Posts Tagged ‘ Childhood Play ’

Why Playfulness Is More Important Than Play

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

We all know that it is critical for kids of all ages to play. And we know that play can take many forms. But there’s a deeper idea about the importance for kids to learn how to be playful – and how that spirit should permeate their development.

Such is the advice given by Steve Gross, Executive Director – and Chief Playmaker – of The Life is good Playmakers, the action arm of The Life is good Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Life is good to raise money to help kids in need. Life is good is a company with a positive purpose and is committed to spreading the power of optimism and donating 10% of its net profits to helping kids in need through The Life is good Kids Foundation.

Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker, Life is good Playmakers

The Life is good Kids Foundation directly funds the Life is good Playmakers program. The Life is good Playmakers provide training and support to childcare professionals, who use these tools to ensure that children grow up feeling safe, loved and joyful.

Steve certainly champions the essential nature of play in a kid’s life  (“Children need food and water to survive, but to truly live, they’ve gotta play”). But he points out that we often get the message that play happens in a designated time and space and includes specific activities – which means much of the time we don’t harness the power of playfulness in the majority of moments in a kid’s everyday life. He suggests that we want kids to develop the trait of playfulness as a style they bring to everything they do. Steve defines playfulness as “the motivation to freely and joyfully engage with, connect with, and explore the surrounding world.” It’s an attitude, and a style, that provides a cognitive and emotional platform for kids to embrace themselves and fuel for them to bring themselves to the world in a positive way.

Four ingredients make up Steve’s recipe for playfulness:

AFFECT: Kids need to experience joyfulness in their everyday moments – not just the time that’s “reserved” for play. Most of the opportunities for “play” happen in real time. Steve gives a wonderful example of how getting a kid ready to go to play is an ideal time to promote joyfulness – and also a moment that often turns in the other direction for parents. Rather than getting stressed about making sure a toddler has their shoes on and their coat ready, how about treating THAT time as the time to get silly and experience joy and anticipation. It may be even more fun than when you actually get outside to “play.” It’s these little moments that define the affective climate for a child – and bringing anticipation, lightness, joy, and overt silliness to the everyday tasks infuses a kid with a playful spirit that makes most of the day feel like play rather than the other way around.

SOCIAL CONNECTION: Interacting with people is play. It’s as important – if not more important – that your kid is looking at you and seeing you laugh and smile and express joy when you are playing than being engaged in the play itself. Think about all the moments you have to simply talk to your kid – especially babies and toddlers. Don’t underestimate how fun and rewarding (at a very deep level) it is for your kid to explore your face and your emotions and your tone of voice. It’s a constant stream of engaging content for them that they could never find in a toy or a device. So Steve proposes that treating the everyday interaction moments as opportunities to cultivate joyfulness helps a kid discover the power of social connection.

INTERNAL CONTROL: Steve suggests that kids need to feel like they are in control of themselves, and that the world is a safe place for them. They need to feel like they can explore without fear of bad consequences. Sure, you need to keep your kid safe. But a constant stream of “No No No” communicates two things to a little one: the world isn’t safe to explore, and your little one is not competent enough to explore it. One of the tricks of the trade is to practice redirection: rather than saying “Don’t do that!” focus on saying, “Do this instead!” Cultivate the curiosity and direct it in a safe way. That way, you are following Steve’s advice by showing your kid how to explore the world in a safe manner and you are making them feel like they can – and should – follow their instincts to do that.

ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: One of the wonderful deliverables of playfulness is the ability to be focused and get in the flow of an activity – whatever that activity happens to be. Steve’s conception of active engagement is a core part of what we think of as creativity. Kids need to get lost in the moment, block out everything else, and just follow where the experience takes them. As Steve points out, this doesn’t just happen during what we think of as “play” (although those are of course opportune times to witness this). For younger kids, it can be looking at rocks, following a bug, watching mom put on lipstick, or playing with a zipper on a pocketbook. For older kids, “play” can involve math, English, science, music – whatever turns them on. This all goes to Steve’s overriding message – it’s all about kids bringing a sense of playfulness to everything they do.

In the busy world we live in, we often think it is difficult to find time to play with our kids and give our kids opportunities to play. But if we embrace the philosophy of Steve Gross – Executive Director AND Chief Playmaker of the Life is good Playmakers– we see that we actually have more than enough time to infuse our kids with a sense of playfulness, and a trait that will serve them well for their entire lifetime.

Steve in Haiti

Images courtesy of Life is good



Add a Comment

Enrichment + Protection = Healthy Development

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Such is a key take-home message from the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity - held in Boston on Friday, April 5th as part of the ongoing celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boston Children’s Museum.

This meeting brought together leaders from pediatrics, developmental science, public health, the non-profit sector, and top business leaders in the Boston region. The focus was on sharing new ideas about the challenges that some kids and families face, along with possible creative solutions to ensure that kids have early experiences that serve as a platform for healthy and adaptive development. And the idea of thinking about “enrichment” and “protection” as critical components of a child’s rearing environment particularly resonated with me.

This idea was offered by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, who is the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. As discussed by Dr. Shonkoff, “enrichment” refers to all the good things parents should be doing in the early years to promote social, emotional, and cognitive development. These are the fundamental building blocks of parenting, including spending lots of time talking to babies and toddlers, being emotionally responsive and engaged, and promoting and supporting curiosity and play. But Dr. Shonkoff emphasized – using the platform of neuroscience research – how critical it is that babies and toddlers also be protected from the toxic effects of excessive stress. Overexposure to harsh rearing environments – including those characterized by overt discord, anger, hostility, and criticism – can take a psychological toll in the early years which can have lasting effects due to the neurodevelopmental sensitivity to extreme stress. Even babies and toddlers can show stress responses that get turned on too much – and don’t shut down quick enough – which predicts a host of problems down the road, both in terms of cognitive and social functioning as well as physical health.

Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Harvard University

By integrating the concepts of enrichment and protection, we have a framework that simultaneously emphasizes both the good things that parents should be doing lots of, and the bad things that parents shouldn’t do much at all. For those of us who study kids – and in particular track kids from infancy through adulthood – we keep seeing more and more evidence that those early years matter greatly in terms of influencing brain development at a critical period of life. Putting effort into enrichment and providing protection against toxic stress is indeed an equation that predicts healthy development (physical and psychological) from the early years all the way into adulthood.

Photo of Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, addressing the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity meeting (April 5, 2013, Boston, MA) courtesy of Gus Freedman


Add a Comment