Tag Archives: Play

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.

New Childrens Book Reminds us to Play

Ernestine Buckmeister, the heroine of a delightful new children’s book, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Suzanne Beaky, doesn’t have time for childhood. This is so “…because her busy, well-meaning parents had packed her after-school schedule.” Mondays are for clay sculpting, Tuesdays for water ballet, Wednesdays for knitting and Thursdays for tuba playing. The week is rounded out with yodeling, karate and yoga.

Sound familiar? Though slightly exaggerated, Ernestine’s schedule gently acts as a mirror of over-scheduled children whose anxious parents are afraid that childhood is limited and convinced that children are in need of efficient delivery of experiences and skills.

But something happens to Ernestine. She discovers the joy of unstructured play and friends to play with, and influences her parents (and nanny, in a nice touch) to seek a little balance in the process.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is completely charming. Its message is delivered in a gentle, funny way, with cute plays on words and illustrations that are cheerful, colorful and winning. The repetition and order of words and of Ernestine’s routine would appeal to young children. It’s quite easy to imagine this book becoming a favorite of children and parents as well as a wonderful, sly reminder of the importance of slowing down for childhood and for play.

You might also like:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Enjoy the Ancient Art of Cloud Watching
Babies Learn by Playing
How to Tame Fall Frenzy
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

Slow Down for Summer: Fun and Simple Outdoor and Seasonal Activities

I had such a great time on the Slow Down for Summer webinar that I did with KaBOOM! and with the many participants. We shared tons of Slow Summer ideas that emphasized fun and ease over equipment and preparation. These include old-school playground games that are ripe for a comeback and can be played most anywhere, crafts to get you outside on a nice summer day, activities to help kids observe and enjoy their surroundings (be they nature or city), and garden and harvest projects to help kids appreciate the cycles of nature and of life. There was so much information and so many wonderful ideas, that we just skimmed the surface in the time allotted. I think it got everyone thinking about the possibilities for wonder and fun and how to create more of each in their everyday lives. I know I came away with some great ideas!

You can visit the webinar anytime to get an idea of some of the things we discussed. And, of course, many of them can be found on my blog, on in future blog posts, as well as in my upcoming book, Fed up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.

Enjoy your Slow Summer!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Make this Easy Tie Dye Project
Loom and Finger Weaving
11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids
How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds
Blueberry Tuesday: Summer Triple Berry Crisp

Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

As many of you know, I’ve been riding the hobby horse of free play for some time on this blog, as have many other delightful and like-minded colleagues.

Now the New York Times has chimed in:  The culture of play is vanishing, Hilary Stout writes. It’s an all-too-familiar tale — children’s face-time with electronic screens is growing, their outdoor world and their freedom within it are shrinking. Organized activities have replaced imaginary and child-directed ones. Fear of litigation and/or academic fallout have caused some schools to do away with recess. Some parents hover; some are too busy; some don’t like the mess ..

It has all added up to a culture in which free play is not valued or experienced. The New York Times tells us that the tide may be turning. They cite many groups that are working toward enhanced free play, such as Kaboom and Play for Tomorrow, which created a “play day” in New York’s Central Park last fall, with more than 50,000 attendees!

People, clearly, yearn to play.

The folks at the Rhode Island Children’s Museum would concur. Their Play Power program largely came about because they noticed that children were starting to be conditioned to want to be told the “right way” to play. And parents seemed to be oriented to outcomes, rather than the process of playing.

From the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, comes this resource about the benefits of free play.

Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, has a lot to say about children’s need for play, including:

A good toy, a toy that nurtures creative play is ninety percent child and only ten percent toy.

From Education.com comes a really good piece about the importance of free play, how it may have been lost and how to get it back.

Last April, I wrote about the trend toward toys that fostered children’s imaginations and led to open-ended play, and included the wonderful story of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, which built a whole Box City when they realized that kids were happier playing with empty boxes than with some of their installations.

Since then, I came across another delightful tale of box play.

Other great resources and people fostering the free play movement include The Alliance for Childhood, The National Institute for Play, Playborhood, and The Children & Nature Network, among others. (There are more on the Slow Family Resource Page.)

Want to explore more? The U.S. Play Coalition is holding a Conference on the Value of Play, Feb 6-9 at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

Whatever you do, keep playing! And fostering a love of play in your kids.

Related Posts on Slow Family: Babies Learn by Playing

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: Nickelodeon Networks to Go Dark to Encourage Play. First Lady to Pull Plug

It’s rare for a TV station to opt to go completely dark in the middle of a day, but that’s exactly what children’s network Nickelodeon, its sister networks Nicktoons, Nick Jr. and TeenNick, and its affiliated websites are going to do for three hours tomorrow in an effort to encourage children to go out and play.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has done a lot of work to fight childhood obesity and encourage kids to play outside with her Let’s Move campaign, is going to symbolically pull the plug on the station at Noon, Eastern Time and Pacific Time.

The event marks the 7th Worldwide Day of Play, an effort begun in 2004 by Nickelodeon. Last year this announcement appeared on participating TV stations for 3 hours:

Today is Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play! Turn off your TV, shut down your computer, put down that cell phone-yes, YOU! and go ALL OUT! We’ll see you back here at 3!

It’s a great message and it’s terrific that it comes from a TV station, for whom time is definitely money.

Saturday, September 25, also marks Nature Rocks Day, and National Public Lands Day (U.S.). The entire week is Take a Child Outside Week. So if you’re looking for an organized activity or a way to help your public lands, one is available. If you just want to get outside and have fun, here’s hoping you have a pretty early Fall day during which to do that!

Photo: Evan Vucci, AP, Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like: Slow News: New White House Programs Support Children’s Nutrition & Play

Snapshot: This Moment. Father’s Day, the Castro

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule and legions of lovely bloggers.

I hope you’ll be similarly inspired and leave a link with your own “moment.” I’d love to see it.

Have a great weekend!

Photos by Michael Lipman, Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: New White House Programs Support Children’s Nutrition & Play

Exciting news for those who care about children’s health and nutrition and the movement to get kids outside to play — The Obama Administration has revealed two important new programs that address children’s health and well-being: President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” Initiative, which he signed Friday, April 16, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eradicate childhood obesity.

I wrote about both of these on the Children & Nature Network blog. Here is President Obama signing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative:

The White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, at which the signing took place, offered an exciting day of speeches and panel discussions. These revealed that the current administration cares deeply about the environment and the generation of children who are set to inherit American lands, as well as their stewardship. Said President Obama:

When we see America’s land, we understand what an incredible bounty that we have been given.  And it’s our obligation to make sure that the next generation enjoys that same bounty.

We’ll help families spend more time outdoors, building on what the First Lady has done through the “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.

There was plenty of inspiration offered by many speakers, including this from Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Lisa Jackson:

Our open spaces have inspired our artists and encouraged our pioneers.

It was thrilling to me to listen along at home and hear our land and open spaces being revered by such a powerful group that was convened for the day at the White House, for the purpose of promoting nature for its beauty and value to people of all ages. My “play-by-play” coverage of the conference is here.

The other great recent White House development is Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and its April 9 Childhood Obesity Summit, which I was able to watch by live podcast. The Summit was an extremely encouraging event. The “Let’s Move” Campaign centers around the availability of healthy food, in schools and all neighborhoods, information and resources for parents, and physical activity.

Michelle Obama has noted that her work in the White House vegetable garden, in addition to her own family’s experiences trying to work good nutrition and health into a busy lifestyle, encouraged her to begin her campaign.

I was very cheered that outdoor play was revealed as an important part of the campaign and the efforts of high-level government officials.

Here’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, from his opening remarks:

If you want our students to be much more successful academically, they have to be active.

He called for “more well-rounded educations for children” and those, he noted, include P.E. and recess. This is a sea change away from the culture of academic pressure and achievement that has permeated the American school system over the recent past.

According to Interior Secretary Salazar:

We need to get our young people and our society as a whole more connected to the outdoors than they have been.

A whole “breakout” discussion then centered about physical activity and play, which is one of the platforms of the “Let’s Move” campaign. That session included discussions of such positive things as ways to deal with parental fear about outdoor play, increased access to natural spaces in suburban and urban settings, location of parks near schools and homes, safe routes to schools and parks, available transportation to green spaces, access to activities beyond organized sports, resources for parents, and a culture of increased walking instead of driving for short distances.

All of these issues concerning green spaces and communities, walking, play, and access to fresh, healthy food, are connected to the Slow Movement.

Again, this was at the White House.

My blog post about the Childhood Obesity Summit is here.

Complete video coverage of the Summit is available on the White House site. (From the front page of the Video section, search for “Obesity Summit”.)

Photos: The White House

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