Mary Rothschild was making bread with a group of preschool aged children at Ariadne's Thread, the children's center she founded and directed, when "she realized there had been a period of total silence as the children paid attention to kneading their piece of dough into an animal shape. She looked around, feeling fulfilled. She had started the center to provide an environment for just this kind of attention. Then Stacy (not her real name, of course), who had just turned three, looked up and said, 'The Lion King video is too loud.' There was no TV in the children's center. Perhaps it was coming from a car in the street outside? Mary listened and finally said: 'I don't hear it, Stacy.' Stacy's large, dark eyes turned up to meet Mary's as she said: ' It's in my head. It's in my head.'"
The startling implications of Stacy's experience weren't lost on Mary. Much of her life has been dedicated to helping parents and teachers of young children devise intentional plans for media use that take into account the invisible realities of the modern world. In 1995 Mary founded "Ariadne's Thread," to provide hands-on learning and free play in response to the influence of media in the lives of her own two children. She later co-founded and now directs Healthy Media Choices
, a non-profit that conducts workshops for parents and teachers of children ages birth through 6 years. For five years, Mary hosted a weekly radio program, "The Healthy Media Choices Hour " on Brattleboro Community Radio in Vermont, and she has taught courses in Children and Media at Adelphi and Fordham Universities.
In a TEDx talk delivered in 2017 she explored The Myth of the Digital Gene
-- and the media-centered story about what children need to prepare for their futures.Throughout those various learning experiences and working with individual families, Mary has deepened an understanding of a non-judgmental middle way in the often dichotomous discussion about what young children need, especially in relation to media use. As she puts it, "It's really about attention and about relationship.
But we go in through media because that's where we are. The questions I want people to ask are: 'Where am I spending my attention? Do I have to?'"
Join us in conversation with this thought-provoking changemaker on a subject of relevance in today's world.
Five Questions with Mary Rothschild
What Makes You Come Alive?
I love being with children as they play freely and work hard. They show us how to fully engage with our minds, hearts and bodies.I find that same engagement and joy with adults when we come under a question together and find unique and positive ways to address it.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
After high school, I joined a progressive religious community, the Marist Missionary Sisters. I was full of zeal for serving God and humanity through prayer and work. One day, in theology class, we read something (I don't know what it was) about God calling humans to "be a prayer," a conduit between heaven and earth. That moment was one of a different kind of attention and presence than I had ever known. Though that religious affiliation is no longer my path, I am grateful and continue to deepen my sense and understanding of that connection.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
There are so many! What comes to mind is a woman who lived down the street when I was a child. I was the youngest of four children and my brother, who was only 14, took care of us when my mother went to work. When this woman saw us coming, she would come out to her porch and smile. She never said a word. We called her "the smiling lady." Her smile made an indelible impression of the power of positive presence .
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To go to Mont Saint-Michel again, now that the new bridge lets the tides flow naturally
One-line Message for the World?
Attention developed in early childhood is the basis for life-long ability to joyfully navigate a complex world