Screen Wise Cambridge’s Snow Day Challenge: February 2, 2015

Make something using these items only:

  • 5-7 cylindrical household objects like cardboard tubes or water bottles
  • 5-7 rubber bands (hair bands are ok), and
  • 5-7 crayons or pencils.
photo of snow day challenge materials
Materials you can use for the Screen Wise Cambridge Snow Day Challenge.

Your creation can be a building, a human or animal figure, an abstract sculpture, a machine, a tool, a poem or story, in fact anything at all! Use the above items only. You can use scissors or other tools as long as you don’t add any additional items. i.e., no tape, no glue! (If you absolutely can’t resist using tape or glue, don’t give up—we’re still interested in what you make, but do try the real challenge first).

Post the photos of your finished creations (and a caption or description) to the Screen Wise Cambridge Facebook page or post them as a comment below. (Be sure to say if you have used tape or glue)

Also post your questions here if you have any. Multigenerational teams are welcome to participate, whether parent-child or not. There are no age restrictions.

Adult Pro-Environment Behaviors Shaped by…Harvesting?

David Sobel’s piece “Look, Don’t Touch” in Orion Magazine has shaken up the small world of my little nature club and the big world of the Get Outdoors movement. I’ve just discovered Living On Earth‘s interview with Sobel, here.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the Orion essay, here’s the kernel of Sobel’s argument: “rule-bound” environmental education, in which kids are prohibited from picking, touching, messing about, disrupts the natural mechanisms that connect young children with nature for life and lead to strong environmental values in adulthood. He goes so far as to say, in the aforementioned radio interview, that berry-picking and mushrooming with parents, i.e., natural resource consumption as a focal point of nature experiences, has shown to have the most power. Much food for thought, there.

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A day for outrage, a year for exponential change

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Today my twelve-year-old daughter and I joined hundreds of men, women and children at Brayton Point, a coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. We were with Mothers Out Front and 350.org; we were with an angry mother from West Virginia coal country; we were in a community that deserves not to be the seat of protest, but rather the locus of hope that a radical turnaround in the use of fossil fuels could bring.

Indeed, it’s the economic predicament of towns like Somerset and coal towns in Appalachia that seem to give my daughter the most pause.

It’s the feeling of imposing, even intruding, on a community, that made me balk, even as I walked and shouted in view of the plant. There were a few protesters who voiced their support of the Somerset community to the onlookers whom we assumed to be local.
“We want you to have good jobs,”
called out one, passing a teenager with two adults (and a dog) who stared at the procession en route. However weak the delivery, however it may have raised more questions than answers, that sentiment was–is–right. And if it’s not right up front, and backed with deeds, not pledges, then this isn’t a transformation that’s going to have wings. I’ll trade you those for the lead boots of political pandering and the duplicity of coal companies any day.

We’re tired, and a bit dehydrated, but with much more to say later about our experiences. Stay tuned for profiles of some of the people we met in the shadow of the power plant today. Meanwhile, my twitter feed will give you a window on our day of outrage and incredulity that coal still plays a role in our power supply.

Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest

It’s time for me to leave the sidelines.

It’s time for slow this-and-that. Slow Food. Slow Families. Slow Medicine, even.

Unplug. Be in the moment. Pay attention. But to what?

The “movement” to simplify has, in a way, come full circle. I like those nice two-word concepts, above. Actually, two-word concepts is about all I can stomach these days. A life of slogans has an appeal. As I’m getting older (and harder of hearing) a barrage of verbiage isn’t cutting it any more. Leave me alone, garrulous adolescents, repetitive whining little ones, and radio mavens.  Even noncommercial radio is turning me off with the pitter-patter of its patter, so I’m turning it off. And online petitions? Here’s the checklist as it exists in the back bar-room of my mind. The list gets the same treatment as any sequence of paragraphs did in my 1979 journalism class—the whole piece has to stand on its own when the bottom paragraphs get lopped off:

  • Child #1 CHECK
  • Child #2 CHECK (If there is a third, fourth, and fifth, and so forth, they all get checked off, too)
  • Spouse (if applicable) CHECK
  • Job    CHECK
  • Making Meals CHECK
  • Paying Bills  CHECK
  • Laundry NOT SO MUCH
  • Sleep, Hygiene, Doctor Appts, Downtime—that whole shebang SURE, BUT HIGHLY VARIABLE
  • Furthering Social Justice, Doing Unto Others, Understanding Afghanistan, Change.Org Petitions, Reversing Climate Change…

Wait a minute, what was that last one? Should that even be on my list at all, even at the bottom?

See, I think, in all of this urgency to be “slow” and to return to the basics, something else basic is missing. Not something, two things.

You can’t be “Slow” if you’re trying to make ends meet.

Not slow in that aged cheese, hand-packed lunch for the kids sort of way, not if getting to work, keeping up with bills or getting work is out of reach.

You can’t be “Slow” if it’s a shortcut to the sidelines.

In Chutes and Ladders, and in Candy Land, you have NO CONTROL over your destiny. Are these the games we want our kids to learn? Because they need to learn the cardinal rule that you have NO CONTROL over whether you get socked with the “Plumpy” second-rate hard candy or end up shacking up with “King Kandy” at the Candy Castle.

Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest. Who needs a path when the path that's been charted by others leads to malaria in northern climes?
Off Trail in the Peppermint Forest. Who needs a path when the path that’s been charted by others leads to malaria in northern climes?

I like aged cheese and hand-canning and growing my own parsley just as much as the next person (on the cheese front—maybe more, sorry to say). But as I’m bushwhacking through the vines of parenthood (think Little Shop of Horrors) and feeling sorry for myself way too often for the emotional and physical ramifications of being a “mature mother”—a phrase I never use even in my own head because it’s simply an awful euphemism, but I’ll use it now anyway because SLOW JOURNALISM at this moment means just-in-time-ranting, aka unedited and unexpurgated and the mature mother thing is an epithet—I’m unable to lop off that very last thing with my wicked cool mom-ninja-machete.

That last thing on the list is so—I don’t know, so—overwhelming as to be farcical. It’s like World Peace. Yeah, I’m going to work for world peace—by grabbing my kids who are screaming and trying to maim each other over something someone took from someone else’s room when the rule is you can’t go in someone else’s room without permission.

No, that last thing had to do with global warming, had to do with not only the messed-up politics in the country but the entire economy and actually the entire planet. Mother Earth.

I wonder what her list looks like.

Easier to “Get Kids Outside” in Spring? Think Again

My daughter seemed  interested in coming outside with me this morning to check out the neighborhood owl. It has a regular shift at the entry to its nest, but that happens to coincide with the chaos of getting to school (not) on time. “But mommy,” she said, “I need a new bike helmet.” While this might in fact seem like a Stuff (capital S)-obsessed response to an invitation to an encounter with an animal thriving in its habitat, she has, in fact, outgrown her bicycle helmet, and biking would be a reasonable and pleasant way to take this outing.

Photo Copyright by Harry Powers
Photo Copyright by Harry Powers

The fact is, we could walk, but she vehemently opposed walking the half-mile or so to the Place of Owl. Despite this reluctance, she’s enthusiastic about the larger idea I proposed—that we visit the spot every week from now on, early on a Saturday morning. She even proposed writing an “owl schedule” on which we could record when we saw owl babies appear and other such milestones. What was striking, and what I want to comment on here, is the hard parameters that seemed to take root almost instantly around the concept of owl viewing.

Owl Observations= Bike with Mom

became

Owl Observations = Bike with Mom + New Bike Helmet

and since we didn’t have the bike helmet, and she wasn’t interested in changing the transport side of the equation, it became

Owl Observations=Null

Not only was I wishing, seemingly on her behalf, that the shock and awe of seeing a real live own would trump her antipathy to walking, but I was so trapped in my own script—as she was in hers—that we couldn’t resolve the problem. After all,  it was my problem; she had no stake in resolving it.

The concept of “scripts” in childhood, in play and in interactions, as far as I know, isn’t new. But media, i.e., the scripts of others, are more often than not designed to displace or distort an individual child’s own script, to provide solutions and plot lines, to hijack the child.

So often today it is as if children are being remote-controlled by the scripts of others [television, videos, electronic toys], instead of coming up with their own unique stories and problems to solve. [Remote-control childhood] is exactly the opposite of [a child’s] play, where he worked out a unique problem in a unique way, and learned how to have wonderful ideas that furthered both his development and the sense of satisfaction that can come from working things out on his own. Remote-control childhood] undermines children’s ability to come up with wonderful ideas of their own creation and, instead, promotes the rote learning that is a carbon copy of the script creators.

via Moving Beyond Remote-Controlled Teaching and Learning » Diane E. Levin.

I agree wholeheartedly with Diane Levin’s critique of the “script” but I think her critique deserves extension. She is barking up the Montessori tree, which by now, a hundred some years later, has created so many saplings and grafts and branches that there really is no excuse for disempowering children, even in such small matters as a bike ride in the neighborhood.

We hijack children, even our own, from piloting their own course of play. We’re constantly introducing new problems from the adult world into theirs. Sometimes this may be necessary; sometimes, convenient for us.  When we do this, are we modeling good brainstorming, adaptive thinking, critical thinking, and taking on diverse and uncomfortable points of view? When we conceive of a family project, create a plan, or fix a destination, are we enhancing—or instead circumventing— our kids’ ability to solve problems?

Mother Nature’s Child to Play in Somerville

Somerville Climate Action, Rep. Denise Provost and The Growing Center present a free film:

MOTHER NATURE’S CHILD

Mother Nature’s Child explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development through the experience of children of all ages.
The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall a childhood of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today. The effects of “nature deficit disorder” are now being noted across the country in epidemics of child obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Discussion of how to keep city kids connected to nature will follow the film.

Weds. MARCH 27, 7-9pm
FREE

ARTS AT THE ARMORY MEZZANINE
191 HIGHLAND AVE.

Fire Up Your Engines: Screen-Free Week Starts April 29th

Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff
Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff

Screen-Free Week (April 29–May 5, 2013) gets a lot of flak, not to mention wolf-crying from some parties. Is it a slippery slope towards the denial of digital citizenship if we suggest kids should spend less time on computers, tablets, and e-readers?

There are many good arguments for children to be educated in technology and that schools train kids to be good digital citizens. Technology, screens, media—it’s part of our landscape now, and equipping our kids for survival means giving them that skill set. However, “advergaming,” dopamine-induced calm, and using ipads to fill kids’ downtime doesn’t hold any benefit for them (perhaps, it does, though, to overstressed parents and caregivers). Daydreaming, running around, and real-life play has a developmentally functional role.

Turning off our phones, ipads, gaming devices, and televisions for a week—filling the downtime with uptime instead of screen time, is a way to model connectedness for kids. The other kind of connectedness.

Is Screen-Free week a haven for Luddites and anti-technology, granola-crunching, bread-baking, wooden-toy-pushers? Well, I may be a card-carrying member of the last three of those groups, but I’ve also been networked and tweeting for a good long while. I’m never going back, but I am vigilant about screen-time in my household.SFW-logo-with-2013-date-and-website

This TEDxRainer talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a good introduction to research on how TV and video exposure affect the development of attention skills in children. His lab found that the more cognitive stimulation kids received by age 3 (reading, museum visits, singing to kids), the better their ability to pay attention at age 7. TV and video had a correspondingly negative effect on later attention skills. For every hour of TV watched per day before age 3, there was a 10 percent negative difference in attentional skills at age 7.

Need more reasons to consider going screen-free and talking your school, household, or significant other into joining you? Here’s an excerpt from the Institute of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy:

Major federal government initiatives have concluded that screen time is related to weight outcomes, and to adequacy of physical activity, but do not limit their definition of screen time to media that contains food advertising. The CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends behavioral interventions aimed at reducing screen time based on “sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes”. They define screen time as “time spent watching TV, videotapes, or DVDs; playing video or computer games; and surfing the internet.” In identifying research gaps, they point out that important research issues remain, including that “additional research is needed to identify how screen time affects health outcomes”. One of their research questions is “What is the mechanism for screen time being associated with weight-related outcomes?” (Community Guide, 2010).

Healthy People 2020 positions screen time as a direct competitor with adequate physical activity in children from birth to 12th grade. Key physical activity objectives recommended by Healthy People 2020 (HHS, 2010) include: increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average week day; increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 through 12th grade who view television, videos, or play video games for less than 2 hours a day; and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years to 12th grade who use a computer or play computer games outside of school (or nonschool work) for less than 2 hours a day.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)(2001) recommends limiting children’s total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and discouraging television viewing for children younger than 2 years of age. Yet, a recent study suggests that more than a third of health care providers fail to discuss television guidelines with parents (Spivack et al., 2010).

Although the committee thought it was reasonable to assume that the relationship between screen time and obesity found among 2 to 5 year olds is likely to be similar in the birth to 2 age group, there was insufficient evidence about this relationship for the committee to make an obesity prevention recommendation for the younger age group. The committee notes, however, that there is evidence unrelated to obesity (e.g., about cognitive development) that has led others to raise concerns about any screen time in this age group. Thus the committee believes that discouraging screen time in this age group may be important for other reasons, as noted by AAP (2001).

Full document here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13124.

You can find a slew of suggestions for Screen-Free Week organizing and activities at screenfreeweek.org. Consider a granola-making party for your neighborhood gang of rascals (then tweet about it the following week).