The Louisiana Children’s Museum is more than just a place to visit. One of the Museum’s traveling outreach programs is Play Power, which visits schools and NORD camps in areas of New Orleans deeply impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Play Power encourages children to enjoy learning through emphasis on free expression and laughter. The Louisiana Children’s Museum believes a focus on early education instills in children the skills vital to success not just in school, but in a lifelong journey of learning.
Ereeni Roulakis, an educator with the Louisiana Children’s Museum, talks to a class inside Arthur Ashe Charter School in Gentilly. Four, five, and six years olds, enrolled in a NORD summer camp, sit before props and a small puppet theater.
“Miss Austin and I have come from the Children’s Museum,” explains Roulakis. “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Today is really exciting because instead of taking a trip to the Children’s Museum, we have taken a field trip to you guys. Miss Austin and I do a program called Play Power. Where we do art and games and lessons and talk about a lot of different things in Play Power.”
“This year we’re really focusing on resiliency,” explains Roulakis’s partner, Allison Austin. “Just building up kids self esteem and confidence and their ability to bounce back from any kid of daily trauma or even disaster related trauma that they make experience. Letting them develop socially and emotionally in a healthy, safe space, where they feel they can be their own person and have fun and not be so worried about a test, just being a kid and having a great time.”
First things first: the kids introduce themselves.
“My name is Deanne, and what I like to do outside is play with my big brother. He’s 24 and about to make 25 in November.”
“My name is Amari and I like to go outside to go in the pool.”
“My name is Vance and I like to go outside and play with my dog, Honey.”
Then, they get ready to read and act out The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss.
“Are there trees in the Lorax?” asks Austin.
“Yes!” Answer the children.
“And do trees grow big and tall and strong?”
“I need everybody to get down and pretend that you’re a seed. Miss Ereeni is going to walk around and water us.”
Roulakis begins to read, as kids act out the parts of the Once-ler, the Truffula Trees, and of course, the Lorax.
“Way back in the days when the grass was still green, and the pool was still wet, and the clouds were still clean…”
For those of you who need a little refresher, The Lorax is a children’s story of environmental degradation. Truffula Trees are chopped down by the Once-ler to make things called Thneeds. The factory churns, the air fills with smoke, and the animals, who can no longer survive in the environment, leave.
Allison Austin points to a mostly blank piece of white paper hanging on the wall.
“We have a mural over there,” points Austion. “It’s all desolate and they have to transform it to a beautiful space, inspired by the Lorax. So we’re going to talk about — contrast and compare the environment after the Once-ler came to before the Once-ler. We’re going to ask them which environment they’d rather live in and why, and they have to transform all that barren drawing into something beautiful.”
“With this lesson, we’re trying to focus on trying to gain control over situations around us that we don’t necessarily have control over,” explains Roulakis. “So what can we do with really big issues like environmental degradation and pollution, all these issues that impact us. Trying to make them feel like they have control over a situation.”
Eileen Engle, the Community Engagement Manager for Louisiana Children’s Museum, says Play Power was started after Katrina as a place for kids to heal.
“It got started in 2006 and it’s still going on because it provides a safe place for kids to learn about their feelings and about their community and about their environment, which nowadays teachers have so little time to treat those things. We’re in a test sensitive environment, and emotions aren’t on standardized tests,” says Engle.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about the Louisiana Children’s Museum, click here.