Talking to Children About Tragic Events

Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue this past weekend. This terrible crime is an attack on all of us and we send our love and support to the community of Squirrel Hill and the entire city of Pittsburgh. This latest tragedy is a reminder of how important it is to help all children cope and find comfort in difficult times.

Boston Children’s Museum Health and Wellness Educator Saki Iwamoto offers some tips to support your child in a difficult time:

When tragic events happen in the world, especially in places that relate to you, it can often be difficult to cope with these events. Parents and anyone who works closely with children have to figure out what to tell their children. I wish there was no such thing as tragedy in the world – but unfortunately, bad things happen, and we need to be prepared for them.

Children in different developmental stages understand and react differently to traumatic events. Even if they were not directly impacted by the event, they are often still aware that something unusual happened as a result of media coverage, adults’ conversations, or even slight changes in their regular routines. Children may not be able to express their concerns verbally like adults do. Instead, they may exhibit their feelings through their behavior.  Play provides children with the opportunity to express their feelings, make sense of the world, and cope with stress. So when something difficult happens in the world, make sure that children have plenty of time to play. Continue reading

Lunch and Learn: Changing the Channel on Children’s Media

It’s official—the digital age is getting younger.

This revelation is far from shocking. After all, iPhones have long been parents’ last line of defense against restless toddlers to the point where big-name companies like Fisher Price and LeapFrog now offer their own replicas. According to a recent study by Common Sense Media, kids as young as two are already clocking in an average of two and a half hours of daily screen time. But amid this ever-shifting technological landscape, how can parents hope to keep up? What steps can we take to ensure today’s media trends do not become tomorrow’s pre-programmed addictions?

Enter Dr. Seeta Pai. Executive Director of Education at WGBH and former Vice President at Common Sense Media, Dr. Pai has devoted her extensive research career to exploring children’s use of technology. Boston Children’s Museum is pleased to welcome Dr. Pai for Children and Media Usage: Trends and Tips, a special Lunch & Learn event, designed to help families navigate the pitfalls of adolescence and offer advice from leading experts in the field.

Join us November 2nd to hear Dr. Pai share her knowledge and convene a conversation around concerns and best practices for digital media with young children.

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.

 

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

How to Feed Picky Eaters?

Boston Children’s Museum’s Tasty Tuesday program happens every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. During Tasty Tuesday, children and their grown-ups can sit together, eat yummy, healthy snacks, and read a story! Although Tasty Tuesday is a casual, fun circle time for the very little ones, it’s packed with a lot of tips and hints that help foster healthy social emotional development of infants and toddlers. While the children are having fun, adults can also get helpful tip sheets. This month, we are talking about picky eating, which is very common among young children.

Join us in PlaySpace and share your own experience in helping children eat all their healthful food!

  1. Do not stress.

Yes, children should be eating a lot of different kinds of food. However, if meal time is stressful, children get less and less interested in eating. Even if your child does not eat what you serve, do not bribe or force your child to eat it. Just say, “Not a big deal,” and you can try again some other time. It might just take several attempts until your child gets familiar with the food. Continue reading

Sleep Hygiene

This blog post is written by our Health and Wellness intern, Alexa Curtiss. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life.

From difficulty falling asleep at night, to troubles sleeping through the night, even to the emergence of nightmares. There are so many questions regarding a child’s sleep as they develop during the first few years. Because the topic of helping children sleep is so popular, I decided to write about a few suggestions that may help with various sleep troubles. Try out any of these suggestions for a few nights and see how it goes!

  1. Cool, dark, quiet rooms help children sleep.

Cool, dark, and quiet rooms can help children get optimal sleep. Being too warm can cause children to be uncomfortable and therefore cause tossing and turning. This is why a cooler room can help them get better sleep. Too much light in a room while a child is trying to sleep can cause the brain to become stimulated, as if it was daytime, meaning the child might have a hard time sleeping or getting restful sleep. The same goes for noise either in the room or around the room the child is trying to sleep in. A white noise machine can be helpful if there is unavoidable noise outside or nearby. You can set a white noise machine to run quietly to mask some of the extraneous noise. While white noise machines can be very useful, young children’s ears are very vulnerable, so it is recommended to use machines that specify on the product information that they do not exceed 50 dBA (decibels) and to keep the device at least seven feet from the child.

  1. Routines before bedtime.

If your child is having a hard time settling down at bedtime, you can try creating a nightly routine of several things you do in a certain order before bedtime. Having a routine like this can help signal to your child and their brain that it is time to start winding down. An example of a routine could be: bath time, pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, sing a song, lights off, two minutes of rubbing the child’s back while they lay in bed.

  1. Nightmares.

If your child starts having nightmares, first, it is important to know that it is common for children to start to have occasional nightmares especially as they start to have a real sense of imagination but are not yet capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. There are many ways to help your child following a nightmare. One example for helping your child is going into their room if they call out for you. Stay long enough to help them calm down, provide them with a comfort item (favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc.), and then slowly leave the room. In some cases, it can be helpful to speak to your child about a time in which they feel comfortable with you coming back to check on them, for example, agreeing to come back to check on them in an hour (quietly, so if they are asleep, they are not woken), as this can give them a greater sense of security.

Bring your snacks to Tasty Tuesdays and share your strategies of helping your child get a better sleep!

Put Your Listening Ears On!

canon-1-aug-83When my older son was four, he begged for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site at bedtime.

When he was five, it was Magic Treehouse.

But now that he’s six and just started first grade, he can read to himself, and there is a new treat he begs for…a science podcast for kids.  Yes, BEGS!  To the point that we have had to negotiate an allowance of two podcasts per week so that we’re still reading most nights.

A little background: I grew up on a farm in the landlocked Midwest and had vivid dreams of marine biology and ocean exploration.  I devoured all books on the subject that I could get my hands on (that list was short).  Now I’m raising kids in a world where we can watch (and have watched!) a documentary about giant squid tracking anytime we want.  A YouTube video of open heart surgery.  An app about human anatomy, or insect identification.  A live cam on the otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  An animation of primate evolution or chemical bonding.  Suffice to say this would’ve blown my 6-year-old mind.  The access to science and all its wonders is…limitless. Continue reading