Press Releases » Game on: Miami Beach’s Playing the Game of Life makes learning fun

Game on: Miami Beach’s Playing the Game of Life makes learning fun
DAVID SMILEY, [email protected]

The words ”bad” and ”don’t” have no place in this old but newly renovated and converted North Beach apartment building.

Neither do video games, standardized tests or time-out.

What you will find in the classrooms of the Playing the Game of Life center at 7144 Byron Ave. is kids with hands covered in soil, flour or paint, children dancing, and pregnant mothers practicing prenatal yoga.

Open for about two months, the nonprofit, arts-based wellness center offers a unique take on education, character building, and social interaction not only for kids in preschool through high-school, but also their parents.

”This is about raising consciousness and helping people to understand there is another way,” said Jeannette Blanca Egozi, director and founder of the three-year-old program, created as an alternative to traditional education and after-care centers.

Through classes like creative dance, rock band — not the video game, but an actual rock n’ roll music class — and nutritional education and organic cooking, the center’s 15 instructors aim to promote not only thinking skills but communication, health and self-esteem. Teaching is based on positive communication, Egozi said, and doesn’t include penalizing discipline or negative reinforcement.

The unique, perhaps quirky nature of the new North Beach center is evident upon opening the front door.

Sitar and tabla softly sound from speakers placed throughout the building.

Upstairs, about eight children can be heard pounding djembes, woodblocks and tambourines during a session of Rhythm Kids, a class that utilizes African rhythms while teaching children about animals and geography.

In a class next door, seven children between the ages of 5 and 7 learn to paint flowers with brushes and tempera.

Egozi says all it takes is a little time in a class for a child or parent to realize there is more to the center than watercolors and hand drums.

”We don’t do art for art’s sake,” said Egozi. Registration is $50 a year, plus individual class fees.

Lesly Lee, a 37-year-old El Portal mother who sends her 3-year-old daughter Gabriella and 4-year-old son Taciano to the center twice a week after school, said the cooking and creative dancing classes her children take have made a difference.

”My son is very active — you might call him hyper,” she said. ”It brings a calmness to him. He calms down. It’s very chill.”

Lee, who learned about the center by word of mouth, said one of the best things about the center is its lack of technology-based curriculum and emphasis on hands-on education.

”It’s more natural, more wholesome,” she said. ”There are things in society we’ve moved away from, things we should not have. And when it comes to our children, we can’t move that fast.”

Egozi, 39, founded her non profit in 2007, using a background in mental health, energy healing, stress management, child care and speech pathology.

For the first three years, the organization operated at satellite facilities, working with schools and after care facilities under a starter grant and then a three-year grant from the Children’s Trust.

”Their story is they started really small and they succeeded and grew from there,” said Emily Cardenas, a spokeswoman for the Children’s Trust, which has funded the nonprofit since 2007.

According to Cardenas, Playing the Game of Life first received a starter grant worth less than $50,000 from the Children’s Trust in 2007.

And after proving it could ”compete with the big boys,” the non profit received two grants for out-of-school services and for prevention services — each worth about $60,000 a year, though the program has to reapply in December.

Now, Egozi hopes her non profit can make the next step, increasing relationships, partnerships and programming opportunities.

”I’d like to see it become an epicenter for children adolescents and adults,” she said, ”to come and have a place of safety and joy.”

For more information, call 305-864-5237 or visit the center’s website.

Copyright (c) 2010 The Miami Herald

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