Monday, March 31, 2014

Learning About Learning: Parent Interviews

The Museum is partnering with Brown University's Causality and Mind Lab on a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project (award #1223777) to study how children develop scientific thinking skills and understand their own learning processes.  Museum researcher Suzy Letourneau is investigating how to make kids’ learning through play visible and shared this project update.

Over the last few months, we conducted interviews with nearly 90 parents and caregivers of children ages 3 to 11, asking what they think about when watching their children play, and what they think their children are thinking about. We also asked them to describe the specific behaviors that they noticed in their children’s play, and what these behaviors showed them about their children’s thought processes.

Parents reported playing many different roles during their visits. They supervised, taught, helped, encouraged, played along (or nearby), or just relaxed and watched their children having fun.  Many parents reflected on how their children played – what captured their interest, where they spent a long time, and what they were trying to do. Parents also thought about how their children have changed as they’ve grown, or how their children have particular strengths, quirks, and learning styles that showed up in their play.

A lot of parents noticed their children thinking while playing.  Nearly half (45%) reported seeing their children focus or concentrate on something – looking serious, being in their own worlds, and not being distracted by anything around them.  Others noticed their kids purposefully trying to accomplish something (23%), describing what they were doing (33%), or using trial and error to test things they were working on (20%).  Some parents also noticed their children being persistent and independent – not wanting help from anyone, even when things were difficult (25%), or being determined and not wanting to leave until they were “done” (38%).

All of these behaviors are indicators of children’s thinking; they show that children solve problems independently, articulate their ideas, keep their goals in mind, maintain their attention, and reflect on what they are doing. These skills are foundations of “metacognition” – mental processes that allow us to reflect on our own thoughts and knowledge. Although as adults we have accumulated a lot of experience thinking through unpredictable situations, children are still mastering these skills, and play offers many opportunities for them to practice.

Check back for future Learning About Learning project updates, and look for Museum researchers prototyping tools for visitors this spring.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Unplugged: Celebrating Healthy Children and Strong Families

Next week is the Museum’s annual gala fundraiser, Unplugged – The Way to Play. This year, the fun and festive event celebrates healthy children and strong families and honors community leaders who support the well-being of kids and families. Three of these leaders shared the ways they liked to play as children, and their reflections on how those play experiences contributed to the work they do now.

Elizabeth Burke Bryant – Executive Director, RI Kids Count
My favorite ways to play included paper dolls on the back porch (the paper doll folders were the houses for the paper doll inhabitants), wiffle ball on our street with neighborhood children, sledding in the winter, and hide and go seek in the summer.

All of the neighborhood games taught me how to get along with others, how to get organized, and how to give it all I had. The other kinds of games like paper dolls were played with individuals who became life-long friends, and that taught me the importance of finding friends and colleagues that are a joy to be with, because the journey through life and work is best when you can share it with wonderful people.

Dr. Rajiv Kumar – Founder/CEO, ShapeUp
I was lucky to grow up in a safe and spacious neighborhood chock full of other kids my age. We spent our days after school, on weekends, and during summers riding bikes, roller-blading, building forts, playing kick ball, and swimming at the local pool club, which was just a short bike ride through the woods behind one of our neighbor’s houses. On summer evenings our favorite activities were running around trying to catch fireflies or playing hide-and-seek in the dark (yes, we were scared!). We looked forward to winter so we could go sledding, ice skating, skiing and build igloos in the snow. When I have kids one day, I truly hope that they can experience the same kind of magical and carefree childhood that I did, centered around outdoor activities and social games.

I benefited from a playful childhood, and that experience that has stuck with me and lies at the very heart of the work that I do. I truly believe that the pathway to a healthier nation – starting with a healthier generation of young people – lies in an approach to well-being that puts fun activities, healthy games, and social support front and center. That’s what we do at ShapeUp, and it appears to be working!

Wendy Nilsson – Executive Director, Partnership for Providence Parks
As a kid I played by creating. I made make-believe worlds out of anything. I nailed planks to apple trees to make an arboreal world high above the everyday, using the rotten apples to defend my lair; turned a deep snowfall into a village of snow pods connected by narrow paths and surrounded by spent cat o’ nine tails; led a kingdom where the castle was under the protection of the arching boughs of a willow tree, and I am quite certain, an alien. I loved to make or transform stuff more than playing with things as they were intended. My Barbies and Sunshine Family were the first to get pierced ears with push pins, have their hair dyed pitch black with mascara and sport newly fashioned outfits from crochet and fabric scraps. I loved to make art and articulate the worlds and characters that amused me, and I enjoyed inviting others to be a part of the play.

As a kid, I was making places out of spaces, which is what I do now for parks. Along with an incredible team, I bring together neighbors, businesses, schools and others to help revitalize the amazing array of parks and green spaces in Providence.  Just as when I was a child, we do our best to use materials and resources creatively. We make communities where children can gather and play out roles that are limited only by imagination. I guess I have been in training for this job a long time!

Monday, March 24, 2014

New in Play Power!

Check out the most recent addition to our Play Power exhibit – a playful building activity that invites visitors to invent imaginative creations. Using flexible and brightly colored pieces that stick to surfaces and to each other with suction cups, kids and families can connect and stack to form intriguing sculptures and other creative constructions.

We’re committed to providing a range of activities that promote different types of play and to keeping fresh by frequently changing elements of our exhibits.  This addition enhances existing Play Power activities with more opportunities for creativity, artistic expression and tactile exploration. 

Says Exhibits Director Robin Meisner:
“The exhibits team often experiments with new activities for children and their grown-ups, and we love to hear your opinions about them.  We think these add a nice "pop" to Play Power - what's your impression?  After you test them out, please share your thoughts with one of our Play Guides or Experience Coordinators.”

Experience Coordinators Katie and Seth gave it a serious test and made some impressive “suction constructions”!

“In the three years I've been visiting, the exhibits have changed, making it new each time.” 
– Museum visitor

Updates to Play Power activities are underwritten by Dominion Foundation.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Talking Back: Cole, Age 2

We’ve had a mysterious and astute toddler visitor in recent months, known to us only as “Cole, Age 2," who has left several philosophical and eloquent notes in response to queries on our talk back boards:

How do you play with dirt and mud?

What kind of art do you make?

The knowledge – and penmanship – represented in these messages are truly impressive for such a young child. Cole, it’s clear that you’ve experienced a great deal in your first two years, and we eagerly await your next correspondence.