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#PlayItForward Spotlight on the Children's Museum of the East End

We are thrilled to introduce you to our August #PlayItForward Partner, The Children's Museum of the East End. CMEE is an incredible organization with a mission to spark imagination and foster learning for children of all backgrounds and abilities and to build strong connections within the East End community by providing playful experiences. We chatted with their fantastic Education Director, Liz Bard, about all things play, the museum's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and her favorite at-home activity of the summer!                                                                      
10% of proceeds from this month's #PlayItForward Collection will be donated to CMEE.                                                                                                                            
Q: Your mission to foster learning for children of all backgrounds and abilities deeply resonates with us. Tell us more about CMEE and the work that you do.                                     

I affectionately refer to CMEE as a "community living room."  By nature, our mission extends past fostering learning for children, and encompasses the needs of the entire families of all backgrounds and abilities.  We are indeed a place where you can spend the day engaging in meaningful play with your child, or even allow your child to play independently while you take advantage of a rare moment to answer an email uninterrupted.  But, we are also a place that provides weekly groceries to families in need, and English language classes for parents and children who are new arrivals to the country.  CMEE brings free enrichment programs to families with limited access to affordable programs.  In short, CMEE is always listening, and responding to the needs of our community.

As the Education Director at CMEE, I coordinate our community events, after school classes, weekend events and summer programs.  My favorite event is our annual Big Truck Day, where we bring about a dozen real (big!) trucks, and their operators to the museum for families to explore. You cannot tell who enjoys this event the most: parent, child, or truck driver! I enjoy spending time, sometimes years, getting to know families and celebrating each child's unique interests and abilities. 

Q: In what ways can play connect children to their community?

"Play is the work of children" said Maria Montessori, and any parent can attest to that! Children seem to spend their entire childhood exploring adulthood through imaginary play.  Wether they're using the remote as a phone, or pushing around a shopping cart, kids are always imitating adults. Play provides children an opportunity to explore the roles of, and develop empathy for people in their communities like teachers, sanitation workers, or firefighters.  In addition to role play, children also process real world problems though play.  Often, I overhear children explaining that their dolls cannot leave the house because of "the virus", or express that they need their stuffed animal's temperature taken.  Play along and participate in these conversations with your child as it is completely healthy and beneficial.   

Whether it's independent play at the beach, or group play at a children's museum play will help your child develop language, self confidence and other imperative skills that will help them navigate the future.  

Q: As a female-founded, female-run small business, we were fascinated to learn that CMEE was founded by 7 mothers who were inspired by their children's play and seeking educational opportunities that didn't yet exist on the East End. What advice can you give to other parents searching for meaningful, play-based experiences in their own communities?

My greatest advice would be, do not try to reinvent the wheel.  A highlight of my job is partnering with local professionals who are the best at what they do.  Do the same thing in your neighborhood, or with your circle of friends.  Celebrate your individual strengths as parents by taking turns visiting places that you enjoy with a cohort of other families. Introduce your children to new cultures by exploring the foods and art of those in your friend group.  

We do not all need to be Instagram moms, providing beautifully curated days…But, if that mom lives next door to you, celebrate her!  Create meaningful relationships with people around you, or other families with young children.  Children will greatly benefit from peer interaction, and so will you! It takes a village to raise a child.

Q: Both your in-person classes and your CMEE at home offerings are wonderful, play-based resources for parents. Can you share a play invitation or at-home activity that you are loving right now?

Every summer we are called to bring the beauty of farm to table education to our littles.  In the past we have celebrated local farms and farmers by exploring recipes using local produce, visiting farm stands, or tending to herb pots.  This year, it is all about the animals!  We put our  Covid latex gloves to use by filling them water color paint, and pretending to milk cows.  Hold the glove over a large piece of paper and let your child milk the glove! We could all use a good laugh, am I right?

Keep up the cow exploration by making butter.  Pour heavy cream into a mason jar, add salt and secure the lid.  Shake it until your cream turns into butter.  Add honey, or herbs and pair it with a fresh piece of bread. 

Q: “Kids can’t play if they’re hungry.” – Steve Long, CMEE President. Since the pandemic began you have turned CMEE into a food pantry offering essential support to families every week. Can you share more about this program and how people can donate. 

Our food pantry grew out of love for the families in our community. We provide weekly groceries for over 70 families on the East End, including fresh fruits and veggies, milk, and eggs. What makes our program unlike other food pantries is that we have forged relationships with many of the participants and frequently turn to them for feedback.  We love to sprinkle "surprises" into each box including art supplies, hair accessories, or ice cream on a hot weekend.  

The food pantry is made possible with monetary donations and through partnerships.  To donate or volunteer please click here

Q: In addition to working to address food insecurity, you have been committed to supporting the educational needs of your community. Tell us more about some of your virtual learning initiatives and your sensory-friendly programming for families with children on the autism spectrum.

We were quickly able to shift our existing, successful programs to Facebook Live, and make them available to all families for free.  Our Baby and Me class, which I call "New Parent Happy Hour", offers support for new parents and play through music for parent and child.  Baby and Me has been utilized by parents in Massachusetts, California, and Arizona since we have transitioned online!  

We have patterned with a local visual artist to offer art classes to the children of many of the families participating in the food pantry.  CMEE is excited to invite the public to a drive through art show titled La Vida en Tiempos de Covid, showcasing their work on Saturday August 15th. 

Lastly, CMEE is eager to work with The Flying Point Foundation to introduce a weekly program for children on the Autism spectrum.  Many children on the spectrum have not attend school since March, and parents report their kids are experiencing attrition in regards to valuable skills and abilities practiced in a structured classroom environment. This program will provide structure by imitating a short school day. 

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