Friday, October 30, 2009

Continuing to Support Families

In previous posts, we shared stories about the Wakanheza Project, launched at the Museum a year ago. This past week we revisited some of the principles and tips that help to support an adult visitor in the Museum. Our morning meeting was used to discuss how to apply Wakanheza tips such as using empathy and non-judgment, offering verbal encouragement, and appreciating the job of parenting by helping our visitors.
One of our "revisiting tasks" was to look for a visitor, for whatever reason, might get ignored Here's what one of our Play Coordinators shared:
There's a man who visits the Museum weekly with a young boy. He rarely makes eye contact or speaks to Museum staff or other visitors. Wanting to start a conversation, I decided to put the focus on the young child. "He likes to start his day here," I commented. The man replied, "Yes," and then proceeded to tell me he gives the boy lots of choices of where to visit, but he always picks the Museum. It was a great conversation starter, which hopefully will lead to future conversations during subsequent visits.
Although we are pleased for the visitor's choice, the point of this "revisiting challenge" was to help remind us that all people have similarities and differences. Even if you share similar cultural experiences with someone, you often find differences between you, too. Saying kind words, offering to help, and showing understanding are just some of the ways we can reach out to all our visitors to demonstrate a welcoming environment.
During the discussion about applying empathy towards our visitors, another Play Facilitator shared this story:
One of our visitors came to play with two children, a toddler and a 4-year-old. She took the toddler out of the stroller. The 4-year-old boy wanted her undivided attention as her toddler was running out of sight. She attempted to play with both children for about 15 minutes and then put the toddler back in the stroller. I walked by and said to her, "It can be challenging to keep track of two children!" She smiled and agreed with my comment.
Sometimes we can't fix or change a situation. What we can choose to do is show a little empathy towards the situation. This facilitator's empathetic comment may have helped alleviate some tension felt by a mom keeping track of two children on a very busy day in the Museum.

The staff agreed that Wakanheza Week was a good reminder about the many ways we can support children and families in our Museum. We had a good time sharing our stories and reminding ourselves about all the ways we support families in the Museum.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Supporting Families and Children

The mission of the Museum has always been about supporting the adult-child learning partnership. Last year we took our mission one step further and embraced the Wakanheza Project. Wakanheza is the Dakota word for child, literally translated it means "sacred being." The central focus of this project supports the idea that if we regard children as "sacred beings" and if our actions reflect this, our communities will be far more welcoming and supportive of families and children.

Understanding that families sometimes experience stress in public places is one of the guiding principles of the workshop. To help develop empathy, we ask our staff to role play a scenario that may be familiar to them. A family is in the grocery story, at the checkout line, when the child decides to take her boots off. Oh, by the way, did I mention that in the scenario there's an impending snowstorm and the grocery store is full of anxious customers? By repeating the scenario and practicing some of the Wakanheza tips, staff are able to gain an understanding of an escalating, and sometimes challenging, situation from the perspective of each participant - the child, the parent, other visitors and co-workers.

To better support families in our Museum, we recognize that it is important to suspend judgment in order to reach out and help others when they are having a difficult moment. We try to consider the effects of environment and culture on the way an interaction develops. One of our Play Facilitators shared this story with us:

I noticed a mother was talking on her cell phone during most of an interactive parent-child class. Remembering the Wakanheza principle of non-judgment, I decided to support the parent by interacting with her child during one of the activities instead of passing judgment on her lack of support in her child's class. Later, the parent thanked me, as the phone call was from her husband who was serving in Iraq. It was her job to call the other wives to update them about their husbands' unit. So even though it may sometimes be annoying to watch parents talk on their cell phones rather than play with their children, you never know the reason for the phone call!

Stay tuned! We'll share more stories and activities with you from our Wakanheza week. Visit the Wakanheza Project blog to hear stories from many other public places.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lending a Hand to Parents

The Scenario
You are a parent visiting DuPage Children's Museum. It seems like it's been raining forever, so a trip to the Museum is a good plan. The boys build an elaborate structure with blocks. "Wow," you think, "one of them might just become an architect." As your thoughts drift to their future, you suddenly realize the boys have disappeared. You feel your anger rising as you begin searching for them. What seems like forever, you finally find them in the Young Explorers area, engaged in a "sword" fight, with paintbrushes. To add to your dismay, there's a Play Facilitator approaching the boys. You're a little worried someone in the Museum is going to judge your parenting, so you quickly grab each boy by his shirt and yell, "you boys have to stay with me or we're going home and never coming back here." Feeling embarrassed by your boys' behavior and your outburst, you're actually thinking about leaving when the Play Facilitator surprises you by smiling and saying, "Rain, rain go away so these boys can go outside to play." Suddenly your worry and anger dissolves into laughter. The Play Facilitator suggests that the boys might enjoy crawling around in the Tunnel, which they do, after the boys put the paintbrushes back in their designated area.

Lending a Hand
Understanding that families sometimes experience stress in public places is one of the guiding principles of a project launched at DCM last year. The Wakanheza Project, developed by staff at Ramsey County Public Health Department in Saint Paul Minnesota, was created to keep children safe by lending a hand to parents during challenging situations. With a generous grant from the McCormick Foundation and help from the Minnesota Children's Museum, 90 staff and volunteers completed the four-hour intensive workshop. During the workshop we discussed - and practiced through role-playing- principles such as empathy and non-judgement and understanding the role of environment, powerlessness and the role of community. Everyone felt they had gained more insight and understanding into the challenges parents and caregivers sometimes experiences in a public setting.

Stay tuned! We'll share some of our Wakanheza moments with you over the course of the next few posts. In fact, we're getting ready to celebrate our continuing commitment to the Wakanheza Project. For an entire week, staff can participate in activities, role playing and games to remind ourselves to take time to review and appreciate what we have learned in the last year.

In the mean time, visit these sites to learn more about the Wakanheza Project at Saint Paul - Ramsey County Public Health Department and Minnesota Children's Museum

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Early Introduction to the Performing Arts

Our new Interact with Art Gallery, The Play's the Thing, has been open for almost a month! Visitors explore the dramatic arts and stretch their imaginations through the use of props, set designs, puppets, costumes and storybooks. For younger children, this exhibit spurs ideas for pretend play. For older children, who are ready for or excited to try a performance, the gallery provides a venue for their imagination.

Even with no background or experience in theater arts, the National Endowments for the Arts advocates that parents and caregivers capitalize on children's natural tendency to pretend. The new exhibit is just the place to do that! Using authentic props and hand-made costumes, you and your child can explore play themes based on home, woods, animals and the ocean. The backdrop, puppets and some of the props and costumes will change during the year based on one of the four themes. Our observations in the Museum show that children will intuitively use these props and costumes for pretend play. The stage, set designs and familiar Cat's Tower and You Drive exhibits give children opportunities to expand their pretend play into performance.

Stop by the gallery on Mondays from 9:30 - 10 am and you can meet Kristi V.K. Bramlett , a teacher from the School of Performing Arts and adjunct professor from Columbia College. Through the use of pretend play, storybooks, puppets and even a song or two, Kristi invites children to participate in all aspects of theater. Through her "Storybook Studio," children practice skills needed for self-expression, language, memorization and socialization.

Recently, Kristi read the book, I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis as a way to explore what emotions look like and validate all feelings as important. Throughout the story children were asked to show what their face might look like for varying emotions. At the end of the story they were invited to illustrate a facial expression.

Next, at a child's request, they moved to the You Drive, where they pretended to be very happy about driving to the zoo, which led to the reading of another story, Put me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire.

Playing together = Learning together! Stop by the Play's the Thing and see where your and your child's imaginations will take you!