Play as Immunization: Mitigating Stress and Supporting Healthy Development through Collective Impact

Dad and DaughterThis article, written by Anna Housley Juster and Saki Iwamoto of Boston Children’s Museum, is reprinted from “The Forum”, the newsletter of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Winter 2016, Volume 17, No. 1.

Public Health Issue

Play supports healthy child-adult con­nections, social emotional skills, resilien­cy, and executive function — making it one of the best immunizations we have against toxic stress, anxiety, depression, and the behavioral issues that impede school success (Folkman and Moskowitz, 2000; Pellegrini and Bohn-Gettler, 2013; Zigler, Singer, and Bishop-Josef, 2004). In spite of the empirically proven benefits of play, including school success and stress reduction, many children across income groups in the United States are not cur­rently afforded the time, space, and per­mission they need to build the foundational skills required to live physi­cally and mentally healthy lives and to reach their fullest potential. Continue reading

How to Make Transitions Easier

transitionHappy New Year! As we are transitioning into the year of 2016, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about transitions for children.  We see a lot of struggles in transitions in the Museum. Children are having fun, and why would they want to leave?  Although it’s very typical for young children to have a hard time going from one activity to another, especially when they are not ready, it’s also not fun for anyone to watch children kicking and screaming for not wanting to move on. Following are some tips that may help children transition a little easier.  Continue reading

Talking Art

Photo courtesy of Rene Dongo

Photo Credit: Rene Dongo

Holiday break can be a great time to see art as a family at a local museum or gallery. Ever wondered how to engage children in conversation about art? Here are some questions and tips you can use to get started:

– Let children lead the way. “What would you like to look at?” or “Take me to a painting that you want to see!” invites them to survey the space and find something that looks interesting to them. Continue reading

That Giant Milk Bottle

BCM at NightSince 1977, visitors to Boston Children’s Museum have been greeted, as they approach the Museum, by a 40-foot tall building in the shape of a milk bottle. This may seem like an unusual choice for the front of the Museum, but it was not placed there as a statement on the importance of dairy in one’s diet, nor is it a marketing tool for Hood. There is a story behind this structure, and it is one filled with twists, turns and intrigue. The Milk Bottle’s journey has been an interesting one, and in the nearly four decades since its trip to Boston, it has become a beloved icon of the Museum and our mission. Continue reading

Toys For Your Child’s Healthy Development



December is often gift-giving time with all the holidays that occur. Children get excited with all the new toys that they get. But let’s take a moment to think about the toys that we give to our children. There are so many choices in the toy stores, and many boxes claim high educational and developmental value to children. How do you choose toys? What’s considered truly “educational” and “developmentally appropriate”? Do toys make a child a “genius”? Continue reading

Cover Your Cough and Sneeze! How to Teach Kids to Cough/Sneeze into Their Sleeves

cough and sneezeWhen I’m on the floor doing programs and staffing exhibits, it almost seems like everyone is sick as I hear people coughing and sneezing all around the Museum. As the winter approaches, our bodies have to adjust to the temperature changes, and the dry air can make us more susceptible to cold.

It’s important to practice good hygiene skills to prevent getting and spreading the germs that cause colds. The followings are some tips to help children practice coughing and sneezing into their sleeves. You can also learn more about germs and hygiene by coming to “Germ Keep-A-Way Day” on Saturday November 28 at Boston Children’s Museum!

1. Start with modeling and directing.

Little kids cough and sneeze everywhere. Even if it might take some time, it will help your child and you stay healthy if your child learns to cover his cough/sneeze. First, whenever you sneeze or cough, make sure that you are Continue reading

Indigenous Halloween Costumes: Empowering or Problematic?

4046By Sara Tess Neumann and Meghan Evans

Recent issues have arisen with the lack of career costumes available for girls, or the prevalence of sexualized costumes for young children. Empowering costumes are challenging to find and a number of websites recommend dressing in Native American costumes. However, many Indigenous communities disagree. This has been brought to the forefront here at Boston Children’s Museum with the reopening of our exhibit Native Voices. Begun in 2010 and developed with an Indigenous Advisory Board from all of the tribes represented, it became clear that of the many goals of this exhibit the most prominent include dispelling stereotypes, correcting misinformation, and conveying that contemporary tribes continue to revive and evolve their cultural traditions, values, and communities.

This amazing group of advisors, historians, and academics emphasized that many stereotypes of Indigenous peoples continue to exist today, perpetuated in literature, film and television, sports teams, and holidays – like Halloween. Though the intentions of the wearers may be to honor and celebrate the rich cultures of Indigenous peoples – our Indigenous Advisory Board shed light on the challenges Indigenous people face today with the perpetuation of stereotypes.

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared that stereotypical images of Indigenous people further traumatizes and stresses American citizens nationwide and called for the retirement of all Native American sports mascots, stating that the:

APA’s position is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.

Like many cultures around the world, there are both negative and seemingly positive stereotypes applied to Indigenous peoples. However, Indigenous communities advocate for accurate representations as real people, living and working, bringing up kids and being themselves, wise or funny, serious or silly.

Stereotype: Indigenous peoples are a vanished race

Many portrayals and Halloween costumes of Indigenous people focus only on the past, often leading to the misconception that these cultures are part of the past and no longer exist. Indigenous blogger Bear Witness says:

When you’re in a world that sees you as a mascot with warpaint and feathers, issues of representation become of extreme importance. We dress and live like everyone else. We don’t live in teepees, we don’t hunt buffalo. All those things that are part of the stereotype are ways of dehumanising us.

Stereotype: Indigenous people are highly sexual

Indian costumes sexualize Indigenous people with low tops, short skirts, bare chests, and loin clothes. A common costume sold for women is the “Sexy Indian Princess”, “Pocahottie”, or “Tribal Temptation.” Activist and blogger Adrienne Keene writes:

Native women have been highly sexualized throughout history and in pop culture. There are any number of examples I can pull from, the “Indian Princess” stereotype is everywhere—think the story of Pocahontas, or Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Cher in her “half breed” video, or the Land ‘o’ Lakes girl, seriously almost any image of a Native woman that you’ve seen in popular culture…But the pervasive “sexy squaw” is the most dangerous, especially when you know the basic facts about sexual violence against Native women.

Stereotype: Indigenous peoples are warlike and savage

Another costume sold for men is the “Savage Warrior”, an angry Indigenous person – often male – “waiting to massacre innocent pioneers without the slightest provocation.” The warrior stereotype is sometimes presented as positive, because it presents Indigenous people as brave, but Devon A. Mihesuah (Choctaw) writes about how these so-called positive stereotypes are still damaging:

All these portrayals of Indian violence may really be a backhanded compliment, for it appears that many non-Indians admire the fighting abilities of Indians. One of the most respected traits of Indians is that they were often difficult to defeat, so when they were subdued, it enhanced their conquerors’ reputation.

Stereotype: Indigenous people are all alike

A common presentation is of an Indigenous person dressed in a leather tunic with leggings or a loin cloth, bare chested, and with a full feather headdress. Devon A. Mihesuah (Choctaw) attributes this homogenous image to popular culture:

Filmmakers and non-Indian artists, however, devote most of their attention to the Plains tribes that historically hunted bison and lived in tipis. But tribes in the west, New England, around the Great Lakes, and the Arctic didn’t live in tipis (or at least not in big, buffalo hide tipis). Most of them didn’t wear their hair in braids, nor did they wear headdresses. 

There are over 500 uniquely different Indigenous tribes in North America, with varying forms of regalia, traditions, and beliefs.

Honoring and Respecting Indigenous Cultures

Many Indigenous people and authors state that they believe no malicious intent is behind the wearing of Indian costumes. The hope is that through education and advocacy that the world will find other ways to show respect. Blogger Kyle Dlaakaw.éesh Wark (Tlingit) writes:

If you want to honor and flatter us, fight for Native people’s right to access subsistence resources on our traditional homelands. Advocate for Federal or State recognition of Tribal sovereignty, which includes land management, the protection of our people from domestic violence and sexual assault in Tribal courts, and Tribal management of child custody cases. Recognize the inherent connection between perpetuating Native life ways, including art forms and diet, and our strength as Native people, including raising up strong families. Testify on our behalf in the legislature. Donate to Native causes, volunteer at Native events. Celebrate our entire way of life. Don’t dress like us for one day of the year. “Playing Indian” trivializes the historic trauma, culture loss, and heartache of Native peoples.

Here at Boston Children’s Museum, we believe that children are learning every minute of the day. In choosing costumes for Halloween, consider how stereotypes perpetuate misconceptions. Halloween should be a fun time for everyone.



  1. “Summary of the APA Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots”, American Psychological Association, 6 October 2015, /resources/indian-mascots.aspx.
  2. Dorian Lynskey, “This means war: why the fashion headdress must be stopped”, The Guardian, 30 July 2014,
  3. Adrienne Keene, “Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women”, Native Appropriations, 17 June 2010,
  4. Devon A. Mihesuah, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, Atlanta: Clarity Press, 1996, 51.
  5. Ibid., 52
  6. Ibid., 23.
  7. Adrienne Keene, “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?”, Native Appropriations, 27 April 2010,
  8. Kyle Dlaakaw.éesh Wark, “The Perils of Culturally Appropriate Halloween Costumes”, Indian Country Today Media Network, 31 October 2014, /2014/10/31/perils-culturally-appropriative-halloween-costumes.

Borrowed and Returned

ExhibitOne of the most frequently asked questions I have here in collections is, “How did the Museum get all this stuff?!” (Considering how eclectic our collections are, that question
is usually asked with a hint of awe and wonder.) For the vast majority of materials in the collection, the answer is simply that they were gifts or donations to the Museum. Occasionally items are purchased; occasionally items are “found in collections” (which is just what it sounds like – an object with no documentation that has been lost to time and storage); and occasionally items are loaned. Well, in this past year, one old loan has been of particular interest. Continue reading

Relaxation for Everyone

relaxation dayWe all live in a stressful world. There are so many demands from work and other parts of our lives. Just being in environments with a lot of noise, material, and people can also add to stress. And children are not immune to this – kids are exposed to stress at an early age. If the stress becomes significant, it can lead to more serious issues such as anxiety, physical pain, and behavioral difficulties.

It’s important for both adults and children to relax. You can take even just five minutes a day to have some quiet, relaxing moments with you child, which can make a big long-term difference!

  1. What causes stress?

Stress can be caused by both everyday events and special occasions. Examples of everyday events can be scheduled activities, eating (especially if a child tends to be a picky eater), going to daycare or school, and peer relationships. Special events such as traveling, loss of a loved one, changes in routines, or moving can compound stress levels.  Even fun activities can add to overall stress, even though they are not what we think of as harmful kinds of stress. Continue reading

Poetry Collage

Poetry 1I recently offered a poetry collage workshop in the Museum’s Art Studio, focusing specifically on free-association and shaped poetry. Too often, writing in schools is presented in a way that is stressful and overwhelming for kids. I wanted to see if I could present a writing activity that was fun and creative by adding structure and inviting visitors to experiment with the most free-form type of writing: poetry.

Visitors used collections of pre-cut-out words to explore free-association composition and play with the arrangement of words. Visitors also experimented with shaped poetry, using both pre-made shapes and their own shapes, to gain inspiration and connect literary and visual arts. Continue reading