behavior · community · creativity · culture · happiness · health · play · work

Quick ways to be happier at work

Obviously there is a lot that goes into a “good” job – coworkers, supportive managers, and work you believe in. But there is also a surprising amount you can do within your own environment and office surroundings that will make your day-to-day grind better.

Here are a few compiled by Mashable (P.S.: Manatees are awesome!):

  1. Beautify your work space. You personalize your home; why not personalize your desk? Make your cube or office a pleasant place to work with a few framed photos, a decorative pen holder or a tiny cactus. Image: Mashable/Vicky Leta

Read them all

 

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.

behavior · community · creativity · health · mental health · psychology

An Artist’s Brainstorm: Put Photos On Those Faceless Ebola Suits : NPR

This is an example of how a small addition to a working environment, even a scary working environment, can make things a little less scary.

Last summer, Mary Beth Heffernan, who is an art professor at Occidental College, became obsessed with Ebola — particularly the images of the health care workers in those protective suits, or PPE as they’re called for short.

“They looked completely menacing,” says Heffernan. “I mean they really made people look almost like storm troopers. I imagined what would it be like to be a patient? To not see a person’s face for days on end?”

And what really got Heffernan is that as far as she could tell, there was an easy fix.

“I found myself almost saying out loud: ‘Why don’t they put photos on the outside of the PPE? Why don’t they just put photos on?'”

Here was her idea: Snap a photo of the health worker with a big smile on their face. Hook up the camera to a portable printer and print out a stack of copies on large stickers. Then every time the worker puts on a protective suit they can slap one of their pictures on their chest, and patients can get a sense of the warm, friendly human underneath the suit.

via An Artist’s Brainstorm: Put Photos On Those Faceless Ebola Suits : Goats and Soda : NPR.

I agree with one of the commenters from the original story I would have liked to have heard a little bit more from the patients’ perspective, since the nurses and doctors all commented on its benefits. But overall I think this is great and wish more people would be willing to take risks like this to help, even if it doesn’t “change the world” it made the world, and in this case a scary, grueling, impoverished world, a little better.

architecture · children · community · design · environment · health · mental health · play · school

Changing Skyline: Redesigning playgrounds to promote ‘loose play’ – think pop-up play spaces

Great article about the evolution of the playground, as well as the next generation of playgrounds emerging in cities:

After World War II, European architects turned out custom playgrounds that challenged kids both physically and intellectually. Inspired by their work, a few American architects, including Philadelphia’s Louis Kahn, tried their hands at the form. But the movement didn’t get very far. Playgrounds were a casualty of the breakdown of American cities in the ’60s and ’70s. As maintenance was deferred, they fell into ruin. By the time cities began to recover in the ’90s, Solomon says, all that local officials wanted was equipment that was indestructible and vetted for safety.

Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University who has been studying children’s play for 50 years, sees a connection between those designs and the increase in such childhood ailments as obesity, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder. In the simple act of scrambling up the branches of a tree, a kid learns to monitor risk and deal with fear. But on most playgrounds, the climbing frames are lower than ever.

The concern about such controlled environments has sparked any number of popular books advocating less programming: Free Range Kids, 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), Last Child in the Woods. All see our culture’s fear of risk as worse than the occasional scraped knee or broken bone.

So what’s the alternative to standard-issue playgrounds? Solomon envisions multipurpose, multigenerational urban parks that incorporate spaces where kids can take charge of their own play. Instead of a fixed bridge in a plastic fort, they would have to use their imagination to decide which objects could be converted to play equipment. Such a challenging play space also would include nooks where kids could temporarily escape the nervous gaze of their caregivers. There would be no fences, plenty of trees and bushes, and good seating.

read more of their ideas for better playgrounds via Changing Skyline: Redesigning playgrounds to promote ‘loose play’ – think pop-up play spaces.

My favorite playground growing up was made of mostly huge sewer pipe pieces, a monkey cage, and random cement shapes. What was your favorite playground as a kid? Or now? Describe it in the comments below.

behavior · environment · health · mental health · play · work

Creating playful and holistic spaces for healthier employees

The Clinton Foundation recently teamed up with my employer as part of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) to create more healthy, and healthier, employees in a corporate environment. There were five winners chosen, and these two were my personal favorites:

  • Make Work Active
  • Concept: Gamify holistic health and wellness. Design a points based rewards program to incentivize employees for adopting a healthy lifestyle at work, with programs tailored to industry specific wellness issues.
  • Workspace Design
  • Concept: Design workplaces that require regular movement physical activity. Create “motion enhancing workplace” certification. Create certification of “Motion Enhancing Workspaces” if sufficient requirements are met (Similar to Leed Certified buildings).

 

While some of the other ideas were also great – have fresh food on hand, make a team goal to improve health – I love these ideas in particular because they engage with employees on an individual level, and force the employee to engage with wellness, i.e. via a game and/or their environment.

I know gamification is a super “buzz” term right now, almost to the point of being passe, but I have found it to be a surprisingly powerful tool. A few years ago I organized a walking challenge at work, and bought cheap pedometers for everyone who wanted to participate. The winner ended up being the facilities manager, which surprised everyone but totally made sense since he was on his feet all day, and was a great example of how a lot of little walks add up.

Where have you seen either of these types of initiatives in action, whether at work, school, or in your neighborhood? Do you know of any group working on creating certifications for “healthy workspaces”? Share them in the comments below.

 

architecture · design · environment · health · mental health · Nature

In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already – NYTimes.com

I recently had a short stay at a hospital (just some minor surgery), and as I lay in my hospital bed I recall looking out my window at a green canopy of trees planted two stories below. I remember how peaceful and pleasant it was to be able to look out and watch the trees. I also noticed my anxiety went down, I was distracted from my pain, and just overall felt better.

More and more research is coming out that is finding the benefits of incorporating nature and natural environments into the healing process, for everything from surgery to PTSD to dementia, and a variety of other ailments. So it’s great to see hospitals incorporating this knowledge into new building designs as well as therapies.

The University Medical Center of Princeton realized several years ago that it had outgrown its old home and needed a new one. So the management decided to design a mock patient room.Medical staff members and patients were surveyed. Nurses and doctors spent months moving Post-it notes around a model room set up in the old hospital. It was for just one patient, with a big foldout sofa for guests, a view outdoors, a novel drug dispensary and a bathroom positioned just so.

Equipment was installed, possible situations rehearsed. Then real patients were moved in from the surgical unit — hip and knee replacements, mostly — to compare old and new rooms. After months of testing, patients in the model room rated food and nursing care higher than patients in the old rooms did, although the meals and care were the same.

But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30 percent less pain medication.

Reduced pain has a cascade effect, hastening recovery and rehabilitation, leading to shorter stays and diminishing not just costs but also the chances for accidents and infections. When the new $523 million, 636,000-square-foot hospital, on a leafy campus, opened here in 2012, the model room became real.

read more via In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already – NYTimes.com.

behavior · children · community · education · environment · Nature · play

Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten | MindShift

Another take on Free Play Learning:

For the typical American kindergartner, unstructured free play during the school day consists of 20 to 30 minutes of recess, and perhaps some time at indoor “stations” — perhaps creating with building blocks, costumes, or musical instruments. But what if there was more? What if the answer to “what did you do in school today?” was, “I climbed a tree, played in the mud, built a fire”?

That is exactly the kind of learning going on in the Swiss Waldkindergartens, or forest kindergartens, where children ages four to seven spend all of their school days playing outdoors, no matter the weather. With no explicit math or literacy taught until first grade, the Swiss have no set goals for kindergartners beyond a few measurements, like using scissors and writing one’s own name. They instead have chosen to focus on the social interaction and emotional well-being found in free play.

With many parents and educators overwhelmed by the amount of academics required for kindergartners — and the testing requirements at that age — it’s no surprise that the forest kindergarten, and the passion for bringing more free play to young children during the school day, is catching on stateside. Free play and inquiry learning are the cornerstone of Canada’s new all-day kindergarten program; forest kindergartens are popping up in Washington state, Vermont, and even Brooklyn.

At the Waldkindergarten, which takes place in the middle of the woods in Langnau am Albis, Switzerland, dotted with several handmade structures like a rudimentary wood shelter where children and teachers gather around the fire, children play, often away from teachers’ view.

These scenes are captured in “School’s Out: Lessons From a Forest Kindergarten,” a documentary directed by Lisa Molomot. In the 36-minute film, Molomot and producer Rona Richter show scenes from two public schools: the outdoor forest kindergarten in Switzerland and a more typical American kindergarten in New Haven, Connecticut.

more via Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten | MindShift.

architecture · design · environment

Art Students Transform Ugly Electrical Towers Into Colorful Lighthouses | Bored Panda

Why has nobody thought of this before?

Three art students in Germany have come up with a novel way to beautify ordinarily ugly urban environments. They turned a common electric tower into a makeshift stained glass lighthouse.The change was simple but effective. Ail Hwang, Hae-Ryaan Jeon and Ghung Ki Park, students at Klasse Löbbert in Münster, Germany, filled the gaps in the tower’s struts with panels of colored acrylic plastic, turning it into a dazzlingly colorful structure. It’s not quite as detailed and beautiful as true stained glass, but it is nonetheless a great approach for decorating an otherwise ugly structure. The resulting work is called Leuchtturm, or “lighthouse” in German.

more, including the original source, via  Bored Panda.

It would also alert birds and other migratory animals that they might not want to hang out there. The only problem I can see with this is if the plastic acted as a prism for the grass and started a fire, but I’m sure there are ways you could engineer around that. Right?

children · environment · happiness · health · learning · mental health · Nature · neuroscience · play

IS PLAY THE KEY TO ECO-ACTION? : Children & Nature Network

Environmental Psychology and conservationists have, for awhile now, been advocating the importance of letting children get out and play in and with nature to educate them on the value of preserving their environment and benefiting from natural surroundings. It’s nice to see pediatricians also start to embrace and advocate for the need for everyone, including children, get outside and get dirty.

Dr. Lawrence Rosen writes that throughout his practice, seeing children on a daily basis, “I’m often reminded of Winslow Homer’s 1872 painting, “Snap the Whip,” depicting boys playing with abandon in a field outside their rural schoolhouse.”

So eloquently portrayed is the simplicity of another time, kids out in the natural world for no other purpose than to play, freely and without a care in the world.Contrast this with contemporary schoolyards with their meticulously designed jungle gyms and artificial surfacing, often empty throughout the day as more and more schools abolish recess or replace free play with highly structured, adult-supervised activities. I’ve realized, as I see increasingly anxious and depressed children come to my office looking for guidance, that the answers often lie not in my prescription pad but outside my window.

One very recent publication from Dr. Kirsten Beyer and associates at the Medical College of Wisconsin described the influence of green space on mental health outcomes, concluding that “higher levels of neighborhood green space were associated with significantly lower levels of symptomology for depression, anxiety and stress” and that “’greening’ could be a potential population mental health improvement strategy in the United States.”

read more from Dr. Rosen via IS HAPPINESS THE KEY TO ECO-ACTION? : The New Nature Movement.

anthropology · behavior · brain · children · community · culture · education · environment · happiness · health · learning · play · psychology · Social

Plug for the NGO Right to Play

I tweeted about this short film yesterday, but I really feel like this is worth giving some space on the blog for.

The value of play is important for teaching life skills like conflict resolution and collaboration, health lessons, healing from trauma, building community and just overall survival as a child and human being, the work this organization does seems simple but is hugely important.

This short video highlights some of the incredible impact that play can have on a child, or group of children.

You can also visit the organization’s website at Right to Play.

Play matters!