Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30 - Reflections & Water Play/Scare...

Today is the last day of my month of reflections on play; although I am sure that it will be not the last time that I write about play here. Looking back over the month, I am amazed at how much I’ve learned from actually stopping and reflecting on our days.  So often we just get busy with the craziness and are ready to collapse at day’s end.  I have an amazing family and I am so blessed to have them as a priority.  I can’t help but feel that all the time spent playing now will equate to stronger relationships and more openness during their teen years.  While I know there will be rocky times, somehow the time spent now will be a contributing factor in how we handle the difficult times then. 

My other observation is that I didn’t run out of new stuff to share.  Going into April I wasn’t sure if I would be able to write thirty consecutive posts without a lot of repetition.  Some of my posts were more exciting to write than others.  Some posts were deeply personal…others not so much.  I think this is representative of the fact that each day is a new day.  Today’s experiences build on yesterday’s and as we grow as a family there are new discoveries/thoughts each day.   To grow together there is sometimes vulnerability, but when everyone’s goal is to honor each other we hold each other carefully.  Play includes a need for risk, but when this risk is surrounded by the support of a loving family and friends we can go so much further than we could on our own.  I think this is true of many areas of our lives including love and faith. 

Now to take a quick peek into today’s play.  Water is such a source of play for Nate and Elli, as it is for most kids.  They gravitate towards it.  Today we went down to our future garden spot and immediately the kids were in the stream, shoes off.  I was delighted.  This is what I pictured when I chose this particular spot.  While gardening is fun at times, I remember how tedious it can be if there are not diversions.  The stream is a good source of water for the garden, but also of play for the kids. 

I sometimes forget how innocent kids are.  At one point I heard Nate talking about getting a drink.  I called over that they could help themselves to the water bottle in the backpack.  The next moment I notice that they’re both bending over in the stream licking the water!  Fortunately I caught them on their first sip, but I’m praying that they didn’t pick up anything from water.  Someday I may look back on this as humorous, but today it’s a bit scary. 

As adults we sometimes forget what it was like to be a four or five year old.  We wouldn’t dream, in most cases, of bending over to drink water from a stream.  We’ve been taught that you don’t do that.  It could make us really sick.  We are the gatekeepers of our kids’ safety and while we can’t and shouldn’t protect them from every bump or bruise we do have to be vigilant.  As parents we do our best to make things as safe as we can, but there comes a point when we just have to trust God to keep them safe and get us through any difficulties.

Also water related Nate discovered during his bath time that he can capture air and that air is lighter than water.  How fun!

Nate borrowed my camera today - I love the detail of the larger leaves sheltering the smaller.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29 - Play's Dark Side

                While our play is fun, an awesome learning experience, even great for developing great relationships within our family, it does have a bit of a price.  I would be out of line if I didn’t share the dark side too.  Our dark side brings frustration for Mama and Papa and many devious attempts from Nate and Elli to avoid it all together…  Sometimes it even brings a certain amount of pain and tears.  The dark side has to be conquered to enjoy play. 

                This dark side is of course the mess, or rather the cleaning up of the mess that our play often creates.  As we remain in an almost constant state of play, we live in a cluttered house.  It is a rare moment when every toy is on the shelf.  As I look around now after an afternoon of cleaning I still see an upturned pillow pet, a piece of bread (wooden of course) on the floor, various books, a recycled boat/plane creation, binoculars, a handful of cars just to name a few things that got “missed.”  However, the Legos are all away as I requested, and so is the tea set.  I am told that this stage will pass, that one day I will have a tidy house, but for now the giggles of the football game outside overrule the desire for perfectly tidy. 

                I was told by several people early on that a clean house at this stage of life means that I don’t spend enough time enjoying and playing with my children.  This was an incredibly freeing revelation.  I do however have a responsibility to teach my children to be good stewards of their belongings and our house.  This is a delicate balance and as they get older they are sharing more of the responsibility of the work behind play.  This does not always go over well.

                David Elkind identifies three primary drives* for us.  Love, play, work.  He goes on to say that we cannot enjoy one if the others are not present.  This is true of our play.  If we do not do the “work” related to play, our play is not as enjoyable.  Nate always loves it when his room is clean, spending hours playing in it shortly after each thorough cleaning.  This cleaning is often painful.  He has to throw out some of his collections to create space.  Sometimes there are tears.  He has to give up some play time to tidy up.  There may be more tears.  However the end result is worth it and he finds reward in a more spacious enjoyable play space. 

                Nate is starting to really get it.  Sometimes you have to clean to be able to play.  Today was one of those cases.  There was something that he and Elli wanted to do, but I said the Legos had to be picked up first.  I was working on dinner in the kitchen.  Every few minutes I’d hear, “Elli!” in an exasperated tone.  “Elli, we not going to be able to go for a walk if we don’t pick up.  You want to go for a walk don’t you?  Well me and Mama are going to go and you’ll have to stay here!”  Then I would hear Nate picking up some more.  “Elli!”  He was getting really grouchy.  Elli was not cooperating or doing her fair share.  Finally I called him into the kitchen for this conversation:

“Nate, you’re feeling really frustrated that Elli won’t help, but yelling at her isn’t helping her want to help you.”

“No, I’m the only one who’s cleaning!”

“Well, that’s not quite true; Mama’s working on the dishes and making dinner.  How about if you try something different with Elli?  What if you made cleaning into a game, not one with winners and losers, but a game?” 

Nate skips out of the kitchen.

“Elli, why don’t we play a game without winners and losers where we throw the Legos into the bucket!”

                Eureka!  Within five minutes they’re telling me they’re almost done.  I come and inspect, sure enough they are.  They’re getting into this cleaning thing.  I give them a few more manageable tasks.  I can vacuum!  I’m happy!

                While I do not have this dark side of play conquered I’m working on it.  I realized today as I was listening to Nate try to get Elli to help that he probably sounds like I often do when I’m trying to get them to clean.  Yikes!  Time for a new strategy. 

I spy anyone?

* I think that we identify other drives/needs beyond these three.  Elkind relates these other needs back into these three.

Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28 - Does God Play?

               I’m wrestling with this topic as I write it.  It’s not that I struggle with my belief or even with the concept, but rather with how to adequately do it justice.  I’m wrestling with how to talk about God and play without making it trite.  So here goes…

                So for a little background, I believe we have an amazingly awesome God who created the Heavens and the Earth.  Once they were created he sought to fill them with wonderful things including all sorts of plants, animals, natural wonders, and of course people.  He made people to be able to fellowship with him.  He loved them. To truly love you have to have a choice, so God created people with the capacity to choose.  As we know Adam and Eve chose the forbidden fruit and therefore chose to follow their desires instead of the life God had laid out for them.  This is when things got off kilter and a curse was put on the earth.  If you read Genesis 1-3 it lays out the whole story.  It describes the depth of the beauty that God created and describes the fall. 

                When I look around me today, especially at the natural world, I see great beauty and an amazing capacity to enjoy it all.  Yes, things are still messed up. While Jesus came to give people an opportunity to restore our relationship with God, the world itself will not be perfected until the creation of a new Heaven and a new Earth (Isaiah 66:22).  But as I was saying the natural world so beautiful.  I enjoy it immensely.  The beauty in each item is exquisite when I stop to look closely.  I love going on walks with the kids or playing in the yard and discovering something new and wonderful.  When I look closely at something as commonplace as a dandelion I see something gorgeous. Then when I consider the beautiful places to explore, open spaces to run, trees to climb, streams to follow, and lakes to swim, I am blown away.

                All of this points to a God that likes play.  Why else would he create us with our capacity to move, dance, swim, skip, and run?  Why would he create such places to explore if we were not meant to explore them?  Why do we have a desire to explore them? Then I get to thinking, is play an act of worship?  While I’m not an expert, I kind of think it is.  If we’re out enjoying the creation in a way that honors the creation and choosing to recognize the Creator, then I feel like play, especially in the natural environment, can be worshipful. 

                I also watch my children as they dance especially at church.  It’s beautiful.  They dance in response to their desire to interact with God.  It’s their offering.  While they have no formal dance experience, there is a grace and elegance to their dancing that is often not present when they dance at home.  It’s hard to describe, but their bodies at play/dance are worshipping God. 

                So this is what I’m thinking.  God loves us.  He created us with a need for play.  Does this mean that he has a desire to play with us?  When I feel like God is speaking to me I feel a deep inner joy similar to that which of a child who is totally engrossed in play.  Is God waiting for us to acknowledge him in all areas of our life, including our play?  Can we play with God? 

Don't you just want to kayak down this river and stop to climb that tree?

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27 - A Penny Show

               Recently a friend posted that her son loved listening to the Star Wars station on Pandora.  I love Star Wars music, but had never thought to create a Pandora station around it.  I immediately remedied this situation.  The depths of John William’s scores are so alive, transporting you out of your house somewhere else. 

                With my newly created Star Wars station as a backdrop to this afternoon’s play, Nate and Elli had an amazingly creative kid directed, TV free playtime.  While Nate has never seen Star Wars he is captivated by the idea of space travel and concept of battles between the good guys and bad guys.  Initially I had turned on the music as a backdrop to a painting project.  Shortly after the music began, I was the only one painting.  Nate and Elli returned to yesterday’s Lego play for quite a while, with a much better give and take than we saw yesterday.  I happily painted away; listening to them play.  Spy music is very fun to paint too; my brush just wanted to leap around the paper creating lots of stops and starts that incorporated curves. 

                As a song would catch their attention they would stop playing and go to the computer to see what a song was.  At one point, Nate noticed that it was a Transformers song, another interest that must have grown out of playing at school.  He and Elli stopped playing with the Legos and turned into Transformers zooming around the room.  Elli was a pink Transformer that twirled.  It was not long until they were looking for the puppet stage and drawing their own paper Transformer puppets. 

                One of them came up with the idea that they should put on a show for us when Jeff came home from work.  The stage was set up facing the couch so we could have comfy seats.  It was determined that we would be charged $ .01 each to view the show.  Jeff, being a gentleman, generously paid my admission when he was greeted at the door by two eager children. 

                Nate prepared the puppets backstage while Elli came out to greet their audience.  “Hello, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to our show!  I’ll tell you a few jokes before the show starts.”  We sat with anticipation.  Elli’s delivery of the following jokes was priceless and had us in stitches.

“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Banana who?”
“Banana crossed the road!”
“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Apple who?”
“Apple crossed the road with the banana!” 

                The show began.  The first round was very quick.  Nate used the puppets he’d made and Elli used her princess wand as a shooting star.  Both shows were battle scenes and good triumphed... I think.  Then Nate grabbed the finger puppet box, a repurposed Oatmeal box.  Out tumbled a bunch of puppets.  The spider, dragon, king, queen, and princess were chosen for a rather complex impromptu show about a spider knight who captured a dragon and locked him in the Lego jail.  The dragon somehow escaped and kidnapped the queen locking her in the jail.  The king rescued his queen while the knight spider recaptured and did away with the dragon.  Between each scene the carefree singing princess took center stage singing and “twirling.”  The show was priceless and well worth the $.01 entry fee. 
The casts from their puppet shows.
          Nate got home from school at 2:30 and I went to grab supper a little after 5:00.  For two and a half hours they were totally engaged with a backdrop of John Williams and other related composers.  Their play often mirrored the music.  It was delightful.  These times are so important for their development. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26 - Legos and Learning

                Legos truly are one of the most amazing toys ever invented.  How many other toys are there that change with your child, and can be added to over time?  Legos last!  We have some 25 year old Legos mixed in with the newer sets and you can’t really even tell them apart.  Legos capture the imaginations of boys and girls, young and old.  They’re compact and when we’re not playing with them they can easily tucked away.  Now that the kids are “older” I would probably choose Legos as our favorite toy. 

                Today Nate came home with a new book from the school library featuring Legos in space.  Upon walking in the door he immediately went to the Legos and started making “his own Lego kit.”  This included scalping pieces from other vehicles to make a space station, rockets, and Mars rovers.  His creations then played out the story in the book and went on some new adventures.  This is an exciting process to be a part of; a display of what true play is really all about.  Using his imagination he stepped beyond the original use of toy to imagine new scenarios.  He was focused and doing it because it's what he wanted to do.  It was totally intrisically motivated.

                Nate included Elli and me in his play after a bit of a chat about letting us play creatively too.  When he first invited us to sit down, he kept taking things out of our hands and being bossy about what pieces we could use or not use.  He wanted us to play, but he wanted us to share his vision.  The problem was that he hadn’t shared his vision, nor was he communicating his desire for us to play with him properly.  Our chat basically went like this.  “Nate, you invited us to play.  If you don’t allow us to play in our way (using the pieces we want to use) then it’s not fun for us.  We want to play with you, but we want to be able to build using the extra pieces to connect with your story.  If this can’t happen, then we might go play something else.”  This seemed to get through and I got an “ok.”  From then on we were each able to add our contribution to the space play.  Elli contributed a girl in a tank top who Nate helped equip with a breathing apparatus so she could live in space.  It turned out to be a really fun time.

                One of the major benefits of play is this development of social skills.  When we play we have to learn social norms.  Today Nate learned that if he was rigid and didn’t allow input from others, we would find something else to do.  Sometimes play is about learning to interact with people that you don’t like and helping them feel included (Paley, 1993).  Play also teaches us that it’s ok to stand up for what we want; Elli saw this demonstrated today.  I could have gotten up and left without expressing my frustration.  I could have also grabbed the Legos and insisted that I be allowed to use the pieces.  However by using my words I was able to model an appropriate solution.  Hopefully this is a lesson that will stick. 

An interesting read about sharing and inclusion:

Paley, V. (1993) You can’t say you can’t play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25 - Relative Silence

                Here I sit; taking in the relative silence…it’s beautiful.  The kids are in bed with their music playing.  Much of today was loud.  Nate and Elli seem to have broken volume switches.  Sometimes they work if you hold your mouth just right.  I’m not complaining I really wouldn’t have it any other way.  Just enjoying and reflecting.

                Ells and I went to the library today - a very busy day there.  Thirteen moms, their children, and a small pig.  Story hour was about… you guessed it… pigs.  It was a cute little piglet and the kids loved it.  Elli described it as soft instead of spikey.  They made pig puppets.  Elli picked out a selection of new books and we came home with a full bag once again.  We’re going to miss story hour next year once Elli starts preschool three days a week although we’ll still make regular trips to the library I’m sure!

The adventurers!
                This afternoon we set out on an adventure to find an old garden that we’ve been given permission to use.  Nate drew a wonderfully detailed map and led our expedition.  The kids were appalled at the amount of litter on the trail.  It’s becoming our Green Up Day project.  Although we searched for signs of the old garden we came up empty.  However, I’m very excited because there is a small stream nearby and I know the kids are going to have so much fun splashing about in it this summer.  Nate and Elli were also delighted at the discovery of burdocks, actually wanting to plant them in our garden.  Ahhh…. yeah…no! They did have a good time playing with the stickiness of a few. 

Some of the litter!
                Upon arriving back home we had to immediately set to making signs to tell the students not to pollute.  Nate hopes to teach the students that it’s not ok.  He drew an angry bunny and a sad deer to show them how the animals feel when we don’t use a trash can.  Our signs will probably get hung up tomorrow; Nate said we need to hang them really, really well so they don’t become litter.

                So apparently we have lost that nice little boy “vroom” that accompanies matchbox play.  We have traded it for a “begin deep in the throat, soul rattling     vvVVVVrrrRRRRRRRooOOOOOmmMMMM.”   Every time I hear it I jump.  Nate says that real racecars hurt your ears and he’s trying to be real.  In spite of his propensity to randomly rev his engine, we had a fun time playing cars on his purple track. 

                The random revving combined with their desire to challenge everything that I said made for a long afternoon.  However, books came to my rescue.  After dinner and cleanup we snuggled in on the couch so Nate could do his daily reading.  After six stories, four read by Nate, we were all in a much better place. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 24 - Hopping a Jet to Mexico!

Mayan Ruins on Mexico's Yucatan Pennisula

So Nate was very excited when I dropped him off at school today.  This afternoon he and his class are departing for Mexico! They will be flying for five hours landing in Mexico City.  Their itinerary states that they will be visiting the”Sonoran Desert, Mexico’s rainforests, the ancient Mayan ruins in Chitchen Itza, the beaches of Acapulco and the Mexican farmland.  We will see an active volcano erupt and will visit Tijuana to browse the open market for souvenirs and listen to a mariachi band!”  They will be gone for three weeks.  Nate warned me that he might miss his swim lessons.  He even wanted me to go with him and was a little concerned when I said I couldn’t. 

Teachers who incorporate play into learning are wonderful!  I do not doubt that there will be some kindergarteners at JES that will some day visit Mexico as a result of their three week exploration of our Southern neighbor.  The imaginative side of play helps us connect with real life concepts.  Our imaginations can take us places that we cannot go on our own.  It would be nearly impossible to take thirty kindergarteners to Mexico for three weeks.  Imagine bedtime with that many five and six year olds!  However, as the teachers tell stories and transform their classrooms they provide  the students just enough information to let their imaginations run.   Much better than worksheets any day! 

Pottery Shop in Playa del Carmen

When our teachers and mentors embrace the imaginary it gives our children permission to do the same too.  Kathy Hirsh-Pakek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (2003) reference the concept of convergent and divergent problems.  Convergent problems only have one solution while divergent problems can have a wide variety of solutions.  Imaginative play/learning gives kids a way of opening the door to future solutions to divergent problems.  When you are invited to use your imagination you can find solutions to all sorts of everyday situations.  In his book, Play, Stuart Brown (2007) gives the striking example of the differences between old engineers and young engineers and their abilities to solve problems.  Employers were finding that older engineers were much more likely to problem solve on the fly.  They could take a problem and see a range of solutions, whereas the younger engineers would often get stuck behind the problem.  It eventually came out that the older engineers had spent much more time in play.  Play gives us the ability to solve problems creatively. 

Fantasy play can also provide us with a script for life (Hirsh-Pakek & Golinkoff, 2003).  Nate’s class is gaining a script for travel.  How do you navigate an airport?  What are the words used?  How do you act when you travel?  What’s ok, what’s not?  This is a new script for many of these kindergarteners who may have never traveled outside of Vermont before.  Pretend play gives us practice scripts for all sorts of situations including the everyday.  Think about what our kids often play… When Elli’s hosting a tea party she’s practicing how to be a good host.  When Nate’s a chef presenting us with our “food” he’s learning the art of presentation.  When they’re shopping for items from all over the house they’re learning valuable skills about selection and searching for treasures.  Speaking of shopping, playing store introduces early math as they make change and figure out if Nate is charging a fair price for that car. 

“When imagination is unleashed, learning is truly meaningful.”

 (p. 257, Hirsh-Pakek & Golinkoff, 2003)

The beach outside our room - 2005 trip

Books referenced:

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., & Eyer, D. (2003) Einstein never used flash cards. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc.

Brown, S. and Vaughn, C. (2007). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul.  New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Laundry Soap

     I am constantly losing this in the months between batches of laundry soap, so I'm posting it on here so I know where to look!  My sister in law Jessica shared it and it is good stuff.  Clothes get clean and it's saved us lots of money.  

Laundry Soap

Heat 6 cups of water and 1/3 bar of grated Fells Naptha Soap (Bar of soap in laundry aisle. Under $1.50) Stir in 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup of Borax. Mix and heat until dissolved. Boil 15 minutes. Remove from heat. In a 3 or 5 gallon pail, add 1 quart of hot water, then add the soap mixture. Mix, add enough cold water to make 2 gallons. Mix until well blended. Let sit 24 hours. Use 1/2 cup for each load. Shake stir before each use. (It may be slightly gloppy). If water is hard add 1/2 cup Borax with the detergent to the wash for whites.

It works really well and lasts a long time. Once you've bought the initial ingredients you can make a ton.

I use about a half cup with each load. 

Laundry soap for all of life's sticky messes!

April 23 - All In Good Time

               Red, green, yellow, blue!  As I work on today's post, Elli’s preschool class is being introduced to a parachute for the first time at school.  For most this is their first experience with one.   Elli’s teacher gives clear direction to sit around the parachute with their hands in their laps. 

“What do you observe about the parachute?” she asks.

“It’s big!”

“It’s like a ball!”

“It has lots of colors!”

“It looks like a beach ball!”

“Let’s warm up our fingers,”  she says. Then they sing a song.

“Everyone find a handle…  We’re going to be safe, let’s not go under it.”

“Let’s sing, Where is thumbkin!” 

The teacher's voice gets hushed –“We’re going to do what’s called the wave.  Move your hand up and down.  Freeze."  They practice without holding the chute's handles.

"Do you think we’re ready to do it now?”

A chorus of yeses. 

Lots of rustling,

“Let’s have a sleeping wave.”

“A medium wave!”

“A fast wave. “


“Oh it’s getting sleepy again!”

“We’re going to do the parachute to the music.  When we hear the music stop, we’re going to make it stop.”  There is a sound of much movement with periodic silence when the music says freeze. 

“Did you have fun?” Elli teacher asks.

“Yeah!” the little voices cry out.  “More!”

“Let’s walk it on it. Ok, let’s go back to the classroom.”

And then they were gone almost as quickly as they came.  Today was an introduction to parachute play.  It helped to establish the boundaries.  It has been my experience that kids almost always love the parachute and look forward to its appearance.  However in their eagerness to play with a parachute it’s easy to overlook safety.  Elli’s teacher knew her group of 3 & 4 year olds well and helped them to learn the rules of the parachute so everyone could have fun. 

As an adult bystander, sitting in the next room working on homework, it would be easy for me to be bummed out over this experience.  I adored the parachute as a child.  Why didn’t they try a mushroom, or cat and mouse?  As parents we want our children to immediately experience all of the fun and joy in something that we once did.  Sometimes we even forget that we were often introduced to some of our first play experiences slowly and methodically.  We want to rush in and give our kids everything – even if they’re not developmentally ready yet.  I know that I’ve been guilty of this at times.  We forget that our children need to explore things at their own pace, albeit sometimes with guidance.  We expect perfection or completion when it’s often about experience for our kids.  Today, Elli’s class had a wonderful experience of the colors, feel, and sounds of the parachute.  Everyone was safe and learned what was expected.  Was it true play?  Probably not under many definitions, but it set the groundwork for future play. 

I mentioned that I adored parachutes as a child.  Later as a young Recreation Director, I actually came to dislike them for a while.  While the kids loved them, parachutes were often a logistical nightmare.  How would you keep little Sarah from dodging underneath or getting trampled?  Could I get the kids to stop tugging long enough to explain the next game?  How do you choose the next players while keeping everyone else happy doing the wave?  When does the fun turn into disaster?  Parachutes really stressed me out.  Why?  Because I wanted to jump right in.  My memories of being a child often set up some unsafe situations.  After my first few times out with the parachute on my own, I really learned to be much more purposeful in my introduction and safety guidelines.  And guess what?  The kids ended up having a much better time when clear guidelines where shared from the beginning.  These guidelines also allowed me to relax and enjoy my time with the kids and the parachute.  As a parent, we now own two chutes.  They really are wonderful when you can balance safety with fun!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22 - A Good Read

Nate drew this picture for J.J the owner of Ebenezers.
One of our favorite places in town!
                So I made the mistake the other night of peaking inside the mystery novel that was sitting on Jeff’s night stand.  Hmmm…. I love mysteries, and I here I sit, typing. It’s calling my name on the arm of the couch.  Who killed the redheaded stranger?  Could it have possibly had something to do with the missing piece of pie?  I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.    This is not a great time in the semester for me to be starting any non-classwork reading. 

                In our house we all love reading.  Books capture our imaginations and allow our minds to play.  Nate has been devouring books as an early reader and in reality is probably a better reader as a kindergartener than I was as a third grader.  Jeff was an early reader too and his parents were warned by his second grade teacher that perhaps they should help him choose his reading materials as not all articles in the Reader’s Digest were appropriate for young children.  Elli shows strong signs of reading as well. 

It excites me that Nate and Elli are doing so well in the reading department.  I stayed back after my first year of third grade specifically because of my low reading abilities.  While I struggled with reading, it was not for lack of having parents who are avid readers or a neglect of reading to me.  They read to me a lot.  Between those two years of third grade my parents had me work with a local tutor and I entered my second year of third grade as an avid reader not afraid to tackle anything.  My favorite reads as a child primarily were mysteries; the Happy Holisters, Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, Mandy, and Nancy Drew regularly captivated my attention.  I’d then incorporate these stories into my own fantasy play solving mysteries and running from bad guys. 

I was recently doing some reading as part of my classwork related to children’s acquisition of reading skills (Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2003).  Parents can really give their children a leg up by making reading an everyday event.  Regular reading helped children learn to read far above anything else.  Children of parents who read to them regularly were much stronger readers than those who didn’t.  Why is reading so important?  The authors suggested that reading increases a child’s vocabulary.  Children with larger vocabularies find it easier to learn to read.  The skill of storytelling piggybacked on top of regular reading promotes early literacy even more.  Storytelling allows the listener to understand something without the contextual cues that we have in normal conversations.  When you think about this, books often include details that are not in a child’s everyday experiences, being able to decode these are vital.  Reading is a lifelong passion, which presents new possibilities for our minds to play with.  I’m pretty excited that we get to be a part of our children’s reading journeys in such a concrete way!

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., & Eyer, D. (2003) Einstein never used flash cards. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21 - The Director

                “Mama, you’re the baby.  Baby’s say, ‘Ga, ga, goo, chew.’ You need to learn to talk, baby, you don’t talk very well.”  - Elli this evening

                 Play allows the child to be the director.  Recently I’ve noticed Nate and Elli creating a running narrative to accompany their play.  This narrative seems to serve two purposes.  It keeps the story going and it serves to let their playmate know what they should be doing.  There’s often a switching easily between giving directions and narration.  

                Sometimes this narrative mimics real life and others it seems to simply come out of their imaginations.  Either way it is very real to them at that moment.  It is not uncommon to watch an internal monologue turn external for a while, and then slip back in for a bit.

                Any object or person can become the main character in a child’s narrative.  Tonight, I attended a bridal shower where two young girls transformed the favors, mirrors, into living characters who acted out their stories.    I am still in the process of reading David Elkind’s Power of Play and read today how he feels that kids have too many toys.  He states that too many toys can distract kids rather than helping them to focus and use the toys to create story.  If the girls at the shower had been in a room full of toys would they have had such rich story lines or would they have just been entertained bouncing from toy to toy?  Meaningful play takes time to develop.  The narrative is worked and reworked until the child develops it to a place where she is happy with the outcome.  This experimentation builds a richness and depth to our play and lives. 

                Legos are universally one of my personal favorite toys. I'm excited that Nate and Elli have now entered a stage where they play with them allowing this ongoing creativity. They build and set up scenes and story. Last week they created a Sweet Genius kitchen, yesterday it was boats; today it was creating racecars on the track. Legos leave room for the child or adult to be in charge of the play.
Nate's farmer is now a police officer.

Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20 - When Play Comes to the Rescue

              Today the kids played quite a bit, even though I didn’t.  They spent the morning playing with friends at church and then we came home for rest time.  Jeff surprised us with coming home early for his birthday and we ventured out on an expedition.  Sometimes our adventures go smoothly, sometimes not so much.  While today was not necessarily bad, it didn’t go quite how we pictured it.  Nate and Elli ended up being more tired than anticipated and therefore moved very slowly and were whiny and competitive.  On our way back Nate’s foot fell asleep and he was complaining about it being prickly.  Elli chimed in that hers was prickly too.  I could feel my inner lion rising up; when Jeff said his feet were prickly too!  This totally silly comment tamed the lion and helped to set things right again.  David Elkind has a chapter in his book The Power of Play about lighthearted parenting and the use of humor.  I can totally relate.  Jeff’s over the top comment made Elli’s competitiveness and Nate’s whininess more bearable, even comical. 

Mr. Bear - the unsuspecting
superhero of our fabric store
                When we think about it play can often come to the rescue.  We had an example yesterday of going to the fabric store – not a task that I typically enjoy with two kids in tow unless we’re working on a specific project.  Yesterday I had to make up for a past oversight when getting some fabric for a dress I’m making Elli.  We had one specific item – theoretically an in, out, and done.  However, this is the fabric store and anything can happen.  On the way out of the car, Nate asked if he could bring his dog Tucker which triggered Elli to ask if she could bring Mr. Bear in.  Oftentimes this is a no, but in this case I was thinking if their hands were full then perhaps there would be less touching. We quickly found our fabric and then stood in line for 15 minutes waiting for it to be cut.  The kids, having their stuffies, proceeded to play nicely while we waited.  Play really did save the day! 

A couple of years ago I discovered play to be an incredibly helpful tool in the doctor's office.  I often bring a box of crayons for our wait.  The paper on the doctor's table makes a great canvas for some impromptu art that keeps little hands busy and helps little minds be less anxious.

Another great read on play:

Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play.  Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19 - Dirt Under Our Nails

The very cool plant pot from Grammy.
Nate is very glad that it is no longer
holding newspapers. 
Dirt under our fingernails, seeds in the pot, weeds plucked out of the garden, and dumped… well, in the “dump,” equals a couple of happy children.  Grampa gave us seeds and Grammy sent home the beloved plant pot today.  So the stage was set.  After a long car ride back from New Hampshire the kids were ready to be out In the sun getting their hands dirty.  There is something truly magical about planting seeds.  You take this hard little object, drop it in some dirt, water it, make sure it has space once in awhile and then the miracle of growth takes place. 

This round of planting did not take very long and the kids were eager to continue their gardening adventures.  Each took ownership of one of the tulips* that was planted last fall.  They pulled the weeds growing around them and brought them up to their dump in Nate’s dumptruck.  The tulips must have their space.  Then the watering commenced.  There are a lot of things that Elli and Nate play, but watering always increases their excitement.  Somehow carrying little watering cans from the bathroom sink outside gives them great joy and trails of water from the sink out the door…

In a time when our generation of kids has been characterized as having a nature deficit, I am so thrilled to see my children getting excited to be outdoors interacting with the natural environment around us.  While conceptually I understand that there are more things competing for our children’s time, I struggle with this notion of nature deficit.  Maybe it’s where we live, but I see opportunities for children to connect with nature as being easy.  Kids are eager to engage with the natural world.  With very little adult effort kids experience great joy over natural things. Perhaps the reason for nature deficit is that, in many cases, connection with nature does require some effort from parents.  Effort takes energy and in a society that is often overextended, there’s not always much left for play in general. 

* My friend John shared his daughter’s favorite joke a couple of years ago -  “What kind of flower grows between your nose and chin?”  “Tulips!”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18 - Play Memories

           Today Nate, Elli, and I went to the Montshire Museum of Science with friends.  We regularly visit this museum thanks to the gift of an annual membership from Mom and Dad, aka Grammy & Grampa.  The Montshire is one of my favorite places to go with the kids.  It's always changing and capturing our imaginations.  One day it may be playing with air tubes and foam balls, another its dropping helicopters on the unsuspecting visitors below, or discovering and playing with the fog in the special "hidden" fog room.  Whatever the highlight is that day there is almost always a significant stop by the colony of leaf cutter ants.  Nate and Elli have spent amazing amounts of time watching and feeding these little creatures.  The colony is relatively large and somewhere hidden in there is the queen, who is reported to be about the size of my pinkie.  We are all in awe of these little ants that cut such massive pieces of leaves and stagger back to the fungus garden with them. 

            One of the reasons that the Montshire is so special to me is that I kind of grew up with it.  The experiences it gave me really helped to foster my joy of learning and playing.  When I was a young child I have memories of visiting it often at it's Lyme, NH location.  I remember, it being fairly small with maybe four or five rooms.  Even then it captured me and I loved to visit.  I remember Stanley the snake (Stanley turned out to be a girl), the huge dinosaur fossil, dissecting owl pellets, and even a special Halloween visit where we got to touch oozy, gross things.  As I got older the Montshire took some special shows on the road.  I learned that you could shatter a rose and a raquet ball, make snowshoes out of some black pipe, awesome ice cream in a recycled can, and even learned how to make a boomerang using two rulers.  As a young teenager we moved out of the area, but then came back. The Montshire made a move too to its current location in Norwich, VT.  I remember the awesome experience of taking my Grandmother there when I was in my early twenties.  I remember her wonder at it all, and enjoyment in seeing the "clockworks" upstairs. These reminded her of my grandfather who had had a love for building clocks.  I still cannot pass through the upstairs section without thinking of her, and him.  Now I take my children there and the joy of discovery continues.  It's pretty amazing.   

          I am so glad to have this special place of play, memories, and learning.  What's yours?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17 - Kissing Hand Day

              According to Nate April 17 is now officially Kissing Hand Day.  When I asked him what we do on Kissing Hand Day he said we could have candy and kiss each other’s hands as the raccoons do in the Audrey Penn's book to show our love.  The basic story line goes something like this: little raccoon is nervous about going off to school and his mama gives him a kiss in the center of palm and then closes his hand around it.  She explains that anytime he is missing her or is anxious he can hold the hand up to his cheek and know that she loves him.  So basically Nate wants a day set aside to know that he is loved and to receive candy.  Isn’t this what every kid wants? 

                This idea came after a lot of car and errand time as well as a trip to the dentist and a candy shop.  Yes, I know those last two things probably shouldn’t go together.  Bravery and no cavities should warrant some sort of reward!  Nate had been sitting in the back seat quietly and then shared this idea.  Although I’m not sure exactly what brought him to the point of creating a new holiday, I know that he must have been playing with different ideas to pass the time.  This one sounds pretty good!

                Tomorrow they’ll see a lot more car time and have another day of adventures at the Montshire.  I’ll be away from a computer, so tomorrow’s update will come Thursday evening.