children · community · creativity · environment · family · mental health · play

Play Takes Dedication (or Samhain Resolutions)

creative adult

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already November. Fall has been going fast.

It seems like I have been incredibly “busy with stuff” – kid stuff, grown-up stuff, house stuff, work stuff. Recently I realized I was forgetting to do all the also-important “me” stuff.

Again.

I mean, I wasn’t so bad; I had had several coffee dates with friends, taken time to go for more walks, was deliberately NOT folding laundry and instead just snuggling on the couch during my husband’s and my Friday night TV ritual (we won’t admit it’s a ritual but at this point it really is).

So the “little” maintenance stuff was getting done. Check.

However, I realized I wasn’t making time for the “big stuff”. The stuff that gave me purpose, that made me feel like I was contributing back to the community.

A few recent events reminded me of this.

First: Getting to attend and present at a fantastic conference two weeks ago – EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) held in Montreal this year – where I was surrounded by like-minded folks in my line of work (ethnography and studying humans in business and corporate settings). There’s nothing like being able to share your work and how you spend your days, and have people say, “wow, that’s cool!” or even “have you considered this too?”, rather than “uh, what’s that?”

epic-perspectives.jpg

Second: Halloween! While I’m not a huge fan of candy (and we ended up trading the kids’ candy for a “better” treat), I do appreciate the communal ritual of kids running like hooligans up and down their neighborhood streets, getting to show off their costumes to the grown-ups who might otherwise be isolated – whether they’re retirees or just work 70+ hours a week – who then get to be social with cute kids in cute costumes and make the kids happy by giving them treats. Not to mention the fun of dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, or just offering a visual pun or cultural reference!

costumes
Batman and a zombie
wrecking ball
I came in like a wrecking ball…

Third: my boss organized an offsite for our whole team to use glue and stickers and washi tape and cut out pictures from magazines and create “vision boards” for ourselves. Theoretically it was about work, but in reality and fully endorsed by our boss, it was really about finding four big-but-small goals that are going to keep you motivated, keep you driven, at home, at work, and in life.

vision board

Mine were pretty simple yet also pretty complicated:

  1. Craft more.
  2. Make my work more actionable (not just work for work’s sake; what were the actions that could be taken from it?).
  3. Go on one “big” adventure a year.
  4. Get people playing more.

Getting myself to play seems hard enough; but getting others to play more also taps into that #2 goal of making what I do impactful/actionable.

I want to do more than just support play, I want to start actively PLAYING and pushing play. Start toy-bombing again. Start promoting play activities with our neighbors and at work. I’m supposed to be in charge of a yarn bombing event at work, and yet I’ve been hesitant to promote the HELL out of it (not sure why).

All of those things have really pushed me to making both personal play and advocating play more of a reality.

Yes, the house still needs cleaning (desperately!). Yes, we still need to run and grab food at the grocery store. Yes we still have But having a mission makes all of those things more tolerable for me, and put into a perspective of being part of a larger goal. I need food to keep up my energy. I need to tidy (okay, also scrub/purge/deep clean) the house so I can find what I need and focus on my projects.

I’ve noticed over the years I coincidentally tend to come up with my “new year’s resolutions” around the pagan New Year of Samhain rather than the Gregorian New Year on January 1, so all of these experiences make it a perfect time to renew and re-assert my goals and energy towards play.

What are some of your goals for renewing yourself and keeping yourself inspired and enriched? Let me know in the comments below.

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 · children · cognition · environment · family · happiness · health · Nature · play

A Playful Day In the Backyard of Biomechanist Katy Bowman

Fall is finally upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not going to deny it anymore. But even as the weather gets cooler, my family and I are still finding ways to get outside and play.

I have always loved playing outside, climbing on rocks, trees, hiking, and splashing in puddles, and really want to pass this love of nature and outdoor movement on to my kids. It is so great to see other parents encourage their kids, and other grown-ups, to discover and recover their biophilia and love of playing outdoors.

One of the best outdoor play advocates I have met in a long time is Katy Bowman, although for her, moving and exploring the outdoors is simply behaving like a normal human.

Katy Bowman doing her thing
Katy Bowman doing her thing

Katy is a biomechanist with a deservedly large following of movement practitioners using her Restorative Exercise program. Katy is a huge advocate of natural movement and getting outside as much as possible, and encourages it with her kids as well. Katy talks about their experience in their outdoor “nature” preschool on her blog and podcast, but the enriching environments she has set up for her kids at home is in a class by itself.

Katy graciously invited my family out to her house outside of a small town on the Olympic Peninsula earlier this summer.

When we pull up to her house, the front yard looks fairly typical for any house containing small children; a few toys are strewn around the yard, slightly hidden by the uncut grass. Her husband and children have just headed off down the road for a walk. She helps us unload our brood out of the car after the long drive and immediately invites my daughter to explore, with me in tow.

We step out of the house into the backyard, and it is perfect.

My three-year-old daughter’s eyes light up like she’s hit the motherlode.

The lawn is littered with toys – costumes, stuffed animals, balls, a Little Tyke’s scooter car. There is a big basket of LEGOs sitting on the porch waiting to be dumped over and played with.

There are also complex toys laid out intentionally by Katy and her husband Michael for her kids to play with. A tippy rope ladder strung between two trees with a foam mat underneath; ladders laid on the ground for balancing, a jungle gym, a circle swing, large wooden ramps placed strategically up to table tops. The cherry tree is also filled with cherries, for good measure.

The kids have gotten creative with some of their building materials, including taking a couple of blocks from the flower box and made a corral for their plastic farm animals. They have also left little illustrations stealthily added around inside the house: on the wooden bed frame, the balance ball in Katy’s office, and on a couple of door frames.

And that’s before we even meet the chickens or go down to the Dungeness River to throw rocks, wade, climb, and make structures in the sand.

It is obvious the kids have the run of the house, and its affect is wonderful.

Katy has created a practice based on her high level training in biomechanics and years of teaching experience centered on creating a healthy, mobile human being, and this practice is reflected in how she and Michael have set up their home environment. Every space is open for movement, jump, climb, and play. There are edges and imperfectly balanced steps and slight risks everywhere. The kids must learn to navigate their environment safely, and have a blast doing it.

Katy often talks about getting her kids outside and exposed to new, playful challenges. And yet, when I ask her about it, she almost baulks at the idea she is supporting a primarily “playful” environment. For her, this is simply survival, teaching her little humans how to be human. She is merely creating and supporting healthy behaviors, what kids and grownups should be doing all the time.

They let their children go slow, at their pace. Their kids learn by doing, by experiencing. As do we all, really. It’s true that, thanks to the visit, I now have more confidence in being able to ford a fast-moving stream carrying my toddler. And it wasn’t part of a survival training camp or an emergency. It was part of our Sunday family outing. It may sound small or frivolous or “not necessary,” but for the survival of our species, that skill is a big deal.

To me, this kind of activity is not just good for restoring our body and capability to move, it is also restorative to our psyches and filling that need to explore and play at our own pace and learn in a playful way.

Finally my family has to head home. We take the time to let our kids say good night to the chickens before we load back into our car, driving away with the sunset on our backs. After getting to see and play in Katy’s backyard, both the grown-ups and the kids in our family feel renewed, replenished, and ready to play and explore our own backyard and our home environment in a new way.

I highly recommend digging in to Katy’s materials. She has some great ideas and thoughts around leading a healthy, restorative, and in my mind playful movement practice, whether it’s in nature or just in your own backyard.

architecture · design · family · health

Beauty in sadness: reflecting on hospice | @offbeatfamilies

Dying is tough stuff. No question. So it is wonderful to see how facilities are making it easier on the dying and their families to feel comfortable via the design, look, and layout of a space, with everything from the hues on the wall to the view from their window. Amy Marquez shared her observations about her mother’s hospice space a couple of years ago on Offbeat Families (now retired, but visit the sister sites for Pete’s Sake before they meet a similar fate!), and it is a wonderful ode to both her mom and people who cared for her and her family during her last days, but also the importance of creating a great, peaceful, and sometimes playful space.

At first I was impressed with how sensitive and involved the staff was. They made sure she was comfortable, asked us how we were doing and offered to help us if we needed anything. And although my mother had lost the ability to communicate verbally by the third day that she was there, they spoke to her as though she was able to answer and talked her through everything they were doing to assist her.

I spent enough days there to really start looking around. This facility was, at first glance, a very nice, tranquil place that was inviting and welcoming to family and friends of loved ones in residence there. Then I really started looking and I was amazed at the amount of thought that had to go in to building this hospice.

read the entire breakdown at Beauty in sadness: reflecting on the hospice in which my mother passed away | @offbeatfamilies.

Patient's room

architecture · behavior · community · creativity · culture · environment · family · happiness · health · play · Social

Cities’ Message to Young Families: Play and Stay – WSJ

City planners are finally starting to grok that in order to keep residents, they will need to offer the whole package, including playful spaces for everyone, kids and grown-ups alike.

About a decade ago, the so-called creative class of 20somethings fueled the revival of urban centers by settling in downtown areas mixing condos and coffee shops. Now, as millennials and other urbanites have children, their needs are changing. Cities want to hold on to them by becoming more “playable,” for both children and adults.

For decades, cities “relegated kids to the playground and said, ‘We’ve done something for you,’ ” says Darell Hammond, chief executive of Washington, D.C. nonprofit KaBOOM!, which consults with city officials on promoting and preserving play. “The whole city should be a playground, and play should happen everywhere.”

That means not only building more parks and bike paths but also incorporating the ideas of “fun” and “play” throughout a city, whether it is musical swings downtown Montreal, a hopscotch crosswalk in an arts district Baltimore or camp sites on a city lake front Chicago.

more via Cities’ Message to Young Families: Play and Stay – WSJ.

I hope that this attitude shift from city planners and designers makes it more acceptable for grown-ups to go out and play, and I mean actually physically play, not just go to bars and concerts that were traditionally classified as the only acceptable adult “play.” Seattle and Portland, and  are definitely accepting and encouraging of grown-ups playing bike polo in city parks or just going for a run. Creating an environment that welcomes play also helps change the attitude of others

behavior · children · community · environment · family · Nature · play

Grab a copy of 21 Days in the Woods and start a group session | Elisabeth M. Stone

We’re too late to join Elisabeth Stone on her group session she had back in February, but I still loved this idea of making a 21 day challenge to get outside!

21 Days in the Woods Poster

21 Days in the Woods is a connection project to get you and your family out in the woods once a day for 21 days. It is well-structured and adaptable to any age range. When you purchase your immediate download of the workbook, you can choose to work through it now or later

more via Grab a copy of 21 Days in the Woods and join us for a group session on February 1st. | Elisabeth M. Stone.

April has just started, and it’s starting to feel more and more like Spring, so take a look and see about how you can challenge yourself to get out into the woods.

behavior · children · creativity · family · play

Goodbye screen time, hello awesome kid | Offbeat Families

A great example of how letting your kid have free play, and encouraging it over screen time, can have wiiiiide reaching positive consequences.

Four months ago, I told my husband that we needed to cut out all screen time during the week. While he understood the merits of the proposal, he balked at the logistics, telling me that there was no way that he could handle morning routine alone without television (to accommodate preschool hours we stagger our work schedules, with one parent leaving an hour or two before the other). I disagreed, and, being the bull-headed lady that I am, waited him out until he agreed to a screen-free weekday existence on a trial basis.

To prepare for the transition, I devised a series of “Mystery Boxes” for each day of the week. These boxes were stacked on the table each morning, and Uli got to choose one for each morning. Inside, I placed a project or special toy that would keep him occupied while Dad showered and fixed breakfast. One morning it was a Spider-Man puzzle, the next colored pencils and pictures I’d drawn for him to color. All of the toys or projects were sourced from forgotten objects in his toy box or from our craft and art supplies. His favorite Mystery Box item, though, was an old digital camera that he used to snap the most unflattering photos that have ever existed of myself and his father.

We only used the Mystery Boxes for about two weeks, and after that Uli was able to play in a more self-directed and creative manner than he ever was able to when he had weekday screen time. We were actually shocked by how quickly he adjusted to the no-tv-during-the-week proclamation. His teachers at school also noticed a difference, telling us that Uli was more engaged than he had been previously — a side benefit we hadn’t expected.

And in August, Uli and I took our first long plane trip without the iPad — including one fourteen-hour travel day. His dad had loaded a nine-year-old iPod with Uli’s favorite songs, which amused him for most of the plane trip, and in the airport, he did relay races in the terminal. It was a really successful experiment, and we have no plans to use the iPad again for travel.

read more about Uli’s transition via Goodbye screen time, hello awesome kid | Offbeat Families.

What have you done to encourage free play for your kids or yourself? Share in the comments below.

anthropology · architecture · community · design · family · happiness · health · mental health · Social

What Benefits Older People Benefits Everyone

Yes, yes, yes! Accessibility for all! Allow everyone to be able to use their environments and stay in their communities! Different generations living together in a community is better for everyone!

THE DIRT

detroit
By 2050, one in five Americans will be 65 years of age or older, but, unfortunately, less than half of our country’s jurisdictions are prepared for this massive demographic shift. At The Atlantic’s “Conversation on Generations” forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Steven Clemens, Washington editor-at-large of The Atlantic and Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other bestsellers, discussed how communities can better prepare for their aging populations. The big point they made: what makes these communities healthier for older people will really benefit Americans of all ages.

Florida defined aging baby-boomer populations as Empty-Nesters, those 45-64, and retirees, those 65 and older. These groups are now replicating the trends of the Millennials: they are moving to urban centers. Boomers are moving to cities to be closer to their children and grandchildren. In part, they may be moving there to build a sense…

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anthropology · behavior · brain · children · community · education · environment · family · learning · mental health · psychology

Let the children play outside, darn it!

English: Children in Khorixas, Namibia Deutsch...
Why aren’t American kids allowed to play outside anymore; Children in Khorixas, Namibia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

While summer may just be getting into full swing in my neck of the woods, it’s almost over for most everyone else (*sob!*). It seems everyone is trying to take advantage of a few last weekends of summer before school starts back up. But for some kids, that is a lot harder than it sounds. Free Range Kids recently posted about separate instances of a mom and a dad getting in trouble for letting their kids play outside unattended.

 

The mom’s story:

 

Today the police visited my home after one of my neighbors called in about my children being outside alone…in our yard with a home on two sides and six foot fence on the other two sides. The officer said, “Don’t have me called back out.” So now, do I have to go outside with my children every time they go out? I have a chronic illness and sitting outside all day sucks for me. They love being outside. They come in for bathroom breaks, they come in to tattle, they come in to say “I Love You”… they are in and out every 5-10 minutes. I check on them anytime I pass the door, and I lay or sit next to an open window. If I call for them, they come to the door/window and answer as a “check in.” They will literally stay outside from wake up to 9 pm, when I force them to come in, with breaks for the above and for food. They were perfectly safe. I don’t know what to do.

 

The dad’s story:

 

Dear Lenore: A neighbor of mine called the Texas CPS (Child Protective Services) and the Police on my wife and I because we allow our children, ages 6 and 8, to play in the courtyard directly in front of our apartment. CPS has been investigating my family since April 4th 2012, it is now August 12 2012, and all they have come up with is the one report to Police about my 6-year-old being outside in front of his home. Now we are dealing with the courts in a “Negligent Supervision” case, which makes absolutely no sense because my child wasn’t hurt or asking anyone for help. I was outside with my son when the Police arrived, but the CPS caseworker insists that I take drug tests and parenting classes. People are not neighbors anymore, they are just @$$holes. – A Texas Dad

 

Unfortunately the Free Range Kids blog has waaaay too many examples of this kind of reaction from authorities.

 

I find this really concerning, since we’re basically telling children they can’t be responsible for themselves when parents are trying to teach their children independence and responsibility, we’re not allowing them unstructured play time which is crucial for learning and brain development, that it is a way more dangerous world out there than it really is, AND it discourages them from exploring and getting exposure to nature and natural sunlight, both things that are crucial for growing bodies.

 

Why are children no longer allowed to play in their own front yards? I’m sorry if this comes off as a rant, but I feel not letting children play outside and learn on their own is a serious problem if we are simultaneously so concerned about “winning” the education race against other nations.

Aside from yelling at CPS and the police, what can we do as concerned citizens, either with children or without, to encourage and enable children to play outside and allow parents to let their children roam a little bit freer and get the unstructured, unsupervised play time they need in order to develop normally? Ideas welcome in the comments below.

 

 

 

behavior · emotion · family · happiness · mental health

Steps to ease into being grateful, and how it benefits you psychologically

"The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us." according to the New York Times article, A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day.

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But say you’re not in the habit of giving thanks. After all, we’re only asked to officially do it once or twice a year. Well, there are some pointers in the article to get you going:

Start with “gratitude lite.” – start out with writing just five things, and maybe a sentence or two about why you’re appreciative of them.

Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness
– you don’t need to owe anybody anything to be grateful for them.

Try it on your family
– even if they are horribly dysfunctional, you can still be grateful they passed the peas without throwing you a dirty look.

Don’t counterattack
– okay, so maybe they did throw you a dirty look. By being grateful to them anyway, it puts individuals off guard and makes them more likely to be kinder in the future, according to some studies.

Share the feeling – … “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” Dr. McCullough says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”

Try a gratitude visit.This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.”

Contemplate a higher power. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but thinking about religion can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University. Other research shows that praying can increase gratitude.

Go for deep gratitude. Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger…

And if that seems too daunting, you can least tell yourself —

Hey, it could always be worse. When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria.

Happy Thanksgiving!