approach – kids generating rules of the classroom." Scott: “But there’s pressure on teachers not to take an overly unstructured approach.”

A parent of a kindergartner said her child’s biggest complaint is "I don’t like school, I don’t get to play." She added her concerns that kids with behavior problems are punished with sitting out of recess, kids have too much homework, their day is too scheduled because of testing.

A pediatric physical therapist shared reflections she’s heard from occupational therapists: “They’re seeing more kids with regulation problems, kids having trouble attending to tasks, ‘sensory seekers’ who are not getting enough sensory experiences, which is integral to development.” Janice: “Studies show that kids who have unstructured time actually have an easier time attending.”

A child life specialist shared, “I’m a different parent than I wanted to be.” She ended up sending her son to preschool early because his friends had gone and the playgrounds were empty. After growing up in the woods herself, “it’s hard to be a parent in an urban environment because you can’t walk to school or much else” though her son “craves being outside – even taking out the recycling, being outside by himself.”

Naomi Stein from JCDSRI said she grew up in the Bronx and “In New York City, there’s incredible communal space. Everyone is on the playground. Here, everyone has their own swing set. It’s not a matter of an urban or rural setting but the function of a community.

Lauri Lee from JCDSRI: “If giving kids a cell phone makes you comfortable to let them go outside, give them a phone. I gave my son one at a much younger age than I intended just to be able to let him go.”

And there were also plenty of conversations and connections after the discussion, about childhood play memories, shared Little League teams, getting kids together to play - while enjoying snacks generously provided by Whole Foods.

Disappointed that you missed it? We’re doing it again next week:

Tuesday, March 30
| 7:00 - 9:00 PM
University of Rhode Island
Flagg Road Kingston, RI 02881
(click here to download a flyer)

And again on April 28 at St. Luke’s School in Barrington and May 18 at William Hall Library in Cranston. Stay tuned for details. You can also join the conversation about the need for play on the Museum’s PlayWatch listserv.


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