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The Reason to Expand Urban Forests: Our Health

As Seattle loses trees at incredible speed, more and more cities are identifying the multiple benefits of trees.

THE DIRT

Green for good project at St. Margaret Mary Elementary School / LouisvilleKY.com

A new research report from the Nature Conservancy argues that for just $8 per person, the U.S. could maintain and then significantly expand the tree canopy of American cities, an incredibly cost-effective investment in public health.

While high-profile urban tree planting campaigns like New York City’s get a lot of attention, most U.S. cities have experienced a decline in their urban forests, with a loss of about 4 million trees each year, or about “1.3 percent of the total tree stock.” The Nature Conservancy builds the case for recommitting to expanding our urban canopies for health reasons, instead of just letting them slowly diminish.

The many benefits of trees are well-documented: they clean and cool the air, combat the urban heat island effect, capture stormwater, mitigate the risk of floods, boost water quality, and, importantly, improve our mental…

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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.

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Is Calgary ready for child-friendly urban planning?

Creating space for families and kids in all weather is challenging but necessary to keep cities vibrant and their occupants healthy, both physically and emotionally.

Rethinking Childhood

Calgary is the Canadian big city that looks and feels most like many US cities: sprawling, ever-expanding, and hugely car-centred. The very idea that the built form of the city could be great for children is likely to prompt a raised eyebrow from urban planners, if not outright derision.

I have just spent a week in the city, at the International Play Association conference, and then interviewing people and visiting sites as part of my Churchill Fellowship project looking at child-friendly urban planning. And my top-of-the-head response is that those urbanists would not be far wrong. But could this be about to change?

I’ll come back to that later. First, a thumbnail sketch of the city’s built form. Three broad types of residential neighbourhood form a classic urban typology for the city.

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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.

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

architecture · community · creativity · culture · design · environment · play · Social

Today is Park(ing) Day in the U.S.

This year’s Park(ing) day snuck up on me! I am looking forward to checking out the little parklets that pop up around Seattle and see what other cities are up to.

Twister game set up in Seattle Parklet on Parking Day 2016
A Twister game set up in a Seattle parklet from Parking Day 2016. Courtesy SDOT.

From Curbed Seattle (no pun intended):

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… if you’re a fan of tiny, community-generated parks. PARKing day, which allows citizens to transform parking spots into activated spaces, is this Friday, September 15.

Past years have included creative seating, chicken coops, a bowling lane, and a tea party—even a ball pit.

This year, the day features 47 installations throughout the city. Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says different installations include “everything from arts and crafts to bike repair and snacks,” plus the perennial favorite—spots to sit and relax.

Seattle Department of Transportation has put together a map of all 47 locations, from Lake City to South Park. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dense belt around the center of the city in the downtown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Central Area region—including at least two bike repair stations.

A screenshot of the interactive Park(ing) Map for Seattle:

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Check out more about Seattle’s Parklets.

brain · children · health · mental health · play

Successful Presentation on Roughhousing at 2017 Ancestral Health Symposium

I and my partner in play research Rafe Kelley, founder and Executive Director of Evolve Move Play, got to present on the importance of roughhousing from both a physical and emotional health and development perspective at this year’s Ancestral Health Society Symposium in Seattle, WA.

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It was such an honor to be able to present and be surrounded by great thinkers around evolutionary health and wellness like Stephan Guyenet, Katy Bowman, Robb Wolf, and Frank Forencich.

We got a great response from attendees who came to view our poster, chatting about the often overlooked health benefits of roughhousing, both for children and adults. Besides discussing our points on the poster, we had lots of great related questions about risk, differences in how boys and girls (and men and women) approach and engage with roughhousing,  how to start roughhousing if you’re a little out of practice, and other ideas.

You can view our AHS 2017 EMP Poster here. We are hoping *fingers crossed* to develop this into a full paper in the near future, so stay tuned!

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What We Still Don’t Know about the Health Benefits of Nature

Important environmental health benefits that need to be understood.

THE DIRT

ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, OJB Landscape Architecture / Gary Zonkovic Photography

We know that connecting with nature is good for us, but there are still many questions that need to be answered through more credible scientific research: What is the ideal “dose” of nature? What health conditions do these doses actually help with? Does duration and frequency of dose matter? How long do the benefits last? Does who you are and where you live impact how beneficial exposure to nature will be? And how does technology help or interfere with our connection to nature?

To get a better handle on the remaining unknowns, leading public health expert Dr. Howard Frumkin assembled a multi-disciplinary team at the University of Washington comprised of experts in epidemiology, environmental health, clinical medicine, psychology, ecology, landscape architecture, urban studies, and other disciplines, along with experts from the…

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anthropology · behavior · children · creativity · design · play

Photographer captures small moments of a child’s exploration and discovery of the world

Originally from The Huffington Post:

San Francisco photographer Melissa Kaseman knows that imaginative art can come in tiny packages. That much is evident in her latest photo series, “Preschool Pocket Treasures,” which depicts the small objects she finds stuffed in her son’s pockets each day when he comes home from preschool.

“The magic of childhood is so fleeting, and these objects I kept finding in Calder’s pockets represent a chapter of boyhood, his imagination, and the magic of finding a ‘treasure,’” Kaseman told The Huffington Post, adding, “I like the idea of the photographs being a taxonomy report of a child’s imagination, specifically Calder’s. I hope he carries the wonderment of discovery throughout his life.”

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Ms. Kaseman has captured a fascinating phenomenon of children preschool age to want to create and keep collections of things they find fascinating. It is both a fascinating way to understand what they are interested in exploring – colors, shapes, textures, size, specific themes like shells or rocks or dinosaurs – and how that interest changes or shifts over the days, weeks, and months.

She is also taking a wonderful, respectful, and playful approach to her son’s pocket treasures by treating them with the same respect and fascination he did, capturing them and cataloging them in a way that showcases them and makes them fascinating to us the viewers.

“Preschool Pocket Treasures” applies an archival idea to capture a child’s growth and evolution.

Kaseman hopes people who look at the photos see “the magic of discovery in a child’s imagination.” She added, “A simple object can hold so much weight in one’s mind.”

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View more of Ms. Kaseman’s work from the series “Preschool Pocket Treasures

In the meantime, take a new look at the things your child brings home from school, or how he has lined up all of his cars. Are they all the same size, color, side by side or in a row? This can provide some insight and wonder into your young child’s developing brain.

mental health · play · work

If You Can’t Find Your Inspiration to Play, Stop.

I haven’t written in awhile.

My apologies.

Quite frankly, I had lost my play drive.

I had to take two weeks off of work – including some time totally unplugged from civilization – to even see glimmers of it returning.

Before I wanted to explore, to create, to ponder.

To take pictures. To go hiking. To sew. To sculpt. To craft.

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I had gotten so bogged down with reacting to life and trying to keep up with it all, I couldn’t find the room to play, let alone sleep enough, eat as healthy as I’d like, exercise, or even spend time with my husband and kids.

That’s not a healthy place to be, and I don’t wish it on anyone.

Sometimes we have to buckle down and get the work done. No doubt. Sometimes pushing ourselves past our limits is needed, and can be exciting and helps us grow. And yes we must make sacrifices, we simply cannot do it all. Some professions (performers, fire fighters, doctors, airline employees, consultants, CEO’s, etc.) require travel and/or late nights that take us away from our friends and families, but it is worth the short-term sacrifice.

But too much of that sacrifice is physically and mentally draining, period. It literally wears us down – our brains stop working as well and we feel physically exhausted all the time (because we are!) – until we are so depleted it takes a long time to get back to where we can actually function as members of our respective tribes, whether that is work, home, or friends and other social obligations. In the worst case scenarios it can kill us.

We can all find great pleasure in devoting ourselves to one main “thing” and for some of us that is our professional work or as caregivers to our children. But even those who are dedicated to their one passion need to take breaks. Sometimes we get so bogged down in keeping up we don’t even realize just how much of a toll it has taken on us. Until we break.

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Thankfully I did not reach the breaking point, but I did reach the point of exhaustion. You know those pictures of runners that have collapsed after a particularly grueling marathon? That was me. I was able to walk myself off the finish line, but as soon as I did I just sat down and it took a long time before I was ready to stand up, and even longer before I even wanted to think about running again (both metaphorically and literally).

It almost feels melodramatic the way I’m describing it, but just like so many other things related to the mind and body, it is an invisible but real problem we need to deal with. Unfortunately overwork and exhaustion are all too common a phenomenon in our modern world, almost a badge of honor, that is instead contributing to the leading causes of death – heart disease, obesity, unhealthy coping mechanisms, others  – and it needs to be taken seriously. You need to know the signs in yourself before you get so far down the path of exhaustion and overwork – whether you’re a SAHM or an unattached traveling salesman – that it takes much longer to get back.

But it doesn’t have to take long. After my relatively short break – 2 weeks – I am slowly getting back into my play training regimen. I am taking pictures. I am walking/hiking. I am sewing. I am crafting. I am looking for play opportunities.

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And I am trying to fit play and adventure in wherever I can. I have the benefit of having my kids to help me.

On my first day back to work, I took a half hour out of my morning to watch the eclipse. That wasn’t a lot of time out of my day, and I know some neighbors who drove the four hours south to get a better view, but it was enough. (And, side note: for a once in a lifetime experience I didn’t see as many of my coworkers out on the sidewalk with me as I would have expected.)

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Bottom line, including mostly for myself: Please take time to play. Everyone will thank you. Especially yourself.

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The child as an indicator species for cities: reflections on Philadelphia

An interesting version of “the canary in the coal mine”, and I’m using that analogy intentionally as an indication of the severity and seriousness of the topic.

Rethinking Childhood

This post starts by sharing an op-ed piece of mine published in the Philadelphia Enquirer last week to coincide with my trip to the city. It is followed by a postscript with reflections on the visit. I’ve also inserted images of some of the parks I saw.

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Imagine you take a time machine trip to 2037. You step out and start to explore your city. What sights and sounds would convince you that the Philly of the future was thriving?

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