Monday, April 29, 2013

Turn Off the Books

This post by Education Programs Coordinator Jillian Finkle (also posted on Kidoinfo) is in honor of Screen-Free Week (April 29-May 5, 2013), a national celebration presented by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages children, families, schools and communities to turn off screen media for a week – to unplug, play, read, create, explore.

My 3-year-old, like any kid, loves to watch TV and play electronic games. We limit his time with these activities but it’s always a battle. I can’t understand why screens are more attractive than the free, open-ended play we promote at the Museum, and sometimes I worry that I’m being too strict about it. But so far I’ve held my ground, even though it feels like the entire world is working against me: from televisions in restaurants, to relatives with iPads, to toothbrushes with cartoon characters on them. At least he loves books, too!

We all know that American kids in general are watching too much TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting children’s screen time (which also includes computers, tablets, and video games) to 1-2 hours of quality media per day for children over age 2 – and none for children younger than 2. These experts cite the need for physical activity and interpersonal interactions and the prevalence of violence even in children’s programming.

To further complicate the issue for parents, e-reading devices have now entered the mix. A recent Scholastic reading study reported that the number of children using e-readers has doubled since 2010. While some of the kids’ story “apps” are little more than subtitled television that read the story for you, perhaps with interactive animated illustrations, others are just like actual books. So then, do they count as “screens”? What difference does it make if a child reads a paper book or an electronic one?

For older children, there can be benefits to using e-readers. Many of them have embedded dictionaries so children can easily look up words they don’t know. The adjustability of font size allows for fewer words on the “page” at a time, which can help focus struggling readers or children with dyslexia. It’s easy to download new content, and many libraries now loan e-titles along with regular books. And then there’s the cool factor – some children might be more likely to read or to read more on an electronic device.

For young children, reading books with adults builds vocabulary and interest in reading and allows for adult-child attention and closeness. Don’t we get those things whether we read a book together on paper or a screen?

Not necessarily. First there is young children’s need for real objects and experiences, and they can’t always distinguish what’s real from what happens on a screen. And turning pages is a physical skill to be learned. But most importantly, it is the adults’ words and actions beyond the story itself that makes reading to children most beneficial, and those are different when we use e-readers.

According a 2011 Temple University study, adult-child conversation was more about the use of the device itself than about the story when reading books electronically, and that impeded children’s story comprehension. Another study at Vanderbilt University found that adults asked fewer story-related questions with video screen content as opposed to a physical book. And of course if there are things to touch on the screen, it can distract a child from the story.

Why not try cutting out or cutting down on the screens during Screen-Free Week? Go outside and play, build a blanket fort, or visit the Museum instead. I’ll be pulling out the most creative ideas in my bag of tricks to make it the best possible week for my 3-year old!

Want to unplug this week? Take the pledge from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and find guides for participating in Screen-Free Week. For more screen-free resources, download the Museum's Kids, Play and Digital Media resource sheet.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Volunteers Make a BIG Difference

Today marks the end of National Volunteer Week, a time to recognize the extraordinary individuals who enhance every aspect of the Museum’s work. We simply could not open our doors without the support of our committed team volunteers.
Did You Know?
In 2012, 274 dedicated volunteers, interns and work-study students collectively served more than 12,300 hours.  Volunteers guide inspiring play and learning experiences and greet visitors at the Admissions Desk and Gift Shop each day.  Behind the scenes, they complete research and evaluation projects, assist with fundraising events, prepare mailings, and much more.
This week, Museum staff showed their appreciation with a game night, ice cream and festive dress-up days, planned by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Jack Read. Jack also created a special volunteer recognition board to give staff an opportunity to share why they value our volunteers:

"The interns in our program are responsible, reliable and passionate about working with at-risk families.  Some have stayed on for full-time positions, which shows how much they care."
Heidi Brinig, Families Together Program Director
"Our volunteers, interns and work-study students vary in age, ethnicity, where they’re from.  They bring their life experience, which enriches our visitors’ experience."
Jennifer Laurelli, Director of Development

"We’ve had a great group of exhibit interns.  They help us create our new play environments and provide us with so much new energy."
Robin Meisner, Director of Exhibits

"Whether they are playing a game, reading a story, or talking with other volunteers and staff, their smiles and their love for the Museum are contagious.  I appreciate the joy volunteers bring to the Museum, not only for visitors, but for staff as well."
Julie Burkhard, Volunteer & AmeriCorps Coordinator

Many thanks to our remarkable team!  Click here or contact Julie Burkhard to learn about our volunteer opportunities.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Playful New Video

Take a look at kids at play throughout the Museum in this wonderful new ad, courtesy of WPRI 12/Fox Providence.

You'll see it airing on local TV stations soon!

Friday, April 12, 2013

May Play Events

Play & Risk: How Safe is Too Safe?
Tuesday, May 7 | 7:00 - 8:30 PM

The Museum, the Providence Athenaeum and Kidoinfo present the final conversation in Speaking of Play, a series about the importance of play for children's healthy development. Acceptable risk is beneficial to kids’ physical and emotional development, so when did it become a 4-letter word?  Taking risks helps children learn about their own capabilities and limits while increasing their comfort with making mistakes and taking on challenges.  Discuss ways to foster healthy risk-taking in kids’ play with panelists Dr. William Hollinshead, pediatrician; Wendy Nilsson, director, Partnership for Providence Parks; and Sarah O'Brien, LICSW, play therapist. Conversation moderated by Museum director Janice O’Donnell.

RSVPs are welcome to Lindsay Shaw or (401) 421-6970 ext. 17. Click here to download a flyer for the series.

Pop-Up PLAY Day!
Saturday, May 11 | 12:00 - 5:00 PM
at India Point Park in Providence

Credit Pop-Up Adventure Play
Join a Pop-Up PLAY Day to kick off Playful Providence 2013 – a citywide celebration of play! Explore a Pop-Up Adventure Playground, a free public celebration of open-ended, child-directed play featuring an abundance of "loose parts" like sticks and branches, cardboard boxes, fabric and other interesting materials.  Build forts, design structures, invent imaginative playthings and more!

Pop-Up PLAY Day is planned by the Partnership for Providence Parks in collaboration with Pop-Up Adventure Play, Providence Children’s Museum, the City of Providence (Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, Healthy Communities Office and Office of Sustainability) Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, Friends of India Point Park and other partners.

The second annual Playful Providence is a 5-month citywide celebration of play commemorating Providence's status as a Playful City, a recognition that honors cities and towns that make play a priority.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rallying Around Recess

Last Tuesday evening, an audience of more than 50 people gathered for the second event in the Speaking of Play series – a provocative conversation about the important benefits of recess. Moderated by Museum director Janice O’Donnell, panelists shared stories of their recess struggles and sparked an enthusiastic and passionate audience exchange about joining together as a community to stand up for recess.

The Panelists
Psychologist Lauren Greve (a parent at Providence's Vartan Gregorian Elementary School) noted some of the arguments against recess – that it takes away from valuable instructional time and bullying happens – and cited research that debunks them. Children’s attention to school tasks decreases if they’re deprived of a break, and the benefits of recess on school performance are immediate.  Bullying is low with appropriate adult supervision. Recess time helps kids develop social/emotional skills – better focus, memory, creativity, cooperation, conflict resolution, self discipline, respect for rules, and can decrease aggression.

As an elementary art teacher in Franklin, MA, Alicia Bell loves having regular recess duty. And there’s not a day they haven’t had recess – kids are encouraged to bring boots and snow pants and play outside. But when she realized that recess is not a regular part of her second grade daughter’s day at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Providence, she spoke to the teacher, shared concerns with other parents, and began documenting what happened each day. While she’s noticed some changes and more attention to recess, it still sometimes gets taken away from whole classes because of the behavior of a few kids and they don’t always get indoor recess on days they can’t go outside.

URI lecturer Phyllis Penhallow is on the third year of a successful recess crusade in the Chariho district and noted several issues that brought recess to her attention. Outdoor recess was limited by weather at the principal’s discretion and kids watched movies during indoor recess. The school playspace and equipment was inadequate. Waiting for kids to line up quietly cut into their 20 minutes of recess. A core group of parents took up the cause and stirred things up by getting a newspaper reporter to do a story, got articles and research about the importance of play before the school committee, and prepared a presentation and report for the Board of Regents. Among their successes, they’ve strengthened relationships with the principal and superintendent, are helping rewrite the school wellness policy so that recess can’t be withheld, and are part of strategic planning for the district, advocating for physical activity and free unstructured time.

Credit Susan Sancomb
The Conversation

“If the value of recess was recognized, it wouldn’t be taken away.”  – Janice O'Donnell, Museum director

On recess withheld as a punitive measure: What alternatives can teachers, schools and districts use to respond to behavior issues instead of withholding recess entirely from a child – or a whole class? Are there other things that can be taken away? Alicia advocated the model from Franklin, MA: children lose just a minute of recess, though not for a first offense, and it’s effective – it gives them time to reflect and they don’t see the same kids losing recess time repeatedly.

A child psychiatrist shared several thoughts: he sees children deprived of recess because they haven’t finished their work, often due to attention problems and learning disabilities. It’s normal for people to talk, abnormal to stand in quiet lines: “There’s a culture that gets perpetrated – generation to generation – in schools that’s completely alien to what happens outside of school. We need to advocate for rules that are reasonable to the situation but also reasonable to the child.”

On rethinking classroom time: Play has been taken out of kindergarten classrooms and children are expected to sit and listen quietly – “people forget what’s developmentally appropriate for young children,” noted a first grade teacher. Plus many kids are kinesthetic learners who don’t sit well and need movement to be successful. Teachers can incorporate more movement and play in the classroom at all levels.

What Can WE Do?
  • Be prepared, be persistent. In Providence, success has come only from getting in front of the school board with data and following up again and again.
  • Get the word out. Write letters, engage the media.
  • Enlist allies. Get pediatricians and child psychologists/psychiatrists to speak on behalf of recess. A clever suggestion from Dr. Bill Hollinshead, former president of the RI chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “In the spirit of guerilla activity, ask your pediatrician to write a [prescription] for recess. ”
  • Build community and a bigger movement. Help schools in other parts of the city or state that might not have resources with advice, templates, research.
  • Plan for play. If involved in planning a school, advocate for the lunch area to be near the play area, so there’s less transition time and standing in lines.
  • Question testing. As parents and a community, we have to question the notion that testing is important and that play isn’t – “we’re in the position of power to shift those norms.”
Download Take a Stand for Recess, a sheet with practical resources and guides plus articles and research that will help make the case for recess. What can and will YOU do?

And join the final conversation in the Speaking of Play seriesPlay and Risk: How Safe is Too Safe? – on Tuesday, May 7 from 7:00 - 8:30 PM at the Providence Athenaeum!