Message in a Milk Bottle Project: Building Community Connections

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

Every year at Boston Children’s Museum, the Health and Wellness intern puts together a special community project called Message in a Milk Bottle. This year, I had the opportunity to design, coordinate, and facilitate the activity with visitors at Boston Children’s Museum as well as children and adults at Boston College Campus School, Franciscan Children’s, and Shriners Hospital for Children. I titled my activity “Building Community Connections” to emphasize the idea that we all have people who are important to us and whether we live near or far, or cannot always be together, we are still connected as one community and we can work together to create a collaborative piece of art.

The goals of this activity were to promote community engagement throughout local organizations, to encourage social and emotional development by thinking about social relationships and the importance of those people, and to enhance interactions between people of different ages, gender, cultures, abilities, and locations.

During March and April, I visited Shriners Hospital for Children and Franciscan Children’s to facilitate the activity. Materials were provided for Boston College Campus School staff to do the activity in their different classrooms. Each participant was asked to think of one or more people who were important to them and create a piece of art that represented those important people using a variety of craft materials that were accessible to people with different interests and abilities. The activity was then duplicated at Boston Children’s Museum during April’s Morningstar Access program and again during regular operating hours on April 22nd.


During the creation process some wonderful conversations and illustrations about community and important people took place. At Shriners, one child decorated a person as her favorite nurse who helped her throughout her medical experiences starting when she first went to Shriners. Another child at Boston Children’s Museum commented that her father was her important person because he “tucked her in and [they] did fun things together and [he] loved her”. At Franciscan, a family group of a mother, a teenage boy, and a toddler girl worked together to create their own family piece to contribute. At the Campus School, each classroom completed the activity to contribute their pieces to the overall display, which created a sense of community at the school.

There were people of different ages, abilities, and languages working together which really illustrated the idea of community connectedness despite differences. At the Museum I was very encouraged to see a great deal of inter-visitor interactions. Children and adults alike, were conversing about their important people, working together to find desired materials, and complimenting and commenting on each other’s art. I was also happy with the number of adults who participated, making their own important people, connecting their art with their children, and encouraging conversations about community and how we are all connected.

The art gathered from the local organizations as well as from the Museum were collected and installed on display in The Common at Boston Children’s Museum on April 22nd. Despite the distance between the children and adults in the hospitals and Campus School, and the visitors at Boston Children’s Museum, they were each able to contribute a piece of art that was important to them, to a greater collaborative piece of art that signified community, near or far, as represented by the people centering around the Earth. The display will remain until I complete my internship on May 4th.


Being responsible for this project from start to finish allowed me as an intern to develop skills I otherwise would not have. I had the opportunity to take on a strong leadership role as I coordinated with staff members at other organizations and facilitated the activity in the various settings. By completing this project I have also learned how much work, effort, time, and collaboration goes into putting together an activity of this scale. It is certainly an experience I am very proud to have had and one that will continue to influence my work as I continue on in the field of child life.

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!

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.

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!

Behind the Scenes of Happy Noon Year

hny4Every year, Boston Children’s Museum celebrates the New Year with a special event called Happy NOON Year. For many of our visitors, it is challenging to stay up and ring in the New Year. To help be inclusive in this celebration, we invite families to celebrate with us and count down to the noon hour on December 31st. One of the traditions of this event is to drop a Museum staff-made ball during the countdown. My colleague Steve and I agreed to take charge of its creation this year, and our mission was to make the best, greatest Happy Noon Year ball ever with our master plan of decorating a 4-foot tall clear beach ball! Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Star Projectors

shining-stars-kidAh, winter. It’s cold and dark out, yes. But one of the best parts of winter is the star gazing. The stars come out early enough for even your youngest children to observe…just make sure you bundle up when you go out to see them!

After you’ve stargazed a few times, and picked out a few constellations with your kids, you can bring the learning inside by creating your own constellation projectors. This activity is based on “Shining Stars” from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard curriculum. Click here for those more detailed instructions. Constellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars, and they are familiar in some form or another to most children. Creating homemade projections of these constellations is a fun way to connect to astronomy at home. This activity is a good follow-up to Constellation Creation, posted on this blog earlier this week, and also from Beyond the Chalkboard.

Materials

  • Flashlights (see Preparation below for notes on these)
  • Paper cups (a few per child) (see Preparation)
  • A thumb tack, paper clip, sharp pencil, or wood skewer
  • Pen or thin marker

Preparation

Flashlights – The kind of flashlight you use for this activity is important. LED flashlights are preferred, but whatever kind you use, it is best if you can remove the reflector from the head of the flashlight. The reflector is the shiny, silver cone that lies just inside the lens, and the bulb of the flashlight typically shines inside it. Here’s what it looks like:

flashlight-reflector

Some LED flashlights make it impossible for you to remove the reflector, so check your flashlight before you start. Old school flashlights with removable bulbs almost always work, and are less expensive than LED lights, but are not as bright as LEDs.

Cups – the paper cups should fit over the lit end of your flashlight, and the flashlight should fit at least part of the way into the cup. It might be a good idea to have a few different sizes of cup available for testing.

Remove the reflectors from your flashlights, and make sure all of the flashlights are working.

Instructions

  1. Talk about constellations you know, or look some up online, or in a book. You could also try the Constellation Creation activity, posted earlier this week, before you make your fancy projectors.
  2. Look at the constellations you found, and choose one you like.
  3. Notice how a cup will fit over the flashlight, and turn the flashlight on with a cup on it. What do you notice? You should see the cup is all lit up. Poke a few holes in the bottom of a cup, then slide it on the lit-up end of the flashlight again. Turn off the lights, and point the flashlight (with the cup on it) at a wall. What do you notice? You should see a projection of the holes you made as points of light on the wall. If the holes look fuzzy, you may not have taken the reflector out (see above).
  4. Make some new cups with holes representing stars in a constellation.

You may notice that if you poked the holes going in from the bottom of the cups, so that the constellations look correct on the bottom of the cup, then they will look backwards when projected. Try either poking the holes in the correct configuration from inside the cup, or draw the constellation dots with a heavy, dark marker (like a Sharpie) on a piece of paper, flip the paper over, hold that paper over the bottom of the cup, and poke the holes of this backwards constellation through the cup. Your constellations should now project correctly.

Some children who have made these projectors have used black construction paper circles on the bottoms of the cups, before poking the holes. Some kids have trimmed long cups so that they were shorter and easier to handle. Some children have even decorated the outsides of their cups with themes that match their chosen constellations. What could you do?

Notes

  • Mag Lites are the best flashlights for this activity, as they are LED, bright, and have removable reflectors. The Mag Lite Mini LED 2-Cell AAA Flashlight is around $15, and the AA model is around $20. You can find Mag Lites at Amazon (click here for an example), Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. You can try this activity with less expensive, incandescent bulb flashlights – just be certain the reflector is removable, and that your room is nice and dark to accommodate the dimmer lights.
  • Doing a simple image search for familiar constellations like Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and others will yield many results.

Continue reading