children · learning · play · school · technology

This Throwable Computer Teaches Kids How To Code | Co.Design

Learning is fun. Or at least it should be fun. Little kids are always exploring, experimenting, asking “why, why, where, when, why?!” (can you tell I have a toddler at home?). This is a great example of trying to keep learning fun.

This Throwable Computer Teaches Kids How To Code | Co.Design | business + design

Coding is a great skill for kids to learn but it can be a lonely, sedentary endeavor. Hackaball, a new toy created from a partnership between the design agencies MAP and Made By Many, promises to get kids off their butts and playing outside—all while teaching basic coding skills and empowering kids to invent their own kind of play.

It’s a lot to ask from one product which is why Hackaball had to be meticulously designed. The ball is bigger than a baseball but smaller than a soccer ball, and it comes with several simple parts that can be put together using basic instructions, so kids understand what’s inside, and get the chance to start creating from the get-go. Once it’s put together, the toy can glow different colors, make noises, and even vibrate. As for how to use it? The kids get to decide.

Using a space-themed app, kids write if-then rules, learning the syntax of basic coding. An example: if you drop a ball, then it turns red. Or if the ball hits something, then it will make a noise. These games can be as complicated or as simple as kids want.

read more at This Throwable Computer Teaches Kids How To Code | Co.Design | business + design.

The Hackaball is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, where you can pre-order one for $69.

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.

mental health · music

Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia: study – NY Daily News

My heart will be blessed with the sound of music.. and your brain too.

A recent research study found that those suffering from moderate to severe dementia did particularly well singing show tunes from movies and musicals such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ in group settings and had a marked improvement in their remembering skills versus those who simply listened during the sing-alongs.

more via Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia: study – NY Daily News.

children · culture · education · environment · learning · play

A School That Ditches All the Rules, But Not the Rigor | MindShift

Play IS a form of learning and experimentation, so it’s nice to see a school try to incorporate this very basic, very elemental learning process into the heart of their education system.

How can we make school a joyful experience without sacrificing rigor? What’s the best way to measure true learning? What’s the purpose of school? The founders and teachers at the PlayMaker School (watch the PBS Newshour report by April Brown), an all-game based school in Los Angeles, are asking those big, abstract questions that all teachers grapple with. And they’re trying to find their own answers through their constantly morphing, complex experiment.

Here are their thoughts about these issues, in their own words, from extended answers to the PBS NewsHour report. How can teachers, parents, and administrators these ideologies to existing public schools?

Read the interview with the school’s founder Tedd Wakeman at  A School That Ditches All the Rules, But Not the Rigor | MindShift.

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!

 

architecture · children · cognition · design · education · environment · learning

Are Teachers Distracting Students With Bad Interior Design? | Co.Design | business + design

These findings make sense to me and yet also don’t.

 

Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Few environments feature such a cacophony of decor as the elementary school classroom. Colorful bulletin boards, scientific posters, state maps, and student artwork tend to cover nearly every inch of wall space. Yet a new study on classroom design from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that all that educational flair may not be all that great for getting kids to learn.

The study, carried out over two weeks, examined 24 kindergarten students who were taught six lessons on topics they had not yet learned in school. Half the lessons were taught in a highly decorated classroom environment, with posters and art all over the walls, and the other half were taught in a classroom with no decoration.

CMU’s researchers found the kids spent more time off-task and were more distracted when the room was brightly decorated, and they tested better on subjects they learned in the sparser classroom compared to the ones they learned in the more visually stimulating environment.

Elementary school children typically stay in one room all day, so classroom decorations don’t necessarily match the subject matter they’re learning at any given time. If they’re sitting in front of a U.S. map, they’ll be looking at that all day whether the current lesson is on geography or math. This study, though very small, adds to previous research from the same psychologists showing that visual stimulation that’s irrelevant to on-going instruction can distract kids.

more via Are Teachers Distracting Students With Bad Interior Design? | Co.Design | business + design.

The study doesn’t go on to offer any ways to necessarily improve the classroom design, although the article does give other links discussing it.

Nature can be fairly visually cacophonous, so what is it about classroom designs that are so distracting? I also wonder how much of their distraction is from an unnatural learning style, and then other more engaging things to look at. That is not an attack on the teacher, I’m just skeptical whether any human is capable of sitting in one room for 6-8 hours, with a couple of lunch breaks, and concentrate the entire time, for an extended period of time. Even grown-ups have a hard time doing that, and suffer when they try to sustain that for too long.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

behavior · creativity · play · psychology · work

How Play Makes You A Better Adult

I Watch them watch them play the game Then I w...
Adults at play. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Friday. The weather is turning beautiful in many places around the U.S., with lots of sun. In fact one school in Washington gave kids the day off so they could go out and play. Some places get snow days, the principal figured, so why not a sun day? Perfect reasoning to me.

Unfortunately a lot of adults don’t take these opportunities to go out and play, thinking it’s a “waste” of their time. But, as I constantly argue on this blog, play is vital for healthy grown-ups too.

Erika Andersen explores the intersection between work and play for grown-ups, and how play makes us better grown-ups.

Sadly, by the time most of us reach our teens, play has been replaced as our primary learning mode by competition, memorization, practice and recitation – otherwise known as “sports” and “school.”  And we come to think of play as something we do when there’s nothing more urgent to be done – as time stolen from more critical things. However, the elements that make play such a great way to learn when we’re kids still work for us when we’re adults.  The happiest and most creative adults I know regularly bring play into their lives as a way to stretch, evolve, innovate and – this is important – enjoy.  Here’s a great example – two guys named Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum have created a kit called MaKey MaKey, that allows you to control any electronic device using household objects.

…When you play, you’re making up the world.  You’re saying, “Let’s imagine that…”  or “Why don’t we…?”  or “What if….?” And that’s where freshness, learning and innovation live.

Full article at: How Play Can Make You a Better Grown-up | Forbes

Andersen offers up some ideas on how to be more playful as a grown-up, although as she points out the whole point of being playful is to think outside the box, so just think of these as starting places:

Be the littlest kid.  You know how when kids play, the littler kids usually follow the older kids’ lead?  When you play with actual kids, let them call the shots, rather than you, adult-like, defining the play.  You’ll get drawn into wonderful worlds you would never have considered.

Declare a no win-zone.  Occasionally, when trying someone new, agree with yourself that the goal isn’t to ‘get good at it’ or ‘be better at this than so-and-so’ – but rather ‘to look like a fool’ or ‘have as much fun as possible.’ Remember what Bettelheim says about play including “the absence of any goals outside the activity itself.”

Lose the watch.  Little kids have no sense of time.  When they’re engrossed in something, hours could pass and they’d never know it. Try moving all your time-based commitments out of a day (or at least part of a day), and give yourself permission to do whatever you want for as long as you want.  Get fascinated about your choices.

Bring play to work.  Sometime during the next week, approach a work problem through the rules of play, that is “characterized by freedom from all but personally imposed rules (which are changed at will).”  Start thinking about it by asking “What if we didn’t have any constraints – how would we think about this?”  If you really get into that “play” mindset, you just might come up with a crazy notion that contains the germ of greatness.

behavior · creativity · school

Need a Job? Invent it. Want to learn how to invent? Play!

This article in the NYTimes really drives home for me the need to let everyone learn how to play and create on their own. The thesis of the article and the book it’s reviewing is basically that the next generation of workers will need to be able to identify needs and figure out how they can fill those needs, and monetize it.

“Today,” [book author Tony Wagner] said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

Ok, so how do we teach kids to be innovative? Play! Play play play! Creativity! The opportunity for boredom, as one study recently found, and free play. Letting kids be kids! Letting them take stuff apart and put it back together. Letting them get messy and innovative!

So let your kids, and yourself, have some unstructured play time. It’s good for your brain, and will help you keep your job, or find or even make a new one.

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.
children · creativity · education · emotion · environment · happiness · health · play · psychology · Social

Exploration of Playful Learning Spaces for Children

toys
toys (Photo credit: red5standingby)

From the blog Art Farm, a play/art therapist who offers some advice on creating spaces that encourage kids to explore, learn and play:

I really learned the importance of organizing and preparing spaces while working with youth in school settings in several public housing developments in Chicago.  So often these youth would come to me (for either individual or group art therapy sessions) filled with anxieties which either manifested as acting out or withdrawn behaviors. The arrangement and presentation of the private space we used was a powerful, non-verbal message to them stating that all things are respected here – including you; everything has a place here – including you; and everything you will need to have a successful experience is here – starting with you.

[Mariah] Bruehl offers some questions to ask when designing a space for your own child:

  • Can your child access the materials in the play space independently? Are they organized in baskets or bins that are clearly labeled so your child knows how and where to put things away when finished with them?
  • Are the materials presented in an attractive manner that invites your child to use them?
  • Do the materials, toys, and games represent a balance between your child’s and your own preferences? Do they represent what you value and thus encourage your child to engage in activities that you feel good about?
  • What is your child currently interested in? If your child no longer plays with dinosaurs, but has been talking a lot about birds, make sure that the play space reflects this current passion. Rotating toys is a great way to keep your child interested in play space activities and ultimately prolongs the life of your child’s playthings. It never ceases to amaze me how excited my girls get about a toy that comes back into rotation. The nostalgia they feel toward a toy they have not seen in a while is almost more than their delight over a brand-new toy.
  • Is the play space a calming environment that allows one to focus on the task at hand without distracting colors, decorations, or objects?
  • Are you seeing things from you child’s perspective? Put yourself in your child’s shoes to determine the right height for displaying and storing materials and hanging art.
  • Is this a space that makes you want to make art, explore science, write stories, and more? If so, would you have everything you need to do what you want to do? What else would you add to enrich and deepen your child’s learning experience in the play space?

What other playful space researchers are out there? Any recommendations? I know about the organization Art With Heart, which focuses on creating therapeutic resources for sick kids. But I’d love to hear more about what’s out there. Let me know in the comments below.