Tag Archives: Play

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12 Fun Family Activities for Screen Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed April 29 – May 5 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll  on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

 Related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Why Finland’s Education System is the Best in the World

No Child Left Behind, with its accelerated education practices and emphasis on standardized testing, seems to be leaving many American children behind much of the industrialized world, according to a new global table of education, produced for the Intelligence Unit of The Economist. The U.S. is ranked 17th in education, far below first-place Finland and many other countries. Read why Finland has the best education system in the world.

What are their secrets?

For one, Finnish children don’t start school until age 7. (Waldorf education advocates that children not read until 7.) Phenomenally, Finnish students only take one standardized test, and that is at the age of 16. By that age, a typical American child will have taken dozens of standardized tests, and will have spent much educational time preparing for them, at the expense of other learning and discovery. Finnish elementary school students receive 75 minutes of recess per day, as opposed to an average of 27 minutes in the U.S. There is very little homework.

Education in Finland is 100% state subsidized, as is teacher training. The results of all this attention to teacher support and developmentally appropriate learning, free time and play? 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school, a figure that is 17.5 percent higher than that in the U.S.

Some might point to Finland’s smaller size or relative homogeneity as possible reasons for their success, but their success is notably higher than other Scandinavian countries, which have similar demographics and diversity. 30 U.S. states have populations equal to or less than Finland’s, at 5.5 million.

This article from The Atlantic notes that Finland’s acclaimed education system owes much to the idea of economic equity.

Read more about why Finland’s education system is Number One.

So how does the U.S. educational system stack up against that of other countries? According to a 2011 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American 15-year-olds scored at the international average of industrialized nations in science and reading, and below the international average in math.

The above article goes on to note that high-performing countries recruit and retain talented teachers. It noted some interesting cultural differences, as well. For instance, Japanese students are encouraged to struggle through problems more than American students are. According to UCLA psychology professor James Stigler, who studied the Japanese educational system:

American students “aren’t socialized to struggle hard. They’re socialized to put their hands up and say, ‘I don’t know.’ ” While Japanese parents would be inclined to tell a child’s teacher, “Thank you for helping my kid struggle,” American parents are more inclined to say, “Why are you torturing my kid?”

That’s a very interesting point that speaks to many parents’ well-meaning, but sometimes misguided, attempts to rush in and fix perceived problems, a habit that ultimately robs their children of essential problem-solving skills and the mastery and confidence that come with them.

The original Economist report quoted above makes some of the same key recommendations about economic success in its Five lessons for education policymakers:

  • There are no magic bullets
  • Respect teachers
  • Culture can be changed
  • Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education
  • Educate for the future, not just the present

And this comes from NYU Research Professor of Education and Former U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, in her review of Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? in the New York Review of Books:

U.S. policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.

The last word about our (relatively unsuccessful) competition-driven, test-obsessed educational model will have to go to Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience:

If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.

These are Top 20 Countries in the World, in Education, as ranked by the global table of education:

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

More reading (some of these are referenced above):

Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System is the Best in the World, Business Insider

The Pearson Report for the Economist

What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success, The Atlantic

Schools We Can Envy, New York Review of Books

From Finland, An Intriguing School Model, New York Times

Why are Finland’s Schools Successful, Smithsonian

UK Education Sixth in Global Ranking, BBC News

Great Ideas from Finnish Schools, Two in the Middle

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let the Play, Slow Family Online

Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

 

Photos: wstryder, edushyster

A Conference on Play? You Bet!

A conference on play? Yes, you read correctly. I will be attending the U.S. Play Coalition‘s Conference on the Value of Play in Clemson, S.C., in February.

I’ll be joining educators, parents, play professionals, health professionals, parks and recreation programmers, landscape architects, playground designers, psychologists, anthropologists, advocates, and more from around the world to discuss and learn about play.

I’ll learn about the latest research highlighting the importance of play as a crucial part of all of our lives, regardless of age or ability. I’m eager to share what I learn with all of you.

Read some of the latest news about play.

My Slow News archive also contains a lot of information about the value of play to every area of our lives.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids
How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let them Play

 

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids: try these games!

Even as some parents and schools try to schedule as many academics and extracurriculars into their children’s lives as possible, at times to the detriment of even the briefest school recess, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a policy statement that recognizes the value of recess to every aspect of children’s lives. The AAP wrote:

Recess during school offers children cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits they don’t get through academics alone.

According to the AAP:

  • Recess is “a necessary break in the day” and “should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”
  • Recess offers important breaks from concentrated classroom work, which allow children to be “more attentive and more productive in the classroom.”
  • Recess “promotes social and emotional learning and development” through “peer interactions in which they practice and role play essential social skills.” Children learn negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem solving, as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.
  • Recess offers benefits that are “unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it.”
  • Recess can help offset risks to childhood obesity.

The AAP also noted that some schools cite safety issues as a barrier to recess and free play and offers steps to protect children while offering free and unstructured  play.

The AAP statement provides a large boost to those who have been advocating for recess and free play, in the face of calls for more academic and scheduled time for children. Last year, an important study published by the AAP revealed that pre-school children are far too sedentary for their physical and psychological health. The recent policy statement notes that “even minor movement during recess counterbalances sedentary time at school and at home.”

Read the complete AAP Policy Statement on The Crucial Role of Recess in School.

Many of us grew up with free play and recess games, some of which were made up on the spot, and some of which we learned from others. Here are a few games that kids (and even parents and teachers) may not know, which can add to recess and other fun and play. Many more playground and other game instructions can be found in my book, Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.

Playground Games

These fun, easy games require little or no equipment and have been creating memories for generations.

Duck, Duck, Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. It walks around the outside of the circle, tapping each person on the head and saying, for each tap, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then that person is It again. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose becomes the new “it”.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light, Green Light has many charming variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum! (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the stoplight. That person turns his or her back to the group, which forms a line approximately 30–90′  away (depending on the ages of players). The stoplight calls out, “Green light!” and the players advance toward the player who is the stoplight as quickly as they can. When the stoplight wishes, he or she calls out, “Red light!” while turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “red light” has to go back to the starting line. “Green lights” and “red lights” are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the stoplight, then the stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new stoplight.

Four Square

Not sure what to do with that four-square court painted on your school playground? This classic game couldn’t be easier or more inclusive. If you don’t have a four-square court, you can easily draw your own with chalk.

You’ll need:

A standard-size rubber playground ball
A court, or chalk to draw one

If there isn’t a court, draw a large square, approximately 16′ × 16′. Divide that into four squares, each 8′ × 8′. Letter the squares clockwise, from A to D. The player in the A square begins by bouncing the ball once in his or her own square, then hitting it underhand so it bounces into the D square. The receiving player then hits the ball into another square, with play continuing until the ball bounces more than once or goes out of bounds. When that happens, the player who didn’t hit the ball in time, or hit it out of bounds, moves to the D square, and the other players move up in the alphabet. If there are more than four players, a waiting player in line replaces the one who would have moved into the D square, and that player goes to the back of the line. Play continues without anyone having to permanently leave the game.

Blob Tag

There are so many fun tag games, you needn’t limit yourself to basic tag. Try this fun variation:

Once a player is tagged by the person who is It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play a version in which, when the blob reaches four people, two split off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new “it.”

Jump-Rope Games

Jumping rope has gone in and out of fashion since ancient Egypt, when both men and women jumped over vines. It wasn’t until the 20th century that jumpers incorporated singsong games and rhymes. Many of these are passed down through the generations like oral history, with different regions using different chants. I learned many of these from my mom and passed them down to my daughter.

You’ll need:

One regular jump rope for one person, or a longer jump rope for two turners to turn while a jumper (or more) jumps.

The jumper jumps over the rope each time it hits the ground. Jumpers can jump in one jump each turn or take one big jump followed by one smaller jump each turn. A turn ends when the jumper fails to jump over the turning rope. The following are classic, easy jump-rope games. They don’t have tunes so much as chants, so they are especially easy to pick up.

A, My Name Is Alice

This is a fun add-on game that also calls for a little creativity and is different every time.

The first jumper starts with the letter A and fills in the blanks in the following sentence, however he or she chooses:

A my name is ____ and my husband’s name is ____ and we live in ____ and we sell ____.

For example: A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Al and we live in Albuquerque and we sell apples.

If the jumper hasn’t tripped up, he or she moves on to the letter B: B my name is Betty and my husband’s name is Bob and we live in Boise and we sell beans.

Jumpers move through the alphabet as long as their turns last. New jumpers usually start with A, which makes it easy to compare how far each jumper gets, and choose new names.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

This jump-rope game is a little more advanced, as it requires players to pantomime the activity they are singing about (to the best of their abilities) as they jump.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, tie your shoe.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do!
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say your prayers.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the lights.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say good-night!

Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Plums

Apples, peaches, pears, and plums.
Tell me when your birthday comes.
January, February, March…

Count one month for each turn of the rope successfully jumped.

I hope you all take the AAP recommendations to heart and enjoy recess and play!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Let the Children Play

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also like:

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let Them Play
Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let them Play

When German Frederick Froebel created kindergarten in the 1800s, little could he have envisioned what it would become. Those first kindergarten students, indeed the first children to experience early childhood education, learned through play, music, movement, paper-folding and games. Froebel recognized that early childhood was a a period of dramatic brain development during which children thrived when they learned holistically. His work influenced Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner (whose work led to Waldorf Schools), and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, all of which are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and wonder, social skills and play. It was not viewed solely as preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward 150+ years since Froebel to arrive at a time in which not only is kindergarten regarded as preparation for grade school, but preschool is considered preparation for kindergarten. Online parent message boards are crammed with questions from anxious parents, asking, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” Kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits denote and teach multiple precise skills children should know before starting kindergarten, including the abilities to count from 1 to 10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip.

Yes, skip. This piece of information includes the especially ridiculous coda that pre-school children around the U.S. are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.

But what if “readiness curriculum” emphasizes the wrong things? Perhaps our anxieties about “kindergarten readiness” and our rush toward academics for our kids are fueled by our own desires and fears, rather than by education and early childhood theory. We are taught early that there is tremendous competition for college spots and for jobs. Because we’re often busy ourselves, we view time as something to be used efficiently, even and perhaps especially in regard to our children and their childhoods.

In addition, parents today are led to believe that we have to choose between academic preschools and play-based preschools. But what if the play-based schools actually fed children’s academic, social and physical needs and success?  According to studies, that’s exactly what they do.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith of The Center for Early Childhood Education writes that “Play is necessary for success in school” and that play enhances language and literacy, counting and math, symbolic thought, cooperation, self-awareness and self-control. Longitudinal studies show that even the gains achieved by some academic preschools are largely lost by third or fourth grade.

If that weren’t enough, recent studies also show that today’s preschoolers spend only 2-3% of their time doing vigorous activity. In our rush toward what many of us think of as academic achievement and readiness, we’re actually robbing many young children of the ability to learn the way they do best — through play.

Alison Gopnik, psychology professor and author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, refers to “guided discovery”, the notion that small children learn best through exploration and interaction, wonder and play. Schools teach mastery, which is wonderful, writes Gopnick, but mastery should follow discovery. She uses an example from baseball:

Routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won’t make a strong player. The game itself — reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running — requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness.

How do we encourage qualities like thought, flexibility and inventiveness in our young people, the very qualities that underlie later academic and other success? Let them play when they’re young, when their brains are elastic and they learn best through exploration. Encourage various social, physical and other experiences that enhance children’s natural senses of curiosity and wonder. Allow them to move their bodies more, especially in nature when possible, and not be unnecessarily (and unnaturally) sedentary. Studies show that even older elementary students need recess and play and that physical activity helps them perform better academically.

It seems that letting preschoolers be preschoolers is the least — and the most –  we can do for them.

Photos: Let the Children Play, Creative Child, Let Children Play, Academic Advancement

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also be interested in:

Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Playoffs Sat. 7/14 in San Francisco

For the second year in a row, the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest inspired kids from 6-12 to create the ultimate slow games, ones that can be played outdoors with simple or minimal equipment, like hula hoops, balls, or household items.

Last year’s winner, 9-year-old Sara from Plaistow, N.H. (shown here with Julie Foudy, three-time Olympic soccer medalist) created a Sponge Ball Fill-Up Game. You can even download instructions to play!

This year, there are six finalists in the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Playoffs, and the public is invited to Marina Green in San Francisco to play their six imaginative games: North Pole South Pole, Footloose Derby, Dance Tag, Tortoise and the Hare Ball, Sidewalk Chalk Adventure and Zombie Hunt. The finalists will be competing for a $10,000 educational scholarship, among other prizes. The Playoffs will take place Saturday, July 14 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The games will be judged by an expert panel that includes Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and Founding Chairman of the Children & Nature Network, Olympic Gold Medalist Jonny Moseley, and Emmy Award-winning CBS 5 journalist Dana King.

The event is free to the public and the first 200 kids will receive a free T-shirt. There will also be live entertainment and organic snacks from CLIF Kid.

Marina Green is in San Francisco at Marina Blvd., between Scott and Webster Streets.

Here are some photos from last year’s Playoffs. And here’s to playing simple, original games outdoors!

Photos: CLIF Kid

 

Forget Tiger Mom and French Mom: Meet Hunter-Gatherer Mom

Last year, Amy Chua managed to push a whole set of collective parenting buttons when she asserted in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, why Chinese mothers are superior — apparently to us Western parents who let our kids attend slumber parties and take lowly “villager” parts in school plays.

Now, almost exactly a year later, there is news of a new book about another group of superior parents halfway around the world, who have successfully spawned submissive, docile, vegetable-eating children to rival the Chinese –  Voila! The French. At first glance, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (which bears the wonderfully succinct UK title, French Children Don’t Throw Food) seems to be getting about the same derisive response as the Tiger Mom tome.

As well it should. While there may be some fine advice in both books, which seem a pendulum-swing antidote to the culture of helicopter parenting, it’s always a bit difficult to swallow the notion that a whole culture has this parenting thing down, while ours does not. And, of course, these types of books play on the anxiety any thinking parent drags around from playground to play group — am I doing this right? Is something wrong with me or my kids?!

Druckerman’s book, in particular, appears to have some valuable insight about  life skills like delayed gratification and the ability to entertain oneself, good tools for children worldwide. Part of the problem, of course, is in the incendiary messaging and packaging of these books — but then books that don’t generalize and pit nations and groups against one another probably don’t sell as well or garner as much media attention.

In the midst of this madness, a new style of parenting has come to my attention which actually makes the most sense of all. And talk about “Back to Basics”: The time has come for the Hunter-Gatherer Parent. Hunter-gatherer children, which have been studied as recently as the 1990s in Africa, are, according to researcher Elizabeth Marshall Thomas:

Sunny and cooperative, the children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children.

The secret of hunter-gatherer families? The play a lot. They tolerate appropriate risks. They value, encourage and teach independence and interdependence, rather than strict obedience. And they seem to do it through caring and trust, rather than carrying on and punishment. In addition, they are at home in nature and can navigate their own environments.

The changing world will certainly need more hunter-gatherers, who are resourceful, quick-thinking, creative and flexible. I, for one, will stake my lot with the hunter-gatherers. The Chinese and French methods weren’t working out so well anyway.

Photo: Hadza archery by Woodlouse

 

Slow News: Let the Kids Play

The subject of Play is getting a lot of serious attention these days. For good reason – study after study is illustrating that, in our rush to feed children what we perceive as quality academics, and in our over-scheduling and over-hovering, for fear they’ll be injured or abducted, we are neglecting to give them what they truly need to develop, grow and thrive:

Play. Independent, free, age-appropriate, active, imaginative play.

Nanci Hellmich in USA Today reports that preschoolers spend too much time on sedentary activities. As a result, they’re missing out on important motor-skill development, as well as opportunities for discovery, peer play (and the learning associated with it) and fun.

Alice Park in Time Magazine tells us that physical activity is associated with better academic performance.

At the same time, many schools have reduced recess, and 30% of American schools have cut recess altogether. This may be a bigger problem for children in less advantaged neighborhoods, who may not be as overscheduled as their better-off peers, but lack access to safe play spaces, says a new study from the American Association of Pediatrics.

It’s time for a cultural shift toward recognizing the importance of play for all children’s growth and well-being.

Update. This just in:

Parents are Biggest Obstacle to Letting Kids Play, Janice D’Arcy, Washington Post
Playgrounds too Safe to Keep Little Kids Active, Crystal Phend, MedPage Today
Both feature this study in Pediatrics on the physical activity of pre-school children.

Photo: Susan Sachs Lipman

You may also be interested in:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play
Slow Family Resources

Slow News Day: Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Last January Wired Magazine ran a story on the Five Best Toys of All Time. Which toys did the high-tech, gadget-and-gizmo friendly magazine (or at least the Geek Dad section) name as the best? The stick, the box, string, the cardboard tube, and dirt. Not an electronic toy in the bunch. And, even more, all of these are simple, available (if not free), and provide open-ended play. Two are found in nature.

The internet went nuts with this story, as person after person — parents, teachers, nature advocates, play experts, and people who simply sense that today’s children grow up too quickly — passed this story around. With all the holiday advertising and shopping, and all the craze for the flashiest and the latest, a writer was advocating that kids go play in the dirt.

When Anna was small, I noticed that she was happy for hours with simple things — dirt, water, grass, a tire swing, paper, scissors, glue. She spent about a year being fascinated with adhesive tape — pulling, cutting and laying it down on paper, creating cardboard box-and-tube cameras and “candy machines”.  She didn’t seem to need or want anything more expensive, complicated or “educational” than that. I’ve found this is often the case if we slow down, adjust our ideas about what is normal or expected, and let our children and our own instincts guide us.

On the heels of the Wired story came another one: The Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University released the results of its 2011 TIMPANI (Toy to Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) study. Each year they name a “best toy” based on three categories: thinking and learning; cooperation and social interaction; and self-expression and imagination.

This year’s winner? The nearly 10o-year-old Tinkertoy Construction Set. Said the study’s principal researcher, “Basic, open-ended toys tend to be more beneficial to children’s play and learning than some of the more elaborate and commercial toys that are on the market.” The Tinkertoy designers, after all, created their toy after seeing children play imaginatively with pencils and empty spools of thread.

The article goes on to point out that open-ended toys foster cooperation and communication, with peers as well as with parents:

Through play, you can provide your child with the support needed to learn and grow, to learn how to learn, and to get needs met in safe, appropriate ways.

I’ve often bonded through play and creating with my family, and I’ve seen scores of children be happier and more engaged when playing with open-ended toys.

You may also be interested in:
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Seeing at Child-Scale Helps us Slow Down, Appreciate More, and Play

What does it mean to be a child in a city, or anywhere? How does a child see things? Quite differently from adults, as it happens. This perspective might help many of us to slow down, appreciate more, and be more playful, as we orient to a child’s experience of scale.

The Hand-Made Play Collaborative in Tokyo (one of the busiest cities in the world) investigated how children enjoy and learn from non-commercial play, by telling  “one story of the everyday treasures of a rainy day walk“.

This is their map of a child’s experience of a city.

Children experience a great deal from the time within the pauses of activity, the research tells us. They like routine –  a small ritual within a routine walk can have great meaning. They learn by experiencing and experimenting, by noticing similarities and differences and moving things around. Adults tend to hurry kids, to grow impatient with their observations and not honor the way they experience time.

The main message from Hand-Made Play:

Slow Down. Stop and listen.

It can be a challenge to get out of our adult mindsets and concerns to do this. The rewards, however, are rich for both children and adults. Paying attention to child-scale could impact our actions and even our city planning. As usual, it is beneficial to try to see through the eyes of a child.

Images: Hand-Made Play

Thank you, Kerala Taylor of Kaboom, who first wrote about Hand-Made Play.

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