Tackling Barriers of Inclusivity with Parent Ambassadors

Four years ago my colleagues and I were talking about barriers to visiting the Museum. The Museum is committed to providing playful learning experiences for all families but we know that there are many families in Boston who haven’t visited us yet. I started to think about what gives me the confidence to try something new and often it’s a friend bringing me along to a new activity with them – which is how I discovered Pickleball, Dim Sum and the Peabody Essex Museum!

What if we gave some parents who already use and love the Museum free memberships so that they could bring new families with them at no extra cost? These parents could serve as hosts, taking families on a tour perhaps or generally showing them the ropes – What can we touch? Where can I breastfeed? Will my child get lost in that scary climbing thing in the lobby? What line do I wait in?

The idea resonated with my colleagues, and in 2014 we launched a program called Parent Ambassadors to identify parents who are trusted community members in Boston neighborhoods who would be willing to introduce families to Boston Children’s Museum.

Before recruiting parents I had several conversations with some of our non-profit partners who serve children and families and were already using parents in leadership roles. They gave me some suggestions for how to shape the program and recruited a group of parents for me to run the idea by. After talking to the parents we adapted our idea based on their suggestions. For instance we made the membership good for 12 people instead of 6 because families come in many sizes. When we had the structure and Ambassador criteria defined, our partners recommended the program to some parent leaders in their neighborhoods and we recruited the first group of Parent Ambassadors who started in March 2014.

What have we learned?
We have learned a lot from the program. The Museum can be a very overwhelming place and Parent Ambassadors asked us for more tools to help them navigate the Museum and its learning opportunities. They are currently helping us test the 2nd iteration of a Parent Guide to Exhibits. Parent Ambassadors have also helped us see where barriers exist and where more training for staff is needed. Parents often enter the Museum with a high level of stress simply by trying to get here so it’s crucial that front line staff have a lot of empathy. Our staff also need to be approachable and knowledgeable about the learning attached to the play experiences because visitors see them as experts.

In addition, many of our Ambassadors are bringing families to the Museum who may not feel comfortable here if they don’t see themselves represented in our staff, exhibits, programs and the books displayed. Honest feedback from the Ambassadors has helped us to see that this can be a barrier. If we are to be a truly inclusive institution it is essential that our staff understand their own power, privilege and biases along with the basic concepts of social justice. To that end we’ve begun a series of trainings based on an anti-bias curriculum and are committed to this on-going process.

Parent Ambassadors talk with me frequently about their experiences in the Museum. They are united in their support of our mission but have identified some barriers to me that we didn’t foresee. Though we strive to be inclusive each of us has a lens through which we experience the world and having the benefit of many eyes is invaluable. Parent Ambassadors are those eyes.

Facts about our current Ambassadors:

1) They live in East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury, Hyde Park and Roslindale.
2) In addition to moms we have one dad and one grandparent Ambassador.
3) Their collective networks include: Madison Park CDC, YMCA, Boston Public Schools, Family Nurturing Center, Charlestown Tenant Association, The Kennedy Center (Charlestown), Social Security Administration, First Teacher, Boston Family Engagement Network, Vital Village, Nurtury, South Boston Neighborhood House.
4) Half of them are bilingual.
5) Ambassadors are involved in many of the same groups that Museum staff are so we see them frequently at other meetings and events in the city.

Becoming a Parent Ambassador?
Parent Ambassadors must be Boston residents who have children or grandchildren between the ages of 0-10. They are well known in their communities and love to share resources and build positive connections with new families. Ambassadors complete an application, an interview and a 3 hour training before they receive their memberships. In addition, there are 2 meetings per year they attend to share best practices. Ambassador terms are a maximum of 2 years.

Social Media and Our Children – We Can Say No

In a recent video produced by Boston Children’s Museum, we explored parents’ concerns about the challenges of parenting in a fast-changing, complex world. Many of the parents expressed concern about their children’s social media usage. Of course, we want our children to be fully fluent with the technology they will have to utilize in our increasingly high-tech world, but does that include social media? While understanding that technology is a very important learning tool, we must also acknowledge the dangers of enabling our young kids to socialize online before they have practiced developing and maintaining real friendships and before they have explored their own identity and developed some resilience and maturity.

Parents are worried about their kids spending too much time on screens, feeling left out by their friends online or, even worse, being cyber-bullied. We worry that they may be enticed to grow up too fast, or take on an identity that is not their own in order to belong. We worry about their privacy and safety in a realm we cannot control. All these are issues that are very important to be aware of, to monitor, and to feel empowered to address. We need to rigorously protect our kids’ privacy and monitor their interactions on the web. Now, we also need to protect their data, which has become a very valuable commodity. Think about it – the habits of our daily lives –  what we buy, what we care about, what we do with our time –  are collected, analyzed, quantified and sold to eager marketers who use our information for a multitude of purposes. This is a fact of modern life that, to some extent, we have come to accept. But what about our children’s information?

In a Washington Post article of May 16th, Valerie Strauss states, “Whether you know it or not, there is a remarkable amount of personal information about children now being collected by schools and their vendors that is then shared with government agencies, for-profit companies and other entities, all without parent consent.” This information goes beyond a child’s name, address and age. It can include their test scores, health data, medical records, grades and even what they had for lunch in school. The information is often stored “in the cloud,” offering access in a realm that is very new and not carefully regulated.

Several years ago, Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland, raised the alarm and started the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy along with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Their important work is laid out in Strauss’s article. Their work led to the creation of the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, an indispensable collection of information and tips about how to ensure your child’s data privacy is protected at school.

But school isn’t the only place where our children’s information is available. In a recent Wall Street Journal Article (December 52017), journalists Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman discuss Messenger Kids, the new Facebook messaging app for kids 6-12. This new app is designed to give young children an “on-ramp” to social media that can be controlled by parents. The way it works is this: the app is downloaded onto a phone or tablet and kids can message their friends, send videos, hold group chats, send stickers, etc. These are sent to a list of contacts that their parents have previously approved. Facebook insists that it will not use the app for advertising and parental control is inbuilt. Furthermore, they state that they are responding to parent demand. But, considering the ubiquitous practice of collecting data on our habits, friends, and interests, Messenger Kids feels like another way that companies can track us from the cradle to the grave. And, there’s an additional concern about young children using social media. Is it healthy for them? In the Washington Post article, Dr. Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan states, “When child usage becomes prolonged and immersive it can interrupt or displace other important activities such as reading, sleep or social interactions.” She also says that, “It’s the content of messaging – the unintentional slights, insults or oversharing – that I would want parents to be able to monitor.”

As parents, we need to resist the pressure on our kids to live many hours of the day on online. We can say no, or even “not now.” As hard as it is to resist their pleas to join in with their friends, it is harder to undo the harm that may be done by hurtful, and very public, social interactions. Of course, it is up to each individual parent to find their own path and there is no road map, which is the title of our video that I hope you will enjoy watching. Please let me know what your thoughts are on this tricky topic and let’s continue the conversation!

RESOURCES

Personal Data Is Collected On Kids At School All The Time, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, May 16, 2017

The Astonishing Amount of Data Being Collected About Your Children, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, November 12, 2015

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Toolkit

Should 6 Year Olds Be on Social Media? Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2017

NO ROAD MAP: Parenting in a Complex World (Produced by Boston Children’s Museum, Nov, 2017)

 

Happy Healthy Helpful Halloween

It’s October and that means Halloween – costumes, candy, pumpkins, parties. It can be an exciting time for families to play together and be creative. It can also be stressful, balancing expectations, deciding on costumes, and maintaining a healthy diet. Two previous posts on the Power of Play blog offer thoughtful tips for navigating the Halloween season and are worth a first read, or a second look.

Happy Healthy Halloween by Saki Iwamoto suggests ways to turn Halloween challenges into fun learning opportunities.

Note: In 2017, we will celebrate Halloween in simple ways at Boston Children’s Museum, starting with a Monster Mash KidsJam dance party on Friday October 27, and continuing with activities such as mask making and pumpkin explorations through October 31.

Indigenous Halloween Costumes: Empowering or Problematic written by Sara Tess Neumann and Meghan Evans tackles the complicated topic of costumes and cultural respect.

Note: The Native Voices traveling exhibit referred to in this post is no longer at Boston Children’s Museum.

Happy Halloween!

Say Hello to Unruly Studios!

You may have jumped, stepped on or whacked some moles on the Unruly Splats, the first product being released by Unruly Studios, at the Boston or New York Maker Faire in September 2017. If not, don’t worry! Unruly Studios will be camping out of the Boston Children’s Museum as part of the Museum’s Tech Kitchen programming.

Unruly Studios creates interactive games to empower kids with critical STEM skills while combining active learning, physical play, intellectual stimulation and social engagement. Unruly Splats, their first product, is the first ever educational technology product that teaches STEM skills through active learning, physical play, intellectual stimulation and social engagement.

This is the product we all have been waiting for! Understanding the importance of physical activity and social interaction for child development while also being mindful of the need of 21st century technical STEM skills, Unruly Spats blurs the line between physical activity and learning STEM. Now, you are no longer the bad cop pulling your kid away from the screen – this product will do it for you. Once the kids ideate new games, they can code these games on tablet or smartphone by changing the lights, sounds, and sensing of the Splats and that is when the fun begins! Once the game is coded, kids leave the screen aside and physically play the games they created with their siblings, friends, parents or even by themselves. They may always go back and change the code of the games and learn through the process of doing. By stimulating creative problem solving and intellectual thinking, Unruly Splats is the one to look out for!

Tech Kitchen at the Boston Children’s Museum provides a perfect platform for companies like Unruly Studios to create their own game zone to prototype, and test with millions of kids and fans of the Boston Children’s Museum. There is no better way to learn than by prototyping, testing and iterating. And that happens to be what Unruly Studios teaches kids to do through their product.

Come check Unruly Studios and many other companies that are part of the Tech Kitchen at the Boston Children’s Museum, from iRobot to Bose. Unruly Studios has a Kickstarter campaign live starting October 3 for 30 days where you can pre-order Unruly Splats for your home, school, library, or after-school program.

 

The Makers are Coming

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary day at Boston Children’s Museum.  Families and local working folks are having lunch, kids are chasing the pigeons, people are texting friends to make plans for tonight.  Inside the museum, kids and families enjoy the exhibits—blowing bubbles, exploring the Japanese House,  creating art.  But if you were to take a peek behind the secret doors, you’d spy a very different  scene. Boston Mini Maker Faire 2017 is just a few days away, and everyone on Boston Children’s Museum staff is getting ready.

In one room, the Production Team looks over the site plan.  They’re putting the finishing touches on the map and figuring out exactly where each Maker is going to go.  Some Makers need to be inside and some need to be outside; some need a lot of space; some need electricity; some need access to a water faucet.   The team is also working on placement of food trucks, water fountains, dining tables and Port-a-Potties.  It’s a lot to manage.

In another room, staff are stringing together lanyards.  Every Maker will get one.  Nearby, other staff are sorting out the materials needed for the Museum’s own booth at the Faire: the Nerdy Derby, the Human Paint Roller, and Scribblebots.  Upstairs, people are sorting the materials that have been gathered for the Take Something booth, where visitors will be able to pick up all kind of materials and gadgets to take home for their own maker projects! In other places, ticket sales are coming in, emails are being sent, phone calls are being made.

The staff managers are figuring out a schedule for Sunday.   Staff will need to cover the Admissions table and the Information Tent (and the Info Desk inside), as well as assist Makers pack in and out, help visitors find their way around,  reunite families who have gotten disconnected from each other, check tickets, as well as staff usual Museum exhibits. In addition, the staff will be joined by about 40 volunteers. Scheduling all those people into all those locations is a gargantuan task.  The staff managers are sure to drink a lot of coffee while they work it all out.

The Facilities Team is making sure we have all the tents, tables, chairs, signs, stanchions and everything else we’ll need on site on Sunday. With nearly 100 Makers coming, it’s important that we make sure they all have what they need to have a successful day. There’s a Plan B in case of bad weather.  We’ve been monitoring the forecast closely for the last week,  fingers crossed.  As of right now, it’s looking pretty good.

Behind the scenes at Boston Children’s Museum is abuzz with all kinds of activity to make sure this Sunday’s Maker Faire will be a grand success.   It will all be worth it when the crowds arrive on Sunday morning discover the joy of creating, innovating, inventing and….Making! You can still buy tickets here!  We can’t wait to see you!

 

Martin’s Park – A Symbol of Joy, Friendship, and Peace for All

Photo credit – Clive Grainger, 2017

Today was a momentous day, as Bill, Denise, Jane and Henry Richard, Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh and others, broke ground on Martin’s Park; soon to be a world-class, accessible City of Boston park and playground in the “back yard” of our Museum on Fort Point Channel. This park, dedicated to Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, will be a symbol of all that is good in us – strength, resilience, love and fellowship. Martin’s vision of peace is the inspiration for this visionary place where all children and their families will play, have fun, and learn for years to come. And we need Martins’ vision now, more than ever!

In recent months, we have seen our civic discourse become increasingly divisive and destructive. While we, as Americans, may have views as diverse as our origins, we must all agree on one thing: hate and bigotry have no place in our society and we must do everything we can to stop it. In this context, the groundbreaking of Martin’s Park takes on a greater importance and urgency. For this park will be a symbol of peace and inclusiveness that reflects the noble aspirations of a family and a community.  It will forever inspire us to make a better world, a world in which every child can experience the exhilarating joy of play, discovery, and friendship. A park that will be a symbol for all, of the light and love that can emerge from darkness.  Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.”  Therefore this park will be, for all time, the brightly shimmering candle reflected in the mirror of thousands of children’s shining faces.

Please join me in celebrating this historic ground-breaking and its urgent message of peace and hope for our city, our state and our country.

The Fish of Māui : Te Ika a Māui

Kolie Swavely is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections Management and Curatorial Practice for summer 2017. Her work at Boston Children’s Museum has focused on cataloging and digitizing the Polynesian collection and finding cultural materials that connect to stories, myths, and legends around the world. She is completing a graduate certificate in Museum Studies at Tufts University.

Hello! Or, as the greeting goes in New Zealand, Kia Ora!

As the current E. Growdon Intern at Boston Children’s Museum, I work within collection’s storage, a place that some could compare to the likes of a secret garden. Now, imagine that garden filled not with flowers, but with ethnographic artifacts and pieces of cultural history collected by world travelers over 100 years ago!

As museums continue to care for their collections, ensuring that each and every piece of art and artifact is in the best condition possible, it is easy to lose track of the stories each one tells, and has yet to tell. Like a fish to a glittering lure, there is always an artifact that catches your eye, beckoning to be explored and revived. Here at Boston Children’s Museum, I myself have been hooked. While carefully documenting objects, I continue to uncover many that speak to me; and this fishhook I present today definitely speaks loudly of its cultural origin, the Māori of New Zealand.

Fishhook/ “Matau” Culture of Origin: Māori of New Zealand. Object ID: OS 78. Collection: Oceania; Polynesia. Materials: Bone, Abalone, Wood, Sennit Cord. Dimensions: 1.125” x 0.625” x 3.75”. Collected by Miss Lucy M. Prince, 1898. Donated, 1915

This beautiful fishhook (above) was donated to Boston Children’s Museum in 1915, Continue reading

Dress to Express

Take a velvet robe, add a football helmet, or a floppy summer hat and let your imagination soar. Dress up and role playing fosters creativity and empathy and helps children grow physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Physical Development

First you’ve got to get the costume on. Dressing up is a chance for young children to practice basic skills like pulling arms through sleeves and slipping shoes onto feet. Buttoning a button and tying a belt require fine motor skills.  Strutting around pretending to be a king, twirling like a dancer, and crawling like a cat, develop muscles and balance.

Social and Emotional Development

Continue reading

Healthy Food Fun at Fresh Fridays!

Do you like eating fresh fruits and vegetables?  If you do, that’s great, but don’t worry even if fruits and vegetables are not your or your child’s favorite. There are many ways to interact with fresh produce beyond just eating it!

Last Friday, July 7, 2017, Boston Children’s Museum hosted the opening event of Fresh Fridays, partnering with Boston Public Market and supported by Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare Foundation. Fresh Fridays came out of our collaborative wish to help children and families enjoy more fresh local produce and have a more enjoyable time with food. For the young children to be more interested in fruits and vegetables as well as healthy eating in general, we wanted to create a program in which everyone feels safe and can have fun together from a variety of angles beyond just preaching, “eat your vegetables”. Many experts suggest that having early, positive experiences around food as a family can help children develop more curiosity about food and the willingness to try new food. With this philosophy in mind, we developed a series of activities representing the ideas of “shopping together,” “cooking together,” and “eating together.’ Continue reading

Listening to Change (Ourselves)

Boston Children’s Museum is loud. Kids are noisy and the Museum has a lot of them – 500,000 people fill the museum with their voices every year. Shouts, laughter, complaints, sobs, questions. That is a lot of noise.  I was recently asked to write a blog post and, sitting at my desk adjacent to an exhibit, it can be difficult to wax philosophical about museum education over the rumble of so many voices. But, whenever I feel this way, that the noise of play is an impediment to work, I try to catch myself. Behind every sound is a story. And hearing a good story changes you. And so I stop trying to squeeze out the distractions and listen to what the Museum has to say. Continue reading