behavior · children · community · emotion · health · mental health · play · psychology

Clowns bring laughter, positive psychological benefits to children in refugee camps

From the BBC3 article:

Ash [Perrin] and his team of clowns, musicians and dancers are ‘play specialists’ who work with children in refugee camps across Europe. The aim is to allow the kids “to feel good, feel daft, and feel playful”.

They are part of The Flying Seagulls Project, a band of clowns and performers who believe in the power of play. They have traveled to numerous refugee camps across Europe to help entertain and support children and their families via play.

This kind of outreach and human interaction is so powerful, not just from the viewpoint of lifting up people’s spirits, but especially for children’s mental well-being. It is incredibly beneficial to everyone but especially children to provide play and laughter as a respite from a really scary situation, at a time when they need a village of support at the exact time they have lost that village, as their parents try to cope with their new situation as well.

This kind of outreach is crucial especially as the refugee crisis intensified and continues to grow and more families are displaced and their lives put into turmoil. Play is how children process their emotions, explore and understand the world, and this kind of work can help children process trauma.

Unstructured play is crucial as well, but having guided play like this is important in a situation where the rules and conditions have changed for children – they need guidance from others to say “this is allowable here.” It is okay to laugh, to sing, to feel silly.

There are clowns who also work in children’s hospitals in the U.S. and around the world, providing similar services. Being able to go to where the children are, in their time of need, and say, “let’s play!” can be incredibly healing.

behavior · community · education · emotion · play

Gamification of Compassion as Education

It’s a cheesy idea in many ways: practice compassion. pay it forward. Do unto others. It seems nice, but in a society where trust has been broken and kindness can be seen as weakness – whether that is a prison or school or work or a city – it can be hard to practice.

However, if there IS an immediate reward – a points system that helps people keep score of their kindness and gives them some immediate positive return – then it makes more sense for people to engage and feed into the compassion system.

Similar programs like dog training and tutoring provide a similar immediate benefit – the trainer is rewarded for training others.

Of course there are long-term personal benefits – less mental stress, larger social network, etc. – but humans typically work for the “right now” and being able to demonstrate the “right now” benefits can be pretty powerful.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcompassiongames%2Fvideos%2F1399773396809748%2F&show_text=0&width=560

It also shows the power of gamification to teach other complex, complicated concepts.

behavior · emotion · mental health · Nature · psychology

Trees are like friends

My husband recently posted an ode to one of his favorite trees that sadly caught a root fungus and finally died after 4 years and was cut down slowly this winter.

He was not the only one moved by the loss of the tree. Neighbors of the park, visitors, and other movers also expressed their sadness over the loss of the tree.

It seems strange at first of mourning a tree, but this phenomenon of bonding with and becoming fond of a tree, or multiple trees, is very common, and very human. Trees provide humans food, shelter from the elements, landmarks during travel, and safety from (most) animals. But they also provide us a level of consistency and reliability in our world – that tree doesn’t go anywhere – while also marking the changing of the seasons and change over time. It provides enjoyment whether you are climbing the tree or just resting at its base. Being in or near nature, even a single tree, has profound, positive effects on our physical and mental states.

In Melbourne, Australia, a few years ago people started using the park system’s email alert system to express their fondness for some of their favorite trees.

At my daughter’s  outdoor preschool the kids have slowly been naming the trees in the park during their daily hikes – grandfather tree, silly tree, spaceship tree, and others. These names help the kids orient where they are in the park, but they also represent a kinship with the tree, a familiarity and reliability that provides consistency and joy for the kids.

When a tree dies or is cut down, we feel its loss and we mourn. It is only human.

behavior · children · education · emotion · health · learning · mental health · play

How to Play-Fight with your Kids


After posting a blog about why I choose to play fight with my kids, I got a great response from parents and non-parents alike. What surprised me however was how many people – moms, uncles/aunts, non-kid affiliated adults – reached out to me and asked, “How do I even get started?”

It turns out a lot of people never play-fought as a kids…
They were told to never hit, never push, never poke.
Or they just never had a good example from their parents or older siblings or relatives.

Or as parents now, they have played with older kids but when they try to do the same thing with their little one she just cries and runs away.

That makes me so sad. There are so many benefits to play-fighting as a kid, and as a grown-up. Both my husband and I are huge advocates of physical play, including roughhousing. Play-fighting doesn’t have to be rough and tumble all the time either; there are some great games that involve the same elements as physical play but are more gentler on the body than traditional wrestling or punching games (pretending to be movable mannequins is one of my favorites).

Based on my research of studying physical play behaviors, and my own experience with my kids, not to mention observing my husband coach and facilitate grown-ups on how to play for the past 10+ years, here is what I’ve found to be good tips to get started:

Let the kids lead: Young animals of all species, including kids, are naturally the best players in the entire animal kingdom. It is how they learn about their world. So let them lead. You can come up with the game, but often times the kids already have a game in mind. Or, give them a gentle poke or push and see how they respond. Sometimes they might not be in the mood, but sometimes they will take your cue and run with it.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed often girls will be done rough-playing sooner than boys or need more breaks, whereas little boys will often go and go until they start to cry, so don’t be surprised if either happens.

Match their strength…: When we see big dogs and little dogs play together, often the big dog will handicap themselves; they won’t push as hard, or they’ll get down on the ground so the little dog can actually reach them. Similarly, match your play partner’s strength. Push only has hard as they push, or hit only as hard as they hit.

…But show off yours too: Of course you can and should try doing lifts, carries, spins, gentle knock downs, and other things that require you to have more strength. That’s part of the fun of playing with someone bigger than you!

Let them win (sometimes): Similar to the dog play example above, if you want the game to keep going then make sure they’re having fun, which means letting them get a few punches in on you or knocking you down. (If you aren’t comfortable yet with falling down, think of this as a great way to practice slowly falling down in a safe way.) But that also means you get to win sometimes too; don’t be a punching bag, but it’s all about taking turns so you are both having fun.

Communicate: Check-in, see how they are doing. Ask if they want to switch up the game, or if you’re ready to switch it up or take a break, tell them. Which leads to…


Teach them no
: The whole joy of play-fighting is the give and the take (have I said this enough times yet?). When it’s not fun anymore, both you AND your child get to say no, stop, time out, or I’m done. At any time. And, as the grown-up, you also need to be able to read your play-partner’s cues and tell when they’re not having a good time, even if they’re not specifically saying no.

Tickling is a great example. A lot of people see ticking as “harmless fun” and it’s tricky when a little kid is laughing and saying no at the same time, but it can be quite scary for a kid (or a grown-up) if they mean no and it isn’t respected. But, it’s also a great way to build trust with your play partner, whether they are a kid or a grown-up. Now, I HATE being tickled! HATE it! No tickles ever, thank you! Ever since I was little. My mom has stories of her trying to tickle me as a tiny baby, and even so much as putting her fingers out to say “coochie coochie coo” and I would just freak out! And she listened. So no tickles. As a grown-up I have not always had partners that understood that tickling is not fun for me, or when to stop tickling (as in immediately). But thanks to my mom I knew that I could choose to say no and that needed to be respected.

The same goes for tickling your kid; if they say stop, even if they’re laughing, stop. If they want more, they will ask for it (kids are good at that sort of thing).
And this can be expanded to all kinds of physical play; we need to learn how to listen to our bodies and our limits. If we get scared or frustrated, we need to learn to take a step back and regroup, and that we’re safe to do so. Physical play with a safe person like your parents is a great place to practice that.

Have fun!: In the end, that’s what this is all about. Sometimes you’re not in the mood to wrestle, and sometimes you are, or maybe you’ve got knee pain and can’t get on the ground, so just go with what feels right in the moment. Make up stories (“we’re bears, rawr!”), give yourself challenges (you can’t move from one spot; you can only use one arm), and just see what happens.

There are lots of different fun games you can try out with your kids and prompt you both to play more. Here is a great example of kid-led play fighting:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqFJEQopKdY

I’d love to hear some of the games you have come up with with your little play partners, so share them in the comments below.

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behavior · brain · children · cognition · emotion · environment · family · happiness · health · learning · mental health · play · psychology

Why I Play-Fight with my Kids

In some ways this seems like an overly obvious, unnecessary post. Of course parents play fight with their kids! Right? Yet I am surprised by how few MOMS play fight with their kids.

I do. And I love it! I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do, but I do. Here are my top reasons why.

1. It teaches them body awareness – How hard do I have to push to make something happen? How strong am I before I get pushed over? How do I get myself back upright? How hard is too hard to hit? Also being aware of how strong they are now versus a month from now is important too as they grow and get bigger and stronger; I’ve known too many bigger little kids that don’t know their own strength.

2. It teaches them spatial awareness – How far away is that body I am playing with? Where are my legs and arms while I’m wrestling? Oops, now I’m upside down, how does that make me feel?

3. It makes them feel loved and given attention.

4. It’s fun! I’ll bet almost everyone at one time or another has played slug bug, tickle time, or wrestled with your sibling, or started a real fight with your sibling that by the end you two were both on the floor laughing.

5. They feel safe acting out being big and strong and knocking me down or punching me and knowing that I can take it.

6. Kids who play fight with their dads are being shown that men are big and strong. For somewhat feminist but mostly totally selfish reasons, I want them to know that women (i.e. ME!) can be big, strong, and tough too.

7. Along those same lines, grown-ups who play fight with kids are demonstrating that when people play or play fight, they are being respectful of each other’s boundaries, and if you don’t feel safe you can and should ask the other person to stop. If the other person doesn’t respect your boundaries then kids learn that’s not okay and they get time out or kids or grown-ups stop playing with them. This is a super-critical skill that is missing in so much rhetoric, both physical and verbal, in our society today.

8. As their mom, it is so fun to watch my kids get stronger, faster, more coordinated, and more creative in their physical play. They mix strategies, including saying silly things to catch me off guard, which is all part of the art of play.

9. Finally, I want to promote physical play of all kinds with kids and grown-ups alike. Whether that’s boxing, hiking, jump rope, tricycles, making forts, tree-climbing, or just going for an exploratory walk around the neighborhood, I support it.

I’m sure there are other reasons I’m forgetting, but those are my main ones.

My husband teaches natural movement classes, and before that parkour and martial arts. Slowly more women are joining the adult classes in all of those fields. But especially in the kids’ classes, the moms are just as likely to join their kids, but almost none participate given the opportunity. Why?! Some women (and men) don’t like physical contact activities. And that’s totally fine. But more often than not women are intimidated. I say no more fear! Get in there and push someone.

Why do you play fight with your kids? Or why don’t you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up post about safe ways to roughhouse with your children that you can find here.

behavior · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · play · work

London Bridge Transformed Into Rainbow Walkway in Spark Of Creativity That Banished Mondayitis

Fantastic! As a fellow resident of a gray and gloomy city, a little splash of surprise color can do wonders!

The grey weather was no match for a new art installation on London Bridge, which transformed the crossing into a rainbow walkway for one day only.

The project was created by Spark Your City, a global movement “dedicated to spark joy in everyday life”.

According to the group’s Facebook page, they are “travelling the world from city to city”, and London was the first major centre to get the spark makeover.

check out all the pictures of the bridge and more via London Bridge Transformed Into Rainbow Walkway in Spark Of Creativity That Banished Mondayitis.

behavior · community · creativity · emotion · happiness · language · Nature · play · Social · writing

Email-a-Tree Service Turns Into Love Letters to Melbourne’s Urban Trees

This is beautiful.

We humans love nature.

And now, the residents of Melbourne have found a way to express it.

The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches. The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.

“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Wood said. City officials shared several of the tree emails with me, but redacted the names of senders to respect their privacy.

Read more of the love letters via Email-a-Tree Service Doesn’t Go As Planned, But in the Best Possible Way – CityLab.

I bet this is something Seattle could really get behind, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or any city with multiple older trees.

Do you have a tree that you love or loved? Write your city about it, or on Twitter, or if you’re feeling shy you can share it here in the comments.

behavior · cognition · creativity · design · education · emotion · language · learning · mental health · play

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

This is a very well thought out and researched article about the benefits of pretend play, specifically creating and playing with puppets.

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

The [Puppet School] curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.

In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.

According to Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills.

more via How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD.

behavior · culture · design · emotion · happiness · technology

Daniele Quercia’s Happy maps and happier travelling

Can you map your happiness?

Mapping apps help us find the fastest route to where we’re going. But what if we’d rather wander? Researcher Daniele Quercia demos “happy maps” that take into account not only the route you want to take, but how you want to feel along the way.

watch via Daniele Quercia: Happy maps | Talk Video | TED.com.

Coincidentally, another researcher is also working on this problem, and creating maps that find the most relaxing routes based on people’s brainwaves:

MIT Media Lab’s Arlene Ducao is hoping to shed some light on which biking routes promise a more relaxing ride with her Mindreader Map. The project is a continuation of Ducao’s 2012 experiments involving a mind-controlled bicycle helmet that flashes different colors depending on the stress levels of the rider.

Using this type of data city planners could conceivably better plan bike lanes and traffic signals with an understanding of where the most stressful, and potentially dangerous, areas for cyclists are.

Have you changed your commute to be less stressful, even if it means a little longer ride or drive to work? Talk about it in the comments below.

community · culture · emotion · happiness

The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized | Fast Company

Trying to compare “happiness” metrics can be tricky, both because different countries and reports measure “happiness” in different ways, and because a spreadsheet of numbers isn’t all that inspiring (and I work with them, so speaking from personal experience).

I like the fact that they’re using multiple data points to quantify happiness (although it looks more like quality of life, but they definitely overlap).

Data viz wunderkind Moritz Stefaner has been on a happiness kick lately. Earlier this year, he analyzed the data of more than 3,000 images to try to determine the happiness of people New York, Bangkok, Moscow, São Paolo, and Berlin, according to their selfies. And now he’s back, visualizing the happiness of the entire world–using a more objective data source.

Founded in 1961, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international policy organization dedicated to stimulating economic progress and world trade. As part of their mission, the OECD has worked to quantify happiness and well-being through their Better Life Initiative, which ranks countries and cities according to metrics such as health, safety, education, jobs, environmental quality, civic engagement, and level of disposable income. Now Stefaner and Dominikus Baur have teamed up with the OECD to visualize this data using a slick, interactive online tool.

Happiness index of France and similar regions

The OECD Regional Well-Being Index tool is easy to use. It asks to access your location, and then visualizes the well-being index of your state or country as a rainbow-hued star, each Pantone-coded arm of which represents one factor of happiness and well-being. You can drill down for more detail, or compare your region’s well-being index to other locations with similar ratings.

Check out how your own neighborhood compares on the OECD Regional Well-Being Index here.

more via Fast Company: The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized