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Talking to kids about social injustice and discrimination

As a cultural institution and a place for children, Chicago Children’s Museum is constantly thinking about how kids understand and interact with the world around them, and how that world impacts them. Kids’ ears can pick up bits and pieces of the most complicated conversations, which in turn can prompt adult-sized questions.

Regardless of your political beliefs, these conversations can bring up questions and concerns about discrimination and fairness, and it can be challenging to know the best ways to tackle it with your kids.

We’ve put together some ideas for parents and caregivers to have meaningful conversations with children of all ages about issues of equality and diversity, and how to get those conversations started.

 

Teach them empathy.

Being able to empathize with others who are treated unfairly is an early step in understanding the damage that is done by discrimination and inequality. However, kids need to learn empathy—we’re not born with it. Parents and caregivers need to talk about what it means to empathize, encourage their kids to work toward it, and model it themselves.

Sometimes books can be great discussion tools. Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry is a great story to kick off conversations about empathy.

 

Relate larger issues to their smaller worlds.

Children may not be able to understand the details of civil rights, but they can understand why it isn’t fair to cut in line for the playground slide. Kindness and fairness are ideas that kids understand and relate to very early on. Show kids that their worlds and the world around them are related.

The book What Does It Mean To Be Kind by Rana DiOrio talks about kindness in a world that kids understand: the classroom.

 

Help them explore difference—without generalizing.

We ask kids to point out which block is red and which block is blue, but when it comes to people, we insist we’re all the same. Kids notice differences—be honest and encourage them to explore those differences in positive ways.

The book The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler (and published by Chicago Children’s Museum) teaches kids to not only acknowledge difference, but to celebrate it too.

 

Hold yourself accountable—but not to the level of perfection.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have our own biases, and children hear what we say and take it all in. Avoid speaking in generalizations about other people and question others when they do so. If you do speak unfairly about a person or group, openly acknowledge the mistake.

 

Continue the conversation—but avoid oversharing.

Listen carefully to children’s questions and take cues about what they want to talk about. As adults, we have a tendency to provide too many details and concepts that may well be beyond their comprehension. Try using open-ended questions like “What are you curious about?” to get to the heart of their concerns. Then you can help them find more information about what they would like to know. And if you’re not sure how to start the conversation, you can always turn to books like the ones we listed above.

 

Talking about prejudice and discrimination is not something we can check off a list—it’s an ongoing conversation. Help your children see the world through a lens of compassion and kindness throughout their childhoods that will last well into their adult lives.

What are they laughing at? LOL 101 for Grownups

There’s a lot of learning going on when little ones are laughing. Here are some tips for engaging children in silly behavior at each developmental stage.

Laugh.Shack.2014a.9844-1.300d.RGB1.  Babies and Toddlers love surprises!
These little guys are learning a lot about how the world around them works, so unexpected actions can really crack them up.

Put a shoe on your head.
Quack like a duck.
Make funny faces.
Gently tickle tummies or chins.

Caregiver Tip: Tricks that bring giggles one time may bring tears the next. Be sensitive; babies get overloaded, and toddlers are a tough crowd.

2.  Preschoolers love nonsense!
Three- and four-year-olds are starting to see that jokes follow a format. To you, their punch lines might seem to need a little work, but they find them utterly hilarious!

“Knock knock,”
“Who’s there?”
“Spaghetti monster! Ha ha ha!”
“Huh?”

Caregiver Tip: Super-silly stories and taboo topics (like potty humor) are also big at this age. Hang in there, parents!  Most outgrow this by age 20.

3.  Ages 5 – 7 love MAKING SENSE.
They’re learning the twists and turns of language and understanding the double meaning of words in riddles and puns:

Toy store sign: “Don’t feed the animals, they’re already stuffed.”

Caregiver Tip: Get used to hearing the same old joke! Young comics must hone their timing and delivery skills.

4. Ages 8 – 9 love SOCIAL HUMOR.
At this age, they’re having fun sharing humor with friends. They especially enjoy looonger jokes, funny books and videos, quick and witty comebacks, and, oh joy, sarcasm.

Caregiver Tip: Help children understand that hurtful and demeaning humor is never okay.

Through Labor Day, hone your funny bone and get seriously silly at the Laugh Shack, Chicago Children’s Museum’s pop-up comedy club just for kids!

Why Danger?

Exposing children to danger may seem counterintuitive, but when done right, and with the support of caring adults, it is ultimately the best preparation we can give them for becoming resilient, thoughtful and capable human beings.

Exposing children to danger may seem counterintuitive, but when done right, and with the support of caring adults, it is ultimately the best preparation we can give them for becoming resilient, thoughtful and capable human beings.

Kids just don’t have enough “good danger” in their lives these days.

No, really…Hear us out!

Think back to your childhood… What are your strongest play memories? Often, when we at Chicago Children’s Museum ask adults how they played as children, the things they recall most vividly were a bit risky. They climbed trees—or rooftops—and played in alleys. They experimented with tools and took things apart.  They launched things into the air, demolished things, melted things, and (maybe, just maybe) created some minor explosions. Why? Well, because they were curious!

From these experiences, they learned. There were minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises, but, oh, were there also revelations!

Encountering risky, seemingly dangerous situations provide children some of their greatest and most important learning opportunities. From interactions with hot, sharp, breakable, fragile, high up or otherwise strange things, we develop new understandings about the ways of the world. We grasp why some things really are dangerous (to ourselves or others) and how to be safe.  We learn about our own abilities and sensibilities.

As Gever Tulley, author of Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do, says, “While there are aspects of danger in virtually everything we do, the trick is to learn how mastery actually minimizes danger.”

Yes, exploring what is dangerous presents a prime opportunity for children to learn safety and responsibility.  It is also a natural motivator for learning in general. Danger is exciting; therefore, we pay attention.  You can bet that a child who learns about chemistry by creating an explosion is going to remember it far longer than the child who reads about it in a book. The “risk” aspect makes the experience stick.

Here are a few key ways adults can support “good” danger:

Ensure that children have opportunities to take risks that are developmentally appropriate.  For an eight-year-old, using a sharp tool or experimenting with heat could present an appropriate level of risk.  For a six-year-old, swinging on a rope swing might be just the right challenge. For a toddler, exploring a new material or attempting to walk over an uneven terrain may be a healthy risk. Children naturally want to push the limits of their abilities; it’s up to us, as adults, to help them find the right opportunities.

Provide time, space and support. While some “risky” activities require adult supervision (learning to light a campfire for the first time), others are best left for children to explore on their own (taking a leap from the monkeybars). If the worst that can happen is a cut, scrape, bruise, or even a sprained ankle, give children the freedom to do it on their own. Remember, you learned some of your best “lessons” when adults weren’t even looking!

Take comfort in the knowledge that “dangerous” activities help children flourish. Exploring fire, water and other physical phenomena, and using real tools and machines acquaint children with how the world really works. Nothing beats first-hand experience for learning how objects are engineered, why heat transforms water into vapor, what it’s like to drill a hole. Such “risky” physical behaviors as climbing, swinging or jumping from high places build strength, dexterity and self-confidence. Non-physical risks—performing in front of an audience or standing up for a principle—are similarly important learning opportunities. In each situation, children are developing critical cognitive and social-emotional skills: assessing risks, grasping consequences, practicing self-control, taking responsibility.

Exposing children to danger may seem counterintuitive, but when done right, and with the support of caring adults, it is ultimately the best preparation we can give them for becoming resilient, thoughtful and capable human beings.

So go ahead… Take the leap.  Make it blow.  Melt it down. Launch it. Watch it burn.  We’re learning here!

Thankful Cards

The Thanksgiving season is upon us and we want to know, who are you thankful for? In the Kraft Artabounds Studio, visitors have been creating one-of-a-kind cards to show how much they care about the special people in their lives.

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How do you and your family give thanks?

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Join us in the studio this week to design your own card. Be sure to check our calendar for studio hours. We look forward to seeing you here!

Creative Costume Ideas for Halloween

Rachel Weaver Rivera, former Arts Learning Coordinator at Chicago Children’s Museum

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What’s wrong with store-bought wizard hats and plastic princess masks? Nothing, except that they come from the land of bland, and Halloween is certainly not one of those ho-hum holidays. If you really want to spark your child’s imagination this year, try some creative costume-making tricks and treats. Simply follow these rules:

Save Stuff
Old belts, neckties, jewelry, sports equipment, scarves, eyeglasses, stuffed animals, and purses make wonderful accessories. Fabric remnants are perfect for head wraps, capes, wings, bandages or poncho-style gowns and caveman garb. Discarded headbands are great for gluing on ears, taping on sparkly tin foil tiaras or attaching pipe cleaner antennas. Two toilet paper tubes glued together makes an excellent pair of binoculars, and paper towel rolls colored black can accommodate any pirate in need of a telescope.

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Paint
Let your kids paint their own face! In addition to being less of a safety hazard than a vision-obscuring, cumbersome mask, a painted face allows children to clearly see and appreciate the transformation of their own features. For the most successful face painting, set up a make-believe “make up” station with a mirror, small brushes, Q-tips, paper towels, cold cream and water. And don’t forget that face paint looks great on more than just the face. Use it to turn the backs of hands alien-green or decorate arms with creeping spiders.

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Labor Day Weekend!

School may have started for some kids, but there is still time to enjoy the last days of summer this Labor Day weekend! Chicago Children’s Museum will be open all weekend long, Monday too! Join us for fun programs like:

SILLY SURPRISE!

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PECULIAR PETS!

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and The Laugh Shack‘s LIVE OPEN MIC!
This is the final weekend for The Laugh Shack! You won’t want to miss it!

IMG_9905Please note, the museum will be closed after Labor Day Monday (September 3 – 6, 2013) for improvements. See you this weekend!

Our Staff’s Summer Picks for Play!

CCM Staff

We asked Chicago Children’s Museum’s staff:

What was your favorite thing to do in the summer as a kid?

Shoot marbles, jump double dutch, ride bikes and play basketball.
– Toni, Manager of Guest Services

We had a treehouse in my backyard that my brothers and the boys in our neighborhood built, and I would climb inside and eat corn flakes with my dolls.
– Diane, Community Programs Manager

We didn’t have to cross any busy streets to get to our local pool, so we would walk over in our suits, carrying our towels. We wouldn’t even wear flip-flops, just bare feet on the hot black top.
– Ellen, Senior Graphic Designer

I was really into being a fireman. I had a whole outfit that I would wear, and my grandma would bring me to various fire houses during the week and ask if I could climb on the truck. They would always say yes!
– Jon, Art Director

My brothers and I would organize big bike races. We lived in a neighborhood with about 20 kids and we would all race around the block as fast as we could.
– Peter, VP of Exhibits and Building Operations

My cousins and I would play in our backyard: double dutch, off-the-wall and ride our bikes in a circle around a tree that was in the middle of the yard.
– June, Membership Operations

I would play in the big boxes my dad brought home from his factory. I would also build popsicle stick rafts and float them in puddles.
– Val, Graphic Designer

Entering the World of a Book Together

Tsivia Cohen, AVP of family learning at Chicago Children’s Museum, shares ideas on how to share a book with your children during the early years.

Literacy

Make reading aloud a regular part of everyday life.
Reading aloud calms children. Snuggle up so they can see the pages while you read. Children will connect reading to positive, close times with you.

“My little one would just know-his body clock would tell him-when it was our read-aloud time. He’d plop himself in my lap with a book. He made sure we read everyday-no matter how busy I got.”

                                                 -Mother of a four-year-old

Choose books that children will enjoy.
Start with books that have only a few words per page. Look for bright pictures, rhymes, repetition, and a simple story. Pick books you like too. Chances are, you’ll read a book more than once.

Give it some pizzazz.
Be playful. Give the characters funny voices or make a big deal about turning the pages.

Teach while you read. Ideas to try now and then:

  • By running a finger under the text, you’ll help kids understand that you’re reading from left to right and top to bottom.
  • When children turn the pages, they’re learning how books are put together.
  • When you pause to let kids finish the rhymes with you, they’re learning about the sounds within words.
  • By asking kids to guess what the book will be about, you’re teaching them to think as they read.

Enjoy yourselves!
Sometimes adults worry that reading aloud isn’t educational enough-that we’d better ask more questions or have kids read some words themselves. None of this is wrong, but don’t let it get in the way of having fun. Seeing books as a source of pleasure will motivate kids to want to read.

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Spring Break 2013!

TreehouseTrails
We know we just posted about the cold weather here in Chicago, but regardless of the snow on the ground, spring break is just around the corner! Courtney Hrejsa shares ideas on where to go and what to do in and around Chicago.

 

While we can’t wait to see you at CCM over spring break, we know you and your family are looking for additional destinations for adventures on your week-off. Consider some of these options—a little quirky and a little offbeat, just the way we like it!

  • The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst (just a train ride away!) “displays gemstone treasures, antiques to modern with a blending of earth science exhibits.” Filled with intricately-carved stones and gems, this place will make your young geologists swoon! Also perfect for those who enjoy the more non-sequitur forms of art, such as a diorama featuring an elephant carved from obsidian. 
  • Are your little ones obsessed with all things transportation? The Chicago Bridge House Museum is the destination for you! Explore the inner-workings of Chicago’s historic moving bridges that line the Chicago River.
  • Bundle up and head to Oz Park in Lincoln Park for a Wizard of Oz-themed snow day! With life-size sculptures of the main characters and a themed playlot to boot, this place is just plain old fun, movie fan or not.
  • Do like donating or receiving free books? Bird watching? Seeing a herd of white tailed deer? All of these things are possible at North Park Village Nature Center, FREE and located on Chicago’s northwest side. The naturalist in your family will love it!
  • If you’ve always wondered where you can buy surplus military parachutes, glow in the dark paints, plumbing parts, and laboratory-grade beakers, you’ve clearly never made it to American Science & Surplus! With locations on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago and in Geneva, this place is a hoot to root around in. With lots of funky stuff priced below $5, it’s easy to explore for a while without breaking the bank.