This is an older talk, from 2013, but I loved seeing Karyn’s talk for Creative Mornings that discussed the value of adult play, providing some examples and play/art projects I hadn’t seen before, and especially in the Q&A section providing tips on how to become a play advocate in your 9-5 corporate job.
Check it out here:
Thank you to Creative Mornings for capturing this talk and sharing it publicly for everyone.
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.
Kids are amazing explorers. Their drive for exploration and play can overpower their desires for sleep, food, and general grumpiness.
This past Monday we had a sitter sick day, and I was in charge of the kids. To get them out of the house we took a four hour round-trip hike down to the park near our house. This park is more like a nature preserve, with a trail that follows a quick drop down from street level into a canyon where a small creek that still supports a salmon run every year slowly meanders down to a mostly sandy beach and the Puget Sound, where local families dig their plastic shovels in the gravely soil and watch sail boats, freight ships, and the occasional harbor seal, bald eagle, or osprey fishing off the shore.
My daughter loved walking over the wooden bridges, stomping her feet to make the boom boom echo noise that only comes from wooden bridges. We went at her pace, taking as much time as she wanted at each spot, stopping at every bridge to look over its edge into the babbling brook or stream below, stopping to touch a cool tree, as well as the fire trucks that happened to be at the park. A few times I got bored and suggested we move on, and if she said yes we went and if not we stayed. Even towards the end of our adventures, although she was simultaneously starting to complain about being hungry and thirsty, she was the one demanding that we go down to the beach to at least sit on a log for awhile and touch the sand. She also wanted to go swimming in the creek and the sound, but we skipped those activities mostly because I did not feel like adding “wet” to the description of things I had to lug back out of the canyon, and she didn’t protest too much.
She balanced, climbed, slid, see-sawed, and ran up and down hills, falling and tripping a couple of times but brushing herself off each time and only needing one kiss to make a finger better before moving on to the next activity. She got to try an apple that fell off the park’s apple orchard, picked up leaves, and analyzed different rocks strewn on the beach. She walked more than half of the time down and around the canyon and park, and returning walked all the way down the hill from the beach cliff and towards the lower parking lot. She had an amazing time and had lots of things to share with her dad when we got back from our adventure.
But my son, my son enjoyed the day on an entirely different level. My son was so happy during our walk through the woods he looked like an animal released from its cage and realizing it has been returned into its home forest.
He would just lean over, reaching down over the edge of his stroller trying to touch the ground as it whizzed by him, feeling any dirt kick up off the path with those pudgy little hands that an instant later were reaching up up up into the sky, trying to touch the leaves high above and sunlight sparkling through them.
He was always sitting literally at the edge of his seat, at times riding his stroller like a chariot, bracing his feet against the step and grabbing the guard rail, standing straight up and wiggling his body to urge his rickety chariot to go faster. He would lean back into his chair, arching his back to look up at the tops of the trees, and look back at me as if to say “Mom, this is so cool!”
He wanted to taste and experience everything, and although he tired much more quickly than his sister he still grabbed for various sticks, rocks, and chunks of wood to taste as we sat on the beach. He would understand when I told him no and take the rock out of his mouth, but would then start searching for another one, thinking, “maybe this cracker shaped piece of wood is okay.” When he found an apple on the ground in the orchard, He was so proud and protective of it he struggled with wanting to show me but wanting to keep it for himself. He actually tried to pick up all the apples while holding on to his tiny little apple, but I tossed the rotten ones further into the field and tried to get him to focus on his precious little apple that he had already started chewing. He spent a long time nibbling at it, getting it about half eaten, and when I finally snuck it away from him to bite away a wormy spot I found that in fact it was pretty good, better than the one I picked off the tree for my daughter.
He had exhausted himself by the time we walked through the woods again and looked dazedly up into the sparking tree canopy before he drifted to sleep about half way up the canyon trail. My daughter rested in her seat, chatting here and there but was overall surprisingly quiet for a two year old.
After I made us a very late lunch and we sat around the kitchen table hungrily munching our pasta and sausages, I was still, and am still, blown away by just how long the kids both wanted to be out there in the park, playing, exploring, and just how happy they were to be out experiencing nature. I try to let the kids explore on their own at their own pace, but this day took that experience to a whole new level for me, one I will try to remember as we continue to explore and learn about our world together.
York County School of Technology student Lisa Nguyen, 15, painted this colorful artscape, “Step Across the Rainbow,” along North Beaver Street in front of Central Market.
The piece is part of the Bring on Play program as part of the Eat Play Breathe York initiative to add interactive play opportunities for children along regular walking routes downtown.
“The goal is to have playful sidewalk artscapes throughout the city, especially in neighborhoods, so we can reach children who might not have the opportunity to go to a park or play on school playground equipment,” Eat Play Breathe York chairwoman Cori Strathmeyer said. “We want to really encourage creativity and socialization as well as the physical aspect.”
The plan is to complete 20 permanent sidewalk murals downtown by the end of summer.
A million times yes! This article focuses on one of my biggest pet peeves and challenges as a play advocate; play not being taken seriously.
The author, Hilary O’Shaughnessy, and also the producer of the Playable City Award, discusses her play competition and the usual rub of people asking whether this is really all “worth it.” I’m quoting over half of her article, but she very eloquently covers an entire blog post I was planning on writing (I will still write it, I promise):
Amongst the usual squeals of anticipation [around the competition], there are questions about the value of these ideas to the “real” world. Fun is all well and good – but surely fun is the stuff we get to when the grown up work of building hospitals and roads is done with? When we’ve fixed the economy, let’s play. Cities are full of problems, why are we not fixing them first?
Herein lies the real issue. When we see play simply as fun, a whimsy for those of us lucky enough to have the time to engage in it, we underestimate the transformative power of play and it’s role in our lives.
Fixing problems, making our living and working spaces more livable and resilient, designing better cities, starts at every level with the people that Iive in those cities. Increasingly we are realising that our cities are designed for exclusivity, so it makes sense that we don’t feel part of shaping the future. This is revealed in the language we use to describe our relationships to the services and organisations that our cites are made of. We want them to fix it, they don’t want us to have a say, they give money to them to exclude us: the language is divisive and separating, and that’s the problem. Even the descriptions of the projects fail to deliver what they promise, because a playable city is experienced, not described.
The idea of what our cities should mean, how public money is spent, what we imagine as good for us and who is involved in designing them, is only ever addressed when we have a complaint or we feel excluded. We talk to the city council when the road is road is torn up or the lights won’t come on. We complain that our voices are unheard, but we never seize opportunities to speak, fearing that if we do we will be ignored or shouted down by the loudest ones.
This feeling of separation cannot be undone overnight. We need new approaches, new tools, and new ways to talk to one another about how to live together in cities.
Conversations about the future, about how we want to live, have to begin from a level playing field, and crucially that level playing field may not be where we expect. Play is a leveler: when we play, we play as humans, first. Traditional status markers like wealth, celebrity, or qualifications are not really much use when invited to dance with your shadow or conduct lights like a demi-god.
Addressing problems and finding solutions that work for us all begin with inviting everyone into conversation. Play as unexpected interventions in familiar places act as invitations to connect, an offer to begin to talk about those parts of our cities that we feel excluded from. To new eyes and ears, some projects can seem esoteric – but that is because we have become numbed to dull public announcements, badly designed flyers and clunky websites which act as information dumps that no-one reads, let alone takes as an invitation to work together. Yet, this is important stuff: we need to talk about the kind of future we want or it be will be decided for us while we look the other way.
This is a very well thought out and researched article about the benefits of pretend play, specifically creating and playing with puppets.
The [Puppet School] curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.
In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.
According to Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills.
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.
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.
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.
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.
People seem pretty sick of the idea of “Gamification” of things. But here’s the rub: a lot of jobs need to be more fun. And can be made more fun. And technology can have a strong hand in doing that.
One of the best pieces of advice a boss of mine ever received, he said, was that “people like getting points.” Even if the points don’t culminate in anything, just having the most points on a forum board or in an app is a great feeling for people.
Ambition (for example) focuses specifically on gamifying the performance of sales teams. Its software provides customers with a dashboard full of real-time metrics, such as calls made or leads generated or emails opened.
Through Ambition dashboards, employees (and of course, their managers) can track performance in relation to individual and team goals on their computers and mobile devices. The software syncs with a company’s CRM technology, as well as phone systems and spreadsheets and any other tools an organization might use. The cost is between $20 and $30 per employee per month.
Using whatever metrics a client wants to track, the software creates an Ambition Score, which is an aggregate of all the metrics. A score of 100 means an employee or team has reached every benchmark for a given time period.
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.
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.