Friday, October 22, 2010

Where Do the Children Play? – URI

Last week was our 10th screening and discussion of the documentary “Where Do the Children Play?,” this time at the University of Rhode Island. The conversations are always so rich, but this time we heard some interesting new comments and perspectives. Some highlights:
  • Museum director Janice O’Donnell talked about how, with our new play spaces, “We’ve been noticing kids’ self-directed play, especially outside. Kids still do know how to play, we just have to let them.”
  • Sue Warford, URI Child Development Center director, said she views the film through a lens of what happens in classrooms: “The amount of time for play in classrooms has diminished … why are we taking this away from kids?”
  • Jeanine Silversmith started RI Families in Nature 2 years ago, inspired by Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods,” and it’s grown to 74 people on the last hike. The easy monthly hikes “give parents a break because everyone is looking out for everyone else’s kids – it takes the pressure off.”
  • Su Rubinoff of Meadowbrook Waldorf School talked about how important it is for kids to connect with nature and shared a story of 7 kids (ages 3-7) who spent a long time working together to make a pool for a frog – showing cooperation and social navigating. “Kids are entitled today – they don’t have to wait, to share. There’s not just one computer, one car, one phone … Society is teaching kids to be isolated and entitled, so we have to work extra hard to put them in situations where they’re working together.
  • A professor of Human Development echoed that idea: “We’re raising a population of adults who are egocentric – not kind and patient.” Sue: “There’s a direct relationship to the way expectations are being delivered in schools right now … we’re expecting too much think-in-a-box mentality, too much conformity – we need to nurture compassionate collaboration and problem solving.
  • Janice offered a counter argument: schools were also regimented in the 50s “but we had a real life – after school, on Saturdays, in the summer, outside.” She expressed concern that out-of-school-time is regimented too much now, too.
  • Jeanine: “Kids are not being allowed to see their shortcomings and what they’re good at, which means they have no compensation technique later on … As a parent, I need to let them mess up and fall.
  • On structure and too many activities: audience members talked about the prevalence of summer camps – often weeks of structured activities – and giving parents the message that it’s what they’re supposed to do. “Parents have to not do it – just get together and let the kids play.”
  • A preschool director said she grew up in 50s and is struck by the fear factor now: “Parents drive kids to the bus stop … it used to be kids felt ‘I’m safe with any adult.’” Jeanine: We need to keep walking to the bus, talking about it to others.
  • A home school parent said her kids only have 3 hours of structured academic time per week and they’re ahead of public schools. They’re free to go off and explore the rest of the time. Janice: We need to give kids responsibility.
  • Two preschool teachers: Parents don’t want their kids outside – “they’ll get sick, they’re afraid” – they come late so they don’t have to go outside.
  • A URI student shared that she was raised by parents who thought it was important to get outside but they weren’t in a good area for that – no other kids were out. “How can I balance that as a parent later on?”
  • A teacher and parent of 3 elementary school boys: “We need to be careful about parental education, be empathetic to their fears.”
  • Another preschool teacher mentioned the scene in the film where a parent was driving and all of the kids were in the backseat, absorbed in their individual screens. “I remember having conversations [during car rides], kids noticing things, playing games, singing songs – all of that is play, is creative. Now we’re given all kinds of conveniences and kids go from inside the house to another inside environment without noticing anything.
Resources mentioned:
Read more about the lively conversation in URI’s student paper. And join the conversation about the importance of play on the Museum's PlayWatch listserv!


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