EatSleepPlay: Building Health Everyday

Review

of an Exhibition

by leah taradash

Published on March 25, 2012, Modified on April 20, 2012

  • Description:

    Through interactive elements and informative data, EatSleepPlay: Building Health Everyday, a new exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, sends the message that the decisions and choices you make on how you treat your body affects your overall health and well being. By specifically focusing on how eating, sleeping, and playing directly relate to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, other messages that the exhibition addresses include:
    • It is important to choose healthy as opposed to unhealthy foods when eating
    • Getting a good night’s sleep is essential in keeping your body healthy
    • Exercising and remaining active contribute to your health
    • There are negative consequences when you do not treat your body in a healthy manner

    Being that this exhibit is held at a children’s museum, which generally attracts children from infants to elementary school aged, it can be assumed that this is the targeted audience the exhibition is intended for. However, given the fact that the exhibition enforces the importance of making healthy choices, I would argue that the children who get the most of their experience will be those who have the ability to recognize the significance of the content that is presented in the exhibition and use the knowledge they have obtained in influencing their life choices. Therefore, I feel that the intended audience for this exhibition is children that are just leaving the early childhood stages all the way up until elementary aged children. As I witnessed when observing the children in the space, many children younger than 4 do not have the capacity to fully comprehend the information presented and instead just want to hit all the buttons and throw the fruits and vegetables around, with little understanding of why those specific elements are there. The exhibition also targets adults with children, as they have a significant impact on their children’s living habits.

    Although this exhibition is targeted towards younger audiences, its content is relevant to individuals of all ages, as it is important to be informed about the dangers of unhealthy living regardless of your age. In fact, there are many adults that would benefit from seeing this exhibit. I also feel that as an educator whose role is often similar to that of a parent, it is important to promote behaviors of healthy living to my students, which includes maintaining a healthy life style both physically as well as mentally in terms of the decisions that we make and consequences that follow. I felt especially connected to the portion of the exhibition that focused on getting a good night’s sleep, as that is something that I have found to be increasingly difficult to achieve as I get older. With that in mind, I feel that the message of this portion of the exhibit is more directed towards teenagers and adults who are not getting enough sleep as opposed to children who are being given a bed time by their parents or caregiver.

    One of the biggest components that are evident when first walking in to the exhibit is the use of interactives that reinforce the big idea of the importance of healthy living. As suggested by the exhibition’s title, it is organized into three main areas that focus on eating, sleeping, and playing, with interactive elements that correspond to each category. A main theme of the interactives is the consequences that poor health has on the body, with many of the exhibition’s activities corresponding to the parts of the body that are directly affected by good or bad health choices, such as the brain, stomach, heart, and intestines. For example, a giant heart shows the difference between a healthy heart that has blood pumping through it and a heart that has been affected by Diabetes, which is more difficult to pump. I feel like I can’t write this review without mentioning the “Royal Flush” exhibit, which consisted of a British talking toilet that analyzed the contents of what was in the bowl based on the amount of fiber. Some of this exhibit I found to be a little ridiculous and unnecessary, such as the “Constipation Contemplation” (a poem hung next to the toilet written about how to handle the pitfalls of constipation with lines such as “ but all I really need to do, is eat more fiber so I can poo. Perhaps drinking H20, would help me in my quest to go.”), but I do think that the big idea was reinforced in the majority of the exhibits and, for the most part, executed well.

    One of my favorite exhibits involved a phone conversation you could listen to between different body parts that were deciding which food to eat. For example, when picking up the phone and dialing #2 I heard a conversation between the nose and brain regarding a package of French fries and roasted vegetables. The nose wanted to chose the French fries because of their delicious smell, however the brain ultimately convinced him that the roasted vegetables would be the healthier choice, despite the appealing smell of the French fries. Children are forced to make decisions like these regarding what they eat every day, making this interactive effective in adhering to the exhibit’s mission to promote good decision making when it comes to eating the right foods. To emphasize the importance of physical fitness, the play portion of the exhibit incorporates activities that promote reaction time, balance, and energy, which many of the children, as well as their adults, seemed to be enjoying.

    In addition to the interactive elements, the exhibition also incorporates facts based on research collected by organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and National Health Initiatives that provide concrete data supporting the exhibit’s mission. In order to engage parents and caregivers in dialogue regarding maintaining a healthy lifestyle, panels of information provide suggestions such as cooking together and controlling the portion size of food that gets put on their plates. Additionally, parents and caregivers are encouraged to participate with their children in all of the activities in the play section. I feel that promoting dialogue between adults and children in an exhibition such as this one is especially important as it allows for further discussion on a significant issue. I do wonder though how many adults use this information, as I found many just sitting on the sides watching their children play. This also brings up the issue of children not gaining the full experience of the exhibition due to the fact that many components may require adult explanation and engagement.

    While there were many components of the exhibition that I found to be thought provoking and effective in promoting the big idea, there were others that I found to be ineffective. Two exhibits that I found to be particularly disappointing were both in the sleep exhibit, which, as I previously mentioned, I had qualms about to begin with. One activity involves “sleep stealers”, which are giant inflatable alien type creatures that pop up every time you press a button that corresponds to an unhealthy choice. While this activity adheres to the exhibition’s big idea of making healthy decisions, I feel like a lot more effort was put into making the activity visually appealing as opposed to thinking of what children will get out of it. Furthermore, if taken literally, children will leave the exhibit thinking that giant green monsters will pop up from under their bed every time they eat a bowl of ice cream or drink soda, which is a problem in itself. Another exhibit that has its problems involves a foosball game that is supposed to show how lack of sleep affects the body’s reaction time and overall performance. Each row of players represents either a group that has or hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep, with the tired group’s spokes being more difficult to operate. While this seems like a good idea in theory, I was able to witness the pitfalls of this activity first hand as a boy approached the fooseball table with great enthusiasm, encouraging his friend to play along, only to be disappointed when he had trouble maneuvering the spokes that represented a player that was tired. He left the activity completely missing the purpose of its use. It’s exhibits like these that make me feel like the designers wanted to put everything they could think of in this exhibition to make it interactive and didn’t take a few steps back to really think about which elements would serve the best purpose. As a result, there are quite a few interactives that are not being used properly because the children simply can’t comprehend their proper uses and as a result are not taking away the intended messages.

    Overall, I would say that EatSleepPlay achieves its goal of responding to the museum’s health initiative and desire to create awareness regarding the dangers of childhood obesity. However, in the quest to provide as much information as possible, the exhibition is filled with too many interactives that don’t necessarily serve a purpose and are not accessible to the audience they are meant to serve. That being said, I think if edited, this exhibition can serve as a great example of how children’s museums can act as an agent for creating awareness towards significant social issues faced by our children.

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