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.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Critter Care

critter-careHi there!  We’re doing Critter Care right now.  Meet Marina, one of our Visitor Experience Associates.  She’s cutting up food for our critters.  Boston Children’s Museum has four live animals:  Watson, our bearded dragon lizard; Oliver our ball python; and we have two new spotted turtles who we haven’t named yet.   Every day a Museum staff person is assigned to “Critter Care”.  No experience is required to sign up for Critter Care, just a willingness to deal with the messes that animals can make. Critter Care team members seem to think that the benefits and enjoyment of working with the animals outweighs the little bit of unpleasantness.

Caring for the critters gets them used to humans as we handle them which is important because we like to take them out of their homes occasionally to have them meet our visitors during “Creature Features”.  Some Critter Care staff are also trained in “Creature Features”, where they learn proper handling and how to talk to visitors about the animals.

Staff members on the Critter Care team generally really enjoy getting to know the animals and develop a real fondness for them.  They learn a lot about these individual animals, as well as the species in general.  Watson is a staff favorite.  He’s extremely social and often can be found at our staff Morning Meeting.  He likes to latch on to the front of your shirt and hang there, head cocked to the side listening. Sometimes we let him skitter along the floor. His claws slip a bit on the tiles, but he is undeterred – so much freedom!

The next time you’re at the Museum come visit our live animals on the first floor in Investigate, between Bubbles and Raceways.

Project Play: Research at Boston Children’s Museum

Lifter office

Boston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. We will periodically publish articles from these researchers about their work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, Karin Lifter, PhD from Northeastern University shares below some information about her research at the Museum:

Project Play at Northeastern University is dedicated to studying developments in play of young children who are developing typically, and young children who are developing with delays, such as language or movement delays, from 8 months to five years of age. You might have seen one or another of us recruiting children for our project outside PlaySpace on Friday nights.

Continue reading

How do Children Think about Morality? : Research at Boston Children’s Museum

KidsBoston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. Look for articles each month about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, Larisa Heiphetz from Boston College’s Morality Lab shares below recent learning about her research at the Museum:

Imagine that two children disagree about a moral issue. One child says that it’s better to share with someone, and another child says that it’s better to pull someone’s hair. Could both of these children be right, or could only one child be right?

Several prior studies in developmental psychology and experimental philosophy have shown that preschoolers usually think that moral beliefs are akin to factual beliefs. That is, if two people disagree, at least one of them must be wrong. However, these previous studies have focused on unambiguous moral beliefs—moral issues for which there is one “correct answer” about which nearly everyone in a given culture agrees. For example, in the United States (and most other places!), nearly everyone thinks that it is good to share with someone and wrong to pull someone’s hair.

We wondered whether children might reason similarly about moral beliefs that are a little more ambiguous. Continue reading

Life Lessons from Children in PlaySpace

Emily Meiji Yue

Boston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. Look for articles each month about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, and about how children learn in the Museum, here is a reflection from Emily, a researcher at MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab:

As an undergraduate researcher at MIT’s Play Lab, I have the pleasure of working with children 1-2 years old at the Museum. In my particular study, I’m looking at what children assume about a group of objects based on what they know about just a small sample of that group. Week after week, as I roam PlaySpace looking for children to participate in my study and enlighten me to the intricacies of their developing minds, I love seeing children enthusiastically exploring the world around them with a curiosity that seems to dwarf mine in comparison. Continue reading

Play and Problem Solving

Mika MaedaBoston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. Look for articles each month about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, and about how children learn in the Museum, here is some information from Mika, a researcher at MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab, about how children build skills through play:

Children are problem solvers: their actions reflect their learning about the world. In some ways they are like scientists, using their curiosity and creativity as well as logic to make new discoveries.

So what does this have to do with the power of play? Continue reading

Students and Teachers : Research at Boston Children’s Museum

Leah LessardBoston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices. Look for articles each month about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves. As part of our continuing series sharing details about research happening at Boston Children’s Museum, here is some information about the work being conducted by Leah, from MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab:

My research at Boston Children’s Museum is focused on the topic of teaching and learning. I am working on two projects. One asks child participants to teach others, and another asks them to evaluate teachers.

Previous research has shown that children have certain expectations of teachers. One is about quality: children expect teachers to provide true, but not false information (pretty straightforward!). Another is about quantity: children expect teachers to provide just the right amount of information, rather than too little or too much, for the learner to make accurate inferences. It’s easy to imagine how skipping or leaving out information might confuse students and even lead them to get the wrong idea (note: we have studies showing that children as young as 5-6 recognize teachers who don’t “tell the whole truth”; Gweon et al., 2011; in review). Continue reading

Play, Play, Discover: Research at Boston Children’s Museum

Faith ObrianBoston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices.  Look for future articles about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves.  Our first researcher is Faith, from MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab:

As you’ve browsed through magazines and perused the Internet, you may have come across articles summarizing research studies telling you about the amazing abilities of babies and young children to determine simple probabilities, infer the causes of unseen events, or make moral judgments.  Often those short pieces leave you wondering how the researchers arrived at their spectacular conclusions.  Well, if you’ve ever pondered how we can learn these astounding facts about children, speculate no longer and come experience it for yourself! Continue reading