Parenting in the Digital Age

MWS and the Human Development and Family Studies program at URI are co-sponsoring a showing of Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age on Sunday, April 10. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance. Click here for tickets

Physician and filmmaker Delany Ruston decided to make the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age when she found herself constantly struggling with her two children about screen time. She felt guilty and confused, not sure what limits were best, especially around the use of mobile phones, social media, gaming, and how to monitor online homework.

Click to watch trailer

Click to watch trailer

The recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding children’s use of media have remained largely unchanged for 15 years. With children now spending more time on entertainment media than they do at school, the AAP is proposing new guidelines that stress the need for parents to be active in managing this aspect of their children’s lives. “Parenting has not changed”, proposes the AAP, “The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them”.
However, screens have become so ubiquitous in our culture that many parents feel overwhelmed and unable to determine what is best for their children. In an interview with the New York Times Dr Rushton says, “The worst thing a parent can do is hand over a smart phone and hope for the best. But parents often feel like trying to set limits is pointless, that the cat is out of the bag, tech is everywhere. I hear all kinds of excuses. But kids’ brains aren’t wired to self-regulate. They can’t do it without you, and they shouldn’t have to.”
The film weaves real life stories with scientific evidence and insights from experts in child development, brain science, and psychology. Boys and girls use media differently, leading to different issues. Stories include that of a 14-year old girl who fell victim to social media bullying, and of a boy whose love of video gaming took him from straight A student to internet rehab. Because young brains are not yet fully developed, children and teens are particularly vulnerable to the effects of screen use. The film includes findings from recent studies about the impact of media on for children’s ability to learn and to reach their full academic potential.
Screenagers gives parents practical ideas for creating a healthy digital environment for their families. It suggests ways to work with teens to help them build good habits and to balance their on-screen lives with the real life experiences. The film is intended to spark discussion between educators and parents as well as with teens. We all live in the digital age and only by working together will we be able to ensure that this technology changes our lives for the better.

Play is Serious Business

Imaginative play is essential for the healthy physical, emotional, social, and academic development of the child. Waldorf Education recognizes that when children are given a safe and beautiful environment they use the power of their own imaginations to create learning experiences. Hasbro invited Meadowbrook kindergarten teacher, Su Rubinoff, to share her expertise with its innovation design team.

Su at Hasbro (1280x1022)

Hasbro is a leading global play products company based in Pawtucket, R.I. with many well known brands including Play–Doh, Transformers, Scrabble, and My Little Pony. Most of us will remember games such as Monopoly and Candy Land from our own childhoods but Hasbro has since added a new generation of electronic toys and digital gaming, and continues to look for new ways to play. MWS alumna, Ceileidh Siegel, is currently the company’s Director of Imbedded Innovation and leads a team working on design ideas intended for production 3-5 years from now.  Ceileidh says her job is a mix of the Tom Hanks role in the movie Big, where a 12 year old wishes himself into an adult body then lands his dream job of professional toy tester, mixed with Shark Tank, the television show that ruthlessly investigates the viability of new product ideas.

Playstand PoniesIn 2015, Ceileidh’s team hosted a Hasbro “Summer Camp” focusing on the reinvention of two core brands.  Her group worked with members of the company’s Marketing, Design, and Engineering, teams with the intention of providing timeless favorites, Baby Alive™ and FurReal Friends™, with a timely new twist. These lines feature play characters for young children that encourage patterns of role play and imagination. As a foundation for their work, Ceileidh felt that an in depth perspective on children’s innate need for play was essential for the group. She particularly wanted them to understand the importance of nurturing role play and what it brings to the developing child.

Cassandra with her doll

Cassandra with her doll

Having experienced play–based Waldorf education at Meadowbrook from early childhood until graduating from grade 8 in 1997, she decided to invite MWS kindergarten teacher Su Rubinoff (known hereabouts as Miss Su) to share her expertise with the Hasbro group. Su has worked with children for more than 40 years and holds a Master of Science degree in remedial education. She has devoted many years to the study of child development, investigating the connection between sensory and academic learning. Su, who has known Ceileidh since birth, was honored by the invitation but also a little nervous so she enlisted the help of another MWS alum, Cassandra Duda, for technical assistance. Cassandra graduated from Meadowbrook in 2013 and is currently a junior at the Lincoln School. After researching the school archives, she created a PowerPoint presentation with photographs of young children at play to accompany Su’s talk. She also brought along her favorite childhood toy, a doll named Ellie. Ceileidh says that Cassandra’s input was tremendous, “She brought the team on a lovely digital journey from the forest kindergarten, through Su’s trips around the world, to show the global drumbeat of play.  She was poised and articulate speaking about her connection to the doll, the weight of its bean bag body and the rituals associated with it including purchasing clothes and accessories on family visits to Germany each summer”. In reflection, Ceileidh shared how her Meadowbrook education prepared her for the presentations she gives today. “Making my own textbooks reinforced that I really needed to know the subject from the inside out and from every angle.  It gives me a great sense of calm because, if you know the material the way we are required to at Meadowbrook, there are no “gotchas”… you literally wrote the book (well, now it’s a PowerPoint) .”

Hasbro CS (1280x799)

Su received an enthusiastic welcome from the Hasbro team. She explained that play is not just something children do for fun or to pass the time. Play enables children to make sense of the world and it establishes the foundation of future learning. Unstructured, imaginative play activates the entire brain resulting in the building of new neural pathways. Activities practiced in play that are associated with communication, memory, self regulation, and problem solving, help to develop the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning and critical thinking. Play is also essential in learning how to interact with others, promoting social as well as self development. Children learn by exploring their environment through their senses, translating what they see and feel into a picture of the world and their place within it. For healthy development, it is important to surround the young child with beautiful and meaningful experiences that encourage trust and confidence in the goodness of the world.

Su told the group that children learn predominantly from imitation in their early years. They are not ‘little adults’, although they are driven by a strong desire to behave like the adults around them. Children imitate daily living when playing with dolls or stuffed animals, thoughtfully recapitulating the tending and caring they themselves have experienced. Children as young as one year old can be seen bending over a little crib to kiss a doll. New skills are also learned in this way. When feeding, brushing hair, or dressing their ‘babies’, children are learning how to care for themselves.

Dolls appear throughout history and in every culture, made from a wide variety of materials including cloth, grass, corn husks, plastic and clay. Children’s touch is sensitive so the intrinsically warm qualities of natural materials, such as wood or silk, make for a deeper connection than might be formed with toys made of synthetic materials. Children also see themselves in the doll, bringing it to life through their own imagination. Waldorf dolls have tiny eyes and, perhaps, a simple stitch for a mouth. Su described how these small, neutral features allow the child to explore a wider range of emotions and experiences through creative play.

Six months later, the Hasbro group is still talking about the insights Su provided. Building on the knowledge that play where the child takes the role of nurturing a toy is instinctual, they are considering ways to augment imaginary play instead of replacing it with lights, sounds, and motion.  Ceileidh surmises, “Su really made it abundantly clear that the power of play and imagination is the strongest force in childhood, and the foundation for growth and success later in life.”

Ceileidh calls Meadowbrook the place where she learned how to learn. She credits Meadowbrook with helping to develop her innate internal motivation and is convinced that Waldorf Education’s consistent focus on what you do with knowledge, rather than on reciting the facts you know, resulted in her being very well prepared for work in the innovation era. “At Hasbro”, she says, “We have the privilege and responsibility for making some of the world’s best play experiences”. When it comes to the essential business of children’s play, that sense of ethical responsibility carries great importance. No word yet on what changes will be made to Baby Alive and FurReal Friends but, as a Waldorf alum leading the way, Ceileidh will likely succeed with her persistent request that a toy be just as much fun when the batteries are dead.

Click here to see some of the photos Su showed at Hasbro

 

 

A Musical Celebration for the Solstice

This year’s Yuletide Revels performance, presented from the Meadowbrook Music Program, is a medieval mystery play celebrating the winter solstice. Renowned Rhode Island music teacher, Joe Smith, has drawn works from sacred and secular traditions that interweave the familiar and beloved with the rare and intriguing. With the collaboration of MWS Strings Director, Jeremy Fortier, Mr Smith has worked with the middle school students to create an evening of music perfect for the season. Bill Ouimette will conduct the Meadowbrook Recorder Ensemble in a medieval mystery play with a spoken narrative telling a tale of the moon pitted in jealous battle against the sun. The haunting Abbot’s Bromley, an ancient pagan piece that venerates the elk while poking fun at convention, will also be presented.

???????????????????????????????The performance takes place on the 245th anniversary of Ludwig von Beethoven’s birth and the Middle School Choir will sing Ode to Joy – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee in his honor. Choral Director, Susan Bosworth, will also lead the choir in Lux Aeterna with text from the Requiem Mass that celebrates the divine eternal light.

This wonderful evening of music and community is open to all and admission is free. Please join us at the URI Performing Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston on Wednesday, December 16 at 7pm.

 

 

Exploring the Meaning of the Seasons

Michael Ronall (637x225)

Enlivening Our Thinking About the Earth – Friday, 7pm

*Encountering the Archangel Michael – Saturday, 4pm

Participating in the Cycle of the Year

These presentations are intended for adults and all are welcome, however the *4 pm Saturday talk presumes some knowledge of anthroposophy. These talks will take place at Meadowbrook Waldorf School. Suggested Donation: $10 for each talk of $25 for all three.

Anthroposophy, the basis of Waldorf Education, views the surrounding world as a macrocosmic panorama of human nature itself. In order to comprehend this grand vista, modern spiritual science offers a path of knowledge through a metamorphic thinking that can grasp living phenomena with the same precision as the natural scientific methods that it extends. On this weekend in Michaelmas, we will explore the implications of this new, pictorial thinking for our annual journey through the seasons.

Michael Ronall, a Waldorf School alumnus, received his MA in Philosophy. He has served on the Council of the New York Branch of the Anthroposophical Society and the Collegium of the Section for the Spiritual Striving of Youth, and he has taught in Society Branches and the anthroposophical adult-education institutions. He writes and edits for diverse publications.

This event is part of the Anthroposophical Society’s Visiting Speaker program and is co-sponsored by the Forming Heart Branch of the society and Meadowbrook Waldorf School.

Please RSVP to development@meadowbrookschool.com