behavior · brain · culture · health · play · Social

Play Doesn’t End With Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too | NPR

I’ve already shared this article via Twitter, but it is so important that I just had to re-share via my blog. If there was one mantra I would want to be known for it’s that adults need play. Humans need downtime. Humans need breathing room. Humans need play at any age!

A father and daughter try out a public park piano in Seattle, WA
A father and daughter try out a public park piano together in Seattle, WA

Childhood play is essential for brain development. As , time on the playground may be more important than time in the classroom.But playtime doesn’t end when we grow up. Adults need recess too.

The question is, why? To answer this question, Dr. Stuart Brown says we need to clearly define what play is. He’s head of a nonprofit called the National Institute for Play.

“Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

So, let’s take gambling, for instance. A poker player who’s enjoying a competitive card game? That’s play, says Brown. A gambling addict whose only goal is to hit the jackpot? Not play.

Brown says that children have a lot to learn from what he calls this “state of being,” including empathy, how to communicate with others, and how to roll with the punches.

read the whole article, including more insight from Stuart Brown, a long-time play research and advocate, via Play Doesn’t End With Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too : NPR Ed : NPR.

I have met and chatted briefly with Dr. Brown and read his work, and he has done some pretty interesting work on play over the years, using both primary and secondary research (I even cited him in my thesis).

I could easily go on a rant here as to why adult play is so important but so undervalued, but for now just read the article and leave any comments either here or on the actual article’s page.

behavior · happiness · play

The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy : The Salt : NPR

People often interpret animal behaviors as one thing when in fact it’s something different. But in this case, frolicking is indeed frolicking.

It turns out “cows love a change of scenery. And a switch from the concrete floors of the indoors to a soft green pasture would surely help break a bovine’s winter blues.

In fact, cows are suckers for novelty, adds de Passille’s colleague, . They get an extra spring or leap in their step “whenever something new or unexpected happens,” he says – say, changing their bedding or letting them out or back in. “We think it’s a sign that things are well with them.”

more via The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy : The Salt : NPR.

behavior · community · health · mental health

Pickleball, Anyone? Senior Athletes Play New Games And Old : NPR

Hazel Trexler-Campbell throws spray-painted horseshoes during the Senior Games in Cleveland on July 23. (Benjamin Morris for NPR)

Health and fitness is often focused on the young, to the point that as athletes age they often get discouraged that they can’t compete in their old sports anymore. Well fear not, young-at-heart! There is… the Senior Games, with different age brackets.

A lot of what you’d see at the National Senior Games looks familiar if you’ve ever watched the Summer Olympics: there’s track and field, basketball and swimming. At the Summer Olympics, however, you will not hear voices in the crowd cheering “Go, Grandma!”Everyone at these Games is over 50 and they play some sports that will likely never appear at the Olympics.

more via Pickleball, Anyone? Senior Athletes Play New Games And Old : NPR.

I JUST discovered the Senior Games this morning, and I’m already excited to sign up when I’m old enough to qualify – that’s only 20 years away, so I better start practicing. 🙂

But for those who already qualify, this is a great sporting event that should be shared out with more seniors. People like my dad, a lifelong athlete who tries to keep up with the young folks perhaps a bit too much, would make a killing in some of these events.

happiness · health · play

Playing with smoke rings, air rings, bubble rings…

Courtesy of Krulwich Wonders: multiple species will make their own games and toys out of thin air, literally, using a variety of different tools:

Humans do it with smoke.

A human blowing smoke rings.

Dolphins do it with air.

A beluga blowing rings.

With a little snort, dolphins can produce a nearly perfect "air" rings, (sophisticated non-dolphins called them toroidal vortices) which they turn into underwater toys.

While humans and dolphins obviously play with rings, it’s possible humpback whales do this too. The video shows humpbacks sending air rings to the ocean surface, but in one of them, the giant underwater author suddenly pops up mid-ring to take what looks like a bow in front of a boat of whale-watchers.

More…

behavior · brain · creativity · environment

How Acting Like a Scientist Can Help You Play

playing in the woods and acting like a scientist look pretty similar
I heard this story on NPR recently, and I think it’s the best advice I’ve heard in awhile on how to get out in the woods and explore, relax, and as they say in the article, take time to smell the roses! The answer: make an exploratory game out of it. “Pretend” to be a naturalist. Yes!

In this permanent state of hyperventilation, the issue for us all is not stopping to smell roses. It’s not even noticing that there are roses right there in front of us. Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of religion, hit the core of our problem when he wrote, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

But how can we experience “being alive” in the midst of the crushing urgencies that make up modern life?

Well, it might seem strange, but one answer to that question is “science,” at least science with a lowercase “s.” Science, you see, is all about noticing. This is where it begins, with simple act of catching seeing the smallest detail as an opening to a wider world of wonder and awe. And here is the good news. You don’t need a particle accelerator or well-equipped genetics lab in your basement to practice noticing (that would be science with a capital “S”).

You already are a scientist. You have been since you were a kid playing with water in the tub, or screwing around in the backyard with dirt and sticks and stuff.

If you want to rebuild your inner-scientist-noticing-skills, the best place to begin is with a walk in the woods.

There are lots of reasons to take a walk in the woods. To get away from it all, clear your head, smell the fresh air. The problem, of course, is that even if we get ourselves into a park or a forest, we might still be so lost in our heads that we miss what’s right in front of us. Practicing noticing, like a scientist, can change that by binding us to experience in ways that are thrilling, even in their ordinariness.

Noticing can take many forms. One trick is to count things. Scientists love to count stuff. How many trees are there on the sides of a steep hill compared with its crest? How many leaves are there on the stalks of the blue flowers compared to the yellow ones? How many different kinds of birdsong do you hear when you stop and listen, (by the way, this requires really stopping and really listening, which is awesome). Counting things forces you to pay attention to subtleties in the landscape, the plants, the critters.

Other things scientists love: shapes, colors, patterns. Do the rocks at the stream’s edge look different from the ones near the trail? Do the big cattails have the same color as the small ones? Get your naturalist on and bring a notebook. Pretend you are or John Muir. Jot down your findings, make little drawings and always, always ask your yourself those basic questions: why, how, when?

Read the full article.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but scientists are all about creativity and exploration, and noticing things outside of the ordinary, so acting like a scientist is great way to see the world in a whole new way by playing with things, seeing what happens when you mess with something. Kids are natural players/explorers/scientists, so you can even bring one along as it might be helpful to get you in the explorer mode.

I would also argue that it doesn’t have to be “the woods” necessarily to get the same playful/exploratory benefits, it can also be short walks around the block, whatever works to get your observational juices flowing.

architecture · community · creativity · culture

In Gritty Sao Paulo, Artists Take To The Streets : NPR

A great example of actively adding art in urban settings in order to create enrichment for its inhabitants:

Urban landscapes have always inspired art, and Brazil is no exception. A new crop of artists like Matos not only is taking inspiration from Sao Paulo‘s streets but also is trying to give something back.

Matos covers trees and street poles with woolen sleeves and small, colorful pompoms. Her works look like whimsical webs of rainbow yarn; the effect is surprising and oddly comforting.

“I want people to have something familiar in the city. Here in Brazil we teach knitting from mother to daughter,” Matos says. “When they see my art, they suddenly feel comfortable walking these cold streets. And you can feel better.”

The newest and the biggest urban art project here is called , and it has an impressive list of corporate sponsors. The idea is to connect graffiti artists with individuals or business owners who have a wall they want covered with original art.

Artist Guilherme Matsumoto says he saw the website and signed up to say he was available to paint a space. Walter Orsati, owner of the Purple House Hostel, responded.

It was that easy, they say.

via In Gritty Sao Paulo, Artists Take To The Streets : NPR.

anthropology

Kenya’s Graffiti Train Seeks To Promote A Peaceful Election : NPR

English: Slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.
English: Slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as the decision for Kenya’s election is being determined, a look at an artistic and playful way to promote democracy:

Kenya‘s peace train is ready to roll.

Kenyan graffiti artists received permission from the Rift Valley Railway to spray-paint a 10-car commuter train with peace messages and icons. It may be the first train in Africa with officially authorized graffiti.

The train will travel through the massive Nairobi slum of Kibera, one of the largest in Africa, where young gangs torched, looted and killed in the spasms of violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan presidential election.

“What we’re doing with the train here now, it’s part of a civic education and a way to advertise peace,” says Uhuru B, a 27-year-old graffiti artist.

via Kenya’s Graffiti Train Seeks To Promote A Peaceful Election : NPR.

architecture · community

As population grows, houses shrink

Well, we’ve passed the 7 billion mark with humans on the planet So what to do about it? Make room!

The problem is there just isn’t enough cheap energy or water or land for 9 billion or 10 billion people to live the same way. So what if Americans set a different example? Consume less by living smaller? The Japanese do it. Can small be beautiful in the U.S.? Some people think so.

The article goes on to explain lots of different examples, such as micro studios:

In cities, modules can be stacked to make a new generation of efficient buildings. At ZETA headquarters, architect Taeko Takagi rolls out a blueprints with one of ZETA’s prototypes.

“It is a micro studio,” she says. “The units are under 300 square feet.”

That’s truly micro: smaller than most suburban living rooms. Porat says there’s a group that might find this alluring, though: “What I call the technocrati generation that uses the city as its living room and kitchen and goes to practically a dorm room to crash at the end of the day.”

“The psychology of convincing someone is to provide very simple things, like enough storage,” Takagi says. “I like to provide a large sink, so that the person who’s using it doesn’t feel like they’re lacking or living smaller and everything is miniaturized.”

Read more on NPR: As Population, Consumption Rise, Builder Goes Small

behavior · brain · children · environment · family · learning · psychology

How To Help Your Child’s Brain Grow Up Strong : NPR

A lot of parents freak out about how to provide enriching environments for their children and help them grow, from music lessons to early reading to math flash cards.

In one of those “well duh” books, two neuroscientists, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang remind us it doesn’t take all that much…

Babies may look helpless, but as soon as they come into the world, they’re able to do a number of important things. They can recognize faces and moving objects. They’re attracted to language. And from very early on, they can differentiate their mother from other humans.

“They really come equipped to learn about the world in a way that wasn’t appreciated until recently,” says neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. “It took scientists a long time to realize that their brains are doing some very complicated things.”

Aamodt and fellow neuroscientist Sam Wang explain how the human brain develops from infancy to adolescence in their new book, Welcome to Your Child’s Brain. The two researchers also offer tips for parents to help their children eat their spinach, learn their ABCs and navigate elementary school.

more via How To Help Your Child’s Brain Grow Up Strong : NPR, on Fresh Air.

They talk with Terry Gross about complicated concepts like self control, abstract thought, and things that are even hard for some grown-ups, and how to create an environment that makes kids want to practice these things.

behavior · brain · cognition · education · learning · school

Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely : NPR

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
Image via Wikipedia

A couple of years ago I taught a course on digital storytelling to a group of middle schoolers. In preparation for the course, I remember arguing why this method of teaching was important in that it allowed students who were visual learners to be able to learn how to tell a story in a visual way, and auditory learners could listen to the story archs out loud. Now, some research is finding that people AREN’T in fact visual or auditory learners.

Several psychologists say education could use some “evidence-based” teaching techniques, not unlike the way doctors try to use “evidence-based medicine.”

Psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia, who studies how our brains learn, says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He says we’re on more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how our brains learn. And it’s a mistake to assume students will respond and remember information better depending on how it’s presented.

For example, if a teacher believes a student to be a visual learner, he or she might introduce the concept of addition using pictures or groups of objects, assuming that child will learn better with the pictures than by simply “listening” to a lesson about addition.

In fact, an entire industry has sprouted based on learning styles. There are workshops for teachers, products targeted at different learning styles and some schools that even evaluate students based on this theory.

more via Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

I disagree with the idea that people’s brains are all uniform and work the same; we have all had the experience of having to explain the same thing in three different ways so three different people get the concept. And the researchers acknowledge we all have strengths and weaknesses. But I appreciate the idea of using evidence-based learning and variety, since they both make learning fun and easier to retain the information. If I ever get to teach that course again, I may instead argue that digital storytelling is beneficial for it’s hands-on, evidence and experiential based learning methods.