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Uma Thurman Puts Motherhood Center Stage

How the "Smash" actress and mother helps low-income parents and babies. Plus, why she thinks "balance" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The Needs of Low-Income Families continued...

The Room to Grow setup is an ideal strategy for nurturing learning in kids and parents facing poverty, says Sheila Smith, PhD, director of early childhood at the National Center for Children in Poverty at the Mailman School of Public Health, part of Columbia University. "Parents experience a lot of pressure when they can't provide material items for children. Just having the kinds of things that parents know their children need to grow and develop is, in itself, a really strong approach to reducing stress in the family. It also helps parents who are struggling with economic hardships to build that bond with their children, to enjoy time together that's not just the daily chore of getting through the day and making sure there's food on the table."

Thurman is so devoted to Room to Grow that she wedged a host of commitments to its winter fund-raising event (she served as co-chair along with the Burnses and fellow actors Liv Tyler, Julianna Margulies, and Mark Ruffalo and his wife, Sunrise) into her schedule in February, even though she was almost constantly filming for Smash.

The Power of Play

One of the strengths of Room to Grow is the program's ability to help parents and children play productively together.

"Children develop their ability to learn through exploration with toys," says early childhood education and development expert Sheila Smith, PhD. "They also develop it in play with adults who help them and say, 'Why don't you try it this way?' but also sit back and let them try things on their own. Room to Grow increases the opportunities for parents to motivate their child to learn."

You don't need fancy, expensive gear to do that, Smith says. The simplest toys are often the best. Try Smith's top three playthings:

Stuffed animals or small family figures. "Anything that represents a character," she says, the more general, the better. Don't tie children down to brand-name princess dolls or action heroes. "They can make up stories and use their imagination, which encourages symbolic thinking and language development."

Art supplies and Play-Doh. "You can talk about all kinds of wonderful things and use great vocabulary with Play-Doh and paint," Smith says. "Make a pattern with a brush or your finger. Make shapes. Talk about stretching, dripping, blending, and colors."

Blocks. "Blocks are the ultimate open-ended play material. They're wonderful because children can make anything and then remake it," Smith says. "They're very good for spatial reasoning, and they also encourage flexible thinking. Children try an idea, and if it doesn't look the way they want, they can try something else."

Uma Thurman Talks Stress Management

Thurman has a full plate for sure. But appearing in a show about staging a Broadway musical was hard to resist. "It's the first time I've done something like this, and I thought it would be fun," she says of her part in the series, which also stars Debra Messing, Megan Hilty, and Katharine McPhee. "I love song and dance and Broadway, and I thought it was an exciting, creative idea for a show."

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