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 · play

I did these things as a kid (but my kids won’t) – Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™

The blogger of Illustrated with Crappy Pictures posted a couple of years ago about the differences between her childhood and her kids’ childhood, and how we are much more focused on safety, for better or for worse.

There are things I did that my kids will never do.

This type of comparison would be way more interesting coming from my grandparents who walked 50 miles barefoot uphill both ways in the snow and all that.

Still. Times have changed.

My aunt (who is only six years older than me) used to pull me in my Radio Flyer® wagon by tying a rope to her bike. On country roads. Down hills. No helmets.

But the wagon would go too fast.

And she’d yell “put the brakes on!” which actually meant “PANIC!” because there weren’t any brakes. We stopped ourselves by turning into the ditch and wiping out. It was fun.

My kids? They wear helmets at the dinner table. You know, just in case they fall off their chairs.

via I did these things as a kid (but my kids won’t) – Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™.

There are definitely some good things to avoid with her own kids, but even the author questions whether she is being too safe.

Are parents as a whole more protective these days? And where is the line drawn between good protection (seat belts and not letting your kids drink bleach) and being over-protective to where it is stifling for them. I think about this sometimes. FreeRangeKids is an excellent read if you are interested in this sort of discussion.  

What are your thoughts about letting kids go out and explore on their own? Obviously some of it is determined by your local environment, like if you live in the city or a country road. But letting kids explore on their own is also crucial to good development. Tough topic.

anthropology · creativity · culture · learning

Slow school movement

lutin waldorfThe holidays are a time to reflect on our lives, our jobs, and what we want for the new year. It might also be a good time to think about ways to cut back on our obligations and “must dos”. Especially for our children at school.

I appreciated this op-ed piece questioning the value of play versus academic work in kindergarten, pre-k, and the lower grades. The piece is US-oriented but it does refer to data from elsewhere, and to the ‘ethnographic record’ :0)

While the U.S. pushes their kids to excel earlier and earlier, science is finding it might not be the most efficient way to learn:

Students from countries where reading is not taught until age six actually do better on standardized reading tests than those from countries that begin at five or earlier, as in the USA. Children who start even later catch up quickly: Suggate collected extensive data from about 400 students in New Zealand – some in public schools and some in private “Waldorf” schools, where reading teaching doesn’t even begin until age seven. Difference in reading achievement between the two groups disappeared by age 10.

Research comparing Waldorf school students’ academic skills to those of public school students shows even more encouraging results. In a report exploring the value of the Waldorf approach for public school reform, Ida Oberman found that second-graders from four Waldorf-style schools underperformed in comparison to 10 “peer-alike sites.” Yet by eighth grade, these students could match and even outperform comparison sites on state school achievement tests.

If nothing is lost from academic achievement when training starts later, and some competencies even may be gained, why then the rush to begin it? Why buy toddler flash-cards, fund pre-K academies, and start kindergartners on reading and math when children could be otherwise engaged, developing other kinds of skills and dispositions, such as empathy and creativity?

more at: What can slow schools teach us?

There is also great research coming out of Denmark vs. the U.S. that find kids that aren’t taught to read until 6 or 7 (Denmark) vs. 4 or 5 (U.S.) do better overall, similar to the study in New Zealand.

Interesting to see how taking it easy can sometimes be better for learning.

anthropology · behavior · children · culture · education · family

Children’s past role and identity as worker

Children in Jerusalem.
The role of children has changed significantly over the past 100 years. Image via Wikipedia

This call for paper submissions from the The Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past got me thinking about how actively children used to participate in the daily household and economic life of families, from general maintenance like sweeping the kitchen to vital income by helping during harvest time.  Children used to have to help out on the farm, and later work in factories, in order to help their families make ends meet. While some of the work was dangerous and unhealthy, some of the work was beneficial to both the kid and the family. Kids felt like they contributed to their family, and learned skills from farming to general entrepreneurship. I wonder what kids are missing out on by not having as many daily chores to do, or summer jobs like mowing lawns and lemonade stands, and how children fit into our idea of work now.

In 2011, the themed session will be on children and work. The aim of the themed papers will be to bring together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines who are studying any aspect of children and work in the past – children as economic contributors, children as slaves, elite children taking on adult roles, children as carers, children as consumers, the impact of working in childhood on children and society. The aim will be to advance cross-cultural knowledge and understanding of childhood and children in the past, and in particular to evaluate the varying nature and impact – social, economic, cultural, medical – of work performed by or for children in the past. Archaeology, history, literature and other sources will be explored.
In providing this opportunity for scholars of childhood to present their work to an international, interdisciplinary audience, the SSCIP International Conference aims to generate new perspectives on existing knowledge and to stimulate new avenues of research for the future.

I’d be interested to hear what jobs you had growing up, before the age of 18. Did your parents encourage you to work? Did you get an allowance or did you get paid by the job, or were you just expected to “earn your keep”? How is it different with your own kids, or nieces and nephews?

behavior · children · design · learning · play · Social · technology

Download an Exercise Apps for Healthy Kids

The winners are in, and now you can reap the benefits!

The Apps for Healthy Kids competition is a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Apps for Healthy Kids challenges software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that drive children, especially “tweens” (ages 9-12) – directly or through their parents – to eat better and be more physically active.

via Apps for Healthy Kids.

Mental · Social

The End of the Best Friend –

Florida Atlantic students celebrating a basket...
Humans are social creatures, and need close bonds and feelings of belonging. (Image via Wikipedia)

As the new school year begins, I wanted to mention this article from the New York Times about how schools are discouraging kids from making best friends.

Ahem. Let me repeat that. Schools are discouraging children from having a best friend.

That is just stupid.

Or, put more professionally…

“…such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.

“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”

read the full article via The End of the Best Friend –

This is where political correctness and “fairness” go waaaaay too far and ignore human nature and the absolute NEED to have a confidante in life, someone you can rely on, particularly someone outside of your family of origin. Will those people hurt you from time to time? Absolutely. But it’s part of learning how to work within a society and be a social animal.

Studies keep showing how adults today have less and less close friends, and would LIKE to have more. Discouraging kids from learning how to make close bonds with people is just setting them up for this trend to get worse when they become adults.

Now go call your best friend.


BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Rain stops play – but should it?

Growing up in sunny, dry, southern California, my mom always let me go out and play in the rain. Now that I live in Washington, I have go out and play in the rain or I’d never get to go out and play. This article from the BBC discusses why it’s okay to go get wet and playful.

“Why do we let ourselves be penned in so by the rain?

If a small child sees a puddle their first instinct is to jump in it. Perhaps, in a sense, that’s part of the problem.

Are we spoiling their fun or even their learning just so we can cut back on washing?”

via BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Rain stops play – but should it?.

Mental · Nature · Social – Urban kids view the world in human terms

urban kids and how they see the world

The way children develop reasoning about the natural world is largely influenced by how and where they are raised, a new study finds.

For decades, the consensus was that as young children begin reasoning about the biological world, they adopt an “anthropocentric” stance, favoring humans over non-human animals when it comes to learning about properties of animals. But it appears human-centered reasoning among children is not universal after all.

more via – Urban kids view the world in human terms.