It all started with a conversation at a holiday party, at a bar in Baltimore City. I had my first interaction with Susan Magsamen, now-SVP of Early Learning at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and amazing network connector-extraordinaire. This conversation, which started with a beer-soaked hand shake (as I spilled some beer on my arm before shaking Susan’s hands), led to another conversation at the DJ Dance party two years later during the Neuroscience Retreat. After updating Susan on the activities of Project Bridge, I was invited to attend the Conversations on Early Learning in Boston.
It was my first trip in which my arriving and departing flight were on the same day. There was no time for sight-seeing, so I was focused on making the most of my twelve hours in Boston. After arriving at the Boston Children’s Museum, I watched Susan conduct interviews with the panelists for the day. It was at this time, as I was attempting to quietly live tweet the interview, that I understood the scope of the event.
The full force of advocates for early childhood learning, education, and playful learning (or plearning), were convening. The panelists consisted of: Anna Housely Juster, Ph.D, is the Senior Director of Childhood Development and Community Engagement. Laura Huerta-Migus, the president of the Association of Children’s Museums, Roberta Golinkoff, Professor of Psychology, University of Delaware, Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Professor of Psychology, Temple University, Bryn Parchman, President and CEO, Port Discovery Children's Museum. What struck me the most about this panel was the diversity of occupations regarding early learning. Roberta and Kathy are prominent researchers building the literature, while Bryn and Anna apply this research to activities impacting thousands of children. Laura advocates for policies that benefit the early learning community. This was a great example of how groups of the same interest but different areas of expertise should work together. Sharing ideas and connecting with others is an effective way to provide the best resources to move the field forward.
The mini ultimate block party kicked off the event, allowing participants of the later panel to experience firsthand the power of playful learning. With Curious George, the Man in the Yellow Hat, and Pablo from Curiosityville in tow, kids of all ages were engaged in different types of play, including free play and guided play. During the presentations by the five speakers, they thankfully incorporated adult play time into the 2 hour block. We, the audience, were given 10 minutes of free play. There were toys laden around the room, from plastic balls, materials to make piñatas, to doll houses and superhero capes. I myself tinkered with the rigamagig, a lego/kinect set of deconstructed wooden and plastic pieces to allow participants to build whatever their hearts desired. During a guided play session, the Lego Foundation gave each audience member six lego pieces, with the simple instruction to “make a duck”. With only one minute, we all had a chance to construct our own iteration of making a duck. This simple task tapped into our long term memory, accessed our kinesthetic abilities and sparked our imaginations. It was a great way to demonstrate the power of guided play. Also it was a lot of fun to play with Legos!
I came to Boston not knowing what to expect, and not realizing the rich world of early childhood learning and its impact on society. Having met the amazing players and advocates of this field, I am now inspired to start similar initiatives through Project Bridge. More on that later, but I think it’s time to close the laptop, go outside, and play.
Check out this link for photos of the day!