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Doctor’s Orders – Play!

The Providence Children’s Museum participated in Providence Plays! on Monday, April 23. The first citywide play-a-thon was sponsored by the new Providence Partnership for Young Children. The museum hosted the mayor and a number of family service agencies. What a perfect place to celebrate children and play!

Janice O’Donnell, the executive director of the museum, wrote the following article for their spring newsletter, explaining how the museum provides a perfect space for children of many age levels to come and play everyday. My kids and I have spent countless days at the museum since they started to crawl. It has been our home away from home.

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Doctor’s Orders – Play!
By Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued a clinical report that had heads nodding at the Children’s Museum. Entitled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” the report supports our conviction that children’s play is essential for social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth. And, when parents join in, play strengthens families.

The AAP report was spurred by growing concern among pediatricians and many others that hurried lifestyles, increased attention to academics and organized activities, the ubiquitous video screen, and worries about their safety have reduced children’s time for free, imaginative, self-directed play. The report states, “When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest…”

Sounds like the kind of play that goes on at the Children’s Museum. A parent who follows her child’s lead might notice that for months all he wants to do is play in Water Ways, endlessly fitting pipes together to make ever more intricate fountains. Or that he loves to play pirate on the packet ship with spontaneously formed bands of new friends. Then, one day, he discovers a new favorite, Shape Space or the way bridge, and new skills to master. He is free to make his own choices, to direct his own learning and play. The report makes it clear that there are great benefits when adults join in play that their children have initiated, “but when play is controlled by adults, children…lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership and group skills.”

Unlike the larger, adult-controlled world, the Children’s Museum is designed with the child in mind. A three-year-old in Littlewoods puts on a costume. Her dad says, “Hi Squirrel. Do you live in the tree?” She climbs the ladder and goes down the slide. “I’m a flying squirrel,” she says. The AAP report underscores the value of these interactions: “When parents observe their children in play or join them in child-driven play, they are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s vantage point as the child navigates a world perfectly created just to fit his or her needs. The interactions that occur through play tell children that parents are fully paying attention to them and help to build enduring relationships.”

In short, the shared family play that invariably happens during a Museum visit is just what the doctor ordered.

Providence Children’s Museum – 100 South Street, Providence, RI. 401-273-5437 (KIDS)

The AAP report was published in Pediatrics, official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, January 2007, Volume 119, Issue 1.

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