New interactive kiosk offers important parenting pointers

Learning best practices for early parenting is now at the public's fingertips, thanks to a traveling virtual parenting kiosk. The project, a collaboration between the Urban Child Institute (UCI), the University of Tennessee Neuroscience Institute and the Kiwanis Club of Germantown, makes academic brain research accessible to Memphis-area parents through interactive scenarios on a automated machine.

The idea for the kiosk surfaced when UCI began thinking about innovative ways to broadly share their research. Last year, the nonprofit developed a traditional and information-rich, museum-style exhibit, The Brain Awareness Exhibit, behind the reception area at their offices on Jefferson Avenue. "It's kind of high level, and it's fairly academic--or so we've been told," admits Katy Spurlock, Director of Education and Dissemination at UCI and the main creator of the kiosk project. 

Spurlock is charged with taking UCI's vital research on early child development and finding ways to deliver the information to the public. But talking about brain science with the layman can easily become complex.

"We had people to evaluate [the exhibit], and that's when they realized that to get our message across we would need to deliver the information in a simpler, more interactive way," says Spurlock. "It's information about brain development to share with parents, but not an overwhelming amount."

Over time Spurlock took that information to the Center for Multimedia Arts at the University of Memphis. A plan for a portable kiosk was crafted, and a federal grant was applied for, but not funded. Not satisfied, Spurlock decided they would push forward and finance the work locally, one "piece at a time" if they had to. The partnership with UT Neuroscience became an important piece of that puzzle.

Dr. Bill Armstrong, Director of the UT Neuroscience Center, was excited about sharing information about the brain with the general public, and particularly liked the focus on easy-to-understand content that would help parents understand how interactive child care promotes healthy brain development.

The result is a kiosk that perfectly complements UCI's latest campaign, Touch, Talk, Read, Play, which explores and models positive child/parent relationships. Participants using the kiosk are asked to choose between three virtual parent/child scenarios. The aim is to choose the most beneficial and healthy activity. At the end of the digital session, the machine provides an assessment of your answers--"a nonjudgmental, small amount of feedback" for parents.

"It's interactive; you walk up to it like you would in an airport or at an ATM," says Spurlock about the ease and approachability of the kiosk.

The kiosk's first stop was at the Pink Palace Museum, and it has since moved to the Memphis Zoo, tucked away near the Education Building.  Anyone visiting the Zoo can get a virtual parenting assessment without cost. Spurlock and her team are in talks about the kiosk's next location.

Read more articles by Kate Crowder.

Kate Crowder is a freelance writer and veteran educator who has taught for over a decade in public schools. The longtime Memphian and mother of three is frequently found on the stage as musician, actor, or director when not filling her role as contributor and Assistant Editor at High Ground News.
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