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.

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