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.

behavior · children · creativity · education · environment · learning · Nature

Loose Parts = Creativity. Road Trip to Lithuania Reminds a Teacher to Play

This is a great blog post from a teacher re-learning the value of creative free play and specifically outside.

I highly recommend you read the whole post, but for me this sentence summed up the whole experience:

“…As I witnessed these projects I realised that children and adults can only be as creative as their environment allows them to be and that by letting children spend time in a natural environment like the woods or to be surrounded by loose parts, we can but only help them to become or remain creative.”

‘Nuff said.

Read the entire post: Learning for Life: Loose Parts = Creativity. Road Trip to Lithuania Part 3.

anthropology · behavior · children · health · learning · play · school

How schools ruined recess — and four things needed to fix it – The Washington Post

I am aghast at how much structure and lack of free play is out there for kids, “for their safety.”

What if we let children fully move their bodies during recess time, let them get dirty, and even test out new theories? What would recess look like then?

The closest I found to doing just that was the Swanson School in Auckland, New Zealand. I had heard of its nonconventional, yet successful approach to recess through social media and was instantly intrigued. Since I was already going to be in New Zealand for TimberNook, I decided to meet Swanson’s principal, Bruce McLachlan, in person.

We spent a good hour talking over coffee about his now-famous recess. His recess has gotten international attention, because he did something radical: he got rid of the rules. And guess what? When the rules left, so did their “behavior issues.” He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.

There were four main ways he changed his recess in order to see these improvements. Four things that I happen to successfully use in my program as well to enhance child development and inspire creativity. Think of them as a recipe.

Read the 4 things at How schools ruined recess — and four things needed to fix it – The Washington Post.

I’ll wait…

Ok, so now that you’ve read them (and hopefully the full article later), I totally agree and feel like all of those are missing, but especially space and time. Creating playful spaces and allowing that boredom and downtime is crucial.

 

children · cognition · creativity · happiness · learning

‘The Lego Movie’ Is An Entire Film About Fighting For Free Play!

I am a huge fan of Legos, and so the little kid in me was super excited to see this movie trailer. But the more I read about it, the more the grown-up in me gets excited to. The whole premise of the movie is about fighting a bad guy who wants to keep people from getting creative with Legos and playing with them just the way they want. The goal of the heroes is to keep free play, well, free.

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Photo from the Forbes review

“The Lego Movie” explores what may be the essential question of Lego building as it applies to life: Must you dutifully follow the instructions, or can you combine pieces creatively to make anything you dream up? In the animated children’s comedy, a repressive overlord voiced by Will Ferrell is so maniacal about controlling the residents of Bricksburg that he has a weapon designed to glue all the pieces of their world together, putting an end to freestyle play. Only a band of wisecracking rebels including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman can stop him. The film is computer-animated but made to look as if all the scenery is built out of real Lego pieces. Everything moves in a way that simulates the stop-motion films that thousands of Lego customers have created with their pieces and posted online.

more via ‘The Lego Movie’: How it Came to Be Built – WSJ.com.

I am so excited to see a big budget movie with a lot of big budget actors devoted to promoting free-thinking free play, and some of the clips do in fact look really creative and are all about messing with your perceptions of the Lego reality!

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.

behavior · brain · disease · neuroscience · play · psychology

A More Resilient Species – Boing Boing

brains!
brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

Happy Friday! After a looooong work week, here’s a little more incentive to make sure you get some time to play this weekend.

[Okay, fine, for all of you who are too “busy” to read the article, here’s a basic breakdown: you need free play in order to recover from stress, and that if we don’t we’re basically setting ourselves up for early brain deterioration and death.

Now will you take a second to read the article?] 🙂

“A playful brain is a more adaptive brain,” writes ethologist Sergio Pellis in The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience. In his studies, he found that play-deprived rats fared worse in stressful situations.

In our own world filled with challenges ranging from cyber-warfare to infrastructure failure, could self-directed play be the best way to prepare ourselves to face them?

In self-directed play, one structures and drives one’s own play. Self-directed play is experiential, voluntary, and guided by one’s curiosity. This is different from play that is guided by an adult or otherwise externally directed.

more via A More Resilient Species – Boing Boing.

behavior · children · cognition · education · happiness · health · play · school

Play time vital for learning

Combination playground equipment (plastic)
Playground doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we head back into the academic school year, a lot of people are focused on education and making sure students get the best possible opportunity to learn and thrive. Here’s one easy way to support that: give them space and time for play!

Numerous academic studies [sources stored in a weird place, will update soon] on school-aged kids have demonstrated that recess time is valuable for learning and aids in the overall learning process. But I think it can be more powerful to hear how valuable it is from someone who actually lives with the results of life with more or less recess; the teachers.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, educator Susanne North writes about the values of recess from an education viewpoint:

Apart from being a fun activity, it is widely recognised that play is one of the most important ways in which brain development occurs in children.

Sadly, in some schools valuable recess and lunch time has been reduced in favour of more rigorous academic pursuit within the classroom. In other schools, running or ball games have been banned due to a perceived high injury risk factor.

As many families now choose structured and adult-directed play activities after school or on weekends, the school playground becomes one of a few outlets where children can engage in free outdoor play with their peers. More than 28 hours a week, often spent solitarily, are devoted to computers, mobile phones, television and other electronic devices. Considering that as much as 25 per cent of time spent at school is playground time, we need to rethink the benefits of play at school.

Conversely, a lack of play can result in challenging behaviour and negative performances in the classroom, according to an American educational psychologist, Anthony Pellegrini.

Also, playgrounds that lack play stimuli become spaces where children often wander around aimlessly, become frustrated and bully other children. Not many schools can afford expensive playground equipment, but the good news is that this is not needed anyway.

Professor Anita Bundy, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Sydney University, has launched a large-scale study involving 12 primary schools in NSW, introducing simple, recycled play resources during recess, with outstanding results. This included crates, car tyres, foam pool noodles, plastic barrels, tarpaulins, foam cubes and other open-ended materials that lend themselves to creative, imaginary play.

Not only do children become physically more active, they also hone important social skills, build resilience and are encouraged to think creatively.

Read more: Play time vital for children | Sydney Morning Herald

The entire Op-Ed is very strongly written and makes a great case for play, and it’s great to hear it from the teacher’s standpoint, so please read it and share. And be sure to support play time in school, whether it’s by voting, volunteering, donating red rubber balls, or whatever you can do.