Our guest today is Jacqui Couper – an occupational therapist, wife and mother. This post first appeared here, and we are so grateful that Jacqui was happy for us to share it.
Have you ever felt that awkwardness of saying something to a group of people and the response is complete silence? Not a word, not a smile, only quiet. Even though the silence may not be long, the waiting for any response drags giving you time to think again about what you have just said.
This happened to me after giving a short talk about ‘The Power of Play’ for the Western Cape Department of Health First Thousands Days network meeting. I waited in the silence wondering what I had said that caused such a still response. Could it have been that I ended my talk with the words?“If relationships matter, play is the medium”
The First Thousand Days programme is a national initiative promoting the well-being of infants from conception to two years. The three pillars of the programme are Grow, Love and Play. As with so many programmes, the focus is on nutrition and survival as first priorities. Attachment and bonding have been added as part of love. Play sits poorly defined in a space that is not clear, as it is not seen as an equal priority to other more complex and demanding needs. Play is seen to be so simple that everyone must obviously know about it and thus it is not given the attention it deserves.
The theme that “Relationships matter” has become key in the First thousand Days campaign and also the recently launched WHO Nurturing Care Framework. My reason for making the simple and yet strong statement “If relationships matter, play is the medium” is that play connects humans. When the group members at the First Thousand Days meeting emerged out of their silence, their first response was, ‘yes!’ Play connects even strangers and diverse people together in a fun and equal way. A story was told about a new group of mothers from different backgrounds who were meeting for the first time. They were standing around uncomfortably looking at each other – until they played a simple game, which was ‘Stand up if your baby has messed all over you’, and ‘Hands up if you are tired from sleep deprivation’ etc. Standing, putting hands up, laughing and recognizing that each had a similar experience immediately connected the group.
Then, after my presentation, stories about play and memories of positive play experiences flowed out of the silence, such as cooking with grandmother, playing with sand, clay and water and making things out of scrap. Play forms our experiences and relationships with each other. This forms us into the people we become and the memories that we treasure.
Play is the link between the other two themes in the First thousand Days programme, which is Grow and Love. Family meal times can be an important time when stories are shared, jokes are told, tears are shed, and food is enjoyed (if there is food available for which we must always be thankful). We can no longer afford to encourage adequate nutrition or the survival of young children without also promoting development and play. Surviving and thriving in childhood go hand in hand together.
Play is not only for children. We all need to play. Play is good for everyone. Adults who are involved in play, such as sport, creative arts, music, and dance, are more likely to be better connected to other people and have a more positive outlook on life. Team building exercises are mostly playful and bring relationships together.
There is much to be said about playing with children because of the joy that playfulness gives to adults. Inter-generational play is special. It has contributed towards better and positive aging and well-being in elderly people. Many studies have been done of preschool children playing with the elderly in old age homes with positive results. Play connects adults and children across generations.
Play is the starting point of creating an imagination for acting out what children see but also what they cannot see or ‘thinking out of the box’, without fear of making mistakes. This is play. I have a feeling that adults who can imagine and think differently are those who are pushing boundaries and changing society. Think of the Wright brothers for their play that developed over time into aeroplanes. We learn through play. Play is so often underestimated for its role in learning, that we limit play to focus on reaching learning goals.
Let us be open to the simplicity of play that helps us to find ourselves and each other, no matter our age and ability.
As mentioned in our last post, I’ve recently finished reading the most wonderful ebook by a lady who has pioneered and led the field of playworkers – a field that I think holds such value. In her book The Playwork Primer (2010), Penny Wilson shares the delicate tiptoe between facilitating play on the playgrounds of London, and interfering in the developmental process that is the child’s work.
Today I would like to share her explanation of the critical balance in the child’s play process. Many occupational therapists need to understand and use this concept for the beautiful art of therapy to be successful.
Below is an excerpt from the book.
Complexity theory is a way of understanding natural systems. We look at a flock of birds or a school of fish moving in magnificent order and symmetry and wonder how they can do it. Both are examples of complex adaptive systems. In these natural systems, order is not the result of a pre-established plan that maps out, say, the flock’s flight path. Instead, the overall order, the graceful flocking, emerges from a few very simple rules about finding direction, keeping a certain distance from other birds, and so on, that govern individual birds’ flying behaviours.
The theories of complexity provide some interesting metaphors for understanding playwork. Arthur Battram describes an ideal state for a play setting by likening it to a wave. Before the wave breaks, there is stasis, order. After the wave breaks, there is turbulence and chaos. At the curl of the breaking wave there is a delicate balance between order and chaos.
If we relate this to a play setting then the static, ordered state is a very controlled setting. It is rule-bound, highly organised, and prescriptive; timed activities will take place. There is no room in this play setting for the creative spontaneity of playing children. If we look at a chaotic play setting, it is poorly organised. The hours when it is open are irregular. The toilets might not work. The staff might display a wide variety of moods and temperaments, with unpredictable attitudes towards the children and their playing.
Look at the curl of the wave, which is where we surf because that is where the power is. We see the meeting of order with spontaneous activity and unpredictability. Thus, an underlying order can support freedom and unpredictable play. It is a framework for creativity. Battram offers us the image of surfing on the edge of chaos and order as a metaphor for how a play setting works. It is our role as adults to understand this and create the solid foundations on which the children play.
Isn’t that just beautiful?
I must admit that I am person who likes order and it is hard for me as parent and homemaker to be playmaker too, to stand back and watch the beautiful chaos unfold.
What are your experiences of beautiful chaos? Aren’t they some of your best memories?
I’ve just finished reading the most wonderful ebook by a lady who has pioneered and led the field of playworkers – a field that I think holds such value. In her book The Playwork Primer (2010), Penny Wilson shares the delicate tiptoe between facilitating play on the playgrounds of London, and interfering in the developmental process that is the child’s work.
Children need to organise and direct their own play, but the reality is that few of today’s children are allowed to play freely, as earlier generations were. Some don’t know how to get started. Others need some adult support. Playworkers fill this space. They:
- create playful environments
- support children’s own play
- assess risk, and
- help out when needed, without directing or controlling.
Above all, playworkers strive to be as invisible as possible.
The following is an excerpt from the book.
In 1946 a a quirk of fate led Lady Allen of Hurtwood to visit a junk playground in Copenhagen-Emdrup, designed by the architect C. Th. Sorenson in 1943. He was commissioned by the authorities to create a place for children to play in response to increased levels of child delinquency during the German occupation. So Sorenson went back to look at other playgrounds that he had designed. He found them empty. Where were the children? They were playing in the wreckage of bombed-out buildings. So this is what he created: A place with materials that children could manipulate, where they could spend hours rooting around unnoticed and lost in their own worlds.
Lady Allen said of her first visit to this playground, “I was completely swept off my feet by my first visit to the Emdrup playground. In a flash of understanding I realised that I was looking at something quite new and full of possibilities.” She brought the concept back to London and gave it the name “adventure playground”.
At that time London children had little space to play except for bomb sites left after the Second World War. Here they spent their time building, making fires, digging for treasure from the dead homes, and generally scrubbing around on their own. Lady Allen had had a very playful rural childhood. She thought that her own experiences had been ideal and recognized in the sites she created with local communities a “compensatory environment”. By this she meant they were the nearest thing to her rural childhood that could be created for urban children.
Over the next few posts I’d like to explore more of the ideas shared in this book. But for now, what is the closest thing we have to an adventure playground here in our cities? We’d love to hear from you.
Holidays and high days. Family time and high expectations for fun time together. Every now and again we’re confronted with scenes that dredge up not-so-great memories from our childhood. Maybe it’s a social situation. Sometimes it’s sensory. I’m not particularly fond of swimming. I was never a strong swimmer. We didn’t have a pool at home and I ran across the width of the pool in my Grade 1 gala. To this day, as much as I enjoy the view, the sound of the waves and the romanticism of the holiday, the beach, sand and wet costumes are not my favourite things. But I put on my mom-face and my costume and head down to the sand twice a day when we’re there.
So everyone is supposed to like fun fairs right? Water parks? Adventure courses? Big slides, rollercoasters, rocking horses and fun fairs are scary. Some little kids struggle to enjoy outings because these typically fun childhood experiences cause them so much angst. They avoid the swings and jungle gym at preschool which not only affects their gross motor development, but in turn their social development too. They become isolated and lack self-confidence.
Movement is registered and processed by part of the brain called the vestibular system. The sensory organs, located in the inner ear, have little hairs and crystals which respond to changes of the position of the head or the speed of movement of the head. Nerve signals are fired and the brain is able to adjust muscle tone to bring the body upright again. Some (most) kids love movement and spend the day seeking out movement opportunities – rolling, jumping, swinging, tumbling and sliding. Movement also has a very close relationship to the limbic system, responsible for emotion. The joy of movement feeds the desire to be active, thereby developing muscle tone and gross motor skills.
For some kids though, those little receptors in the ear are oversensitive. The rapid fire response of the nervous system to changes in head position results in a fight-or-flight response, rather than the joy we expect. Not only does the child feel fearful and avoid movement, but they also have a negative emotional response. These kids have delayed motor developed, poor balance and often low self-esteem to go with it. This often presents as whiny behaviour on a family outing that was supposed to be fun, and can negatively affect family dynamics.
If this sounds like your child, you could perhaps benefit from consultation with an occupational therapist (OT). OT’s work with children who have sensory integration difficulties. Some children need help learning how to process movement in a way that is less threatening. They also need to learn coping mechanisms, and their families need to understand how to help them. These children often struggle with car sickness. They might have had many ear infections in the past, resulting in thicker fluid in the ear which affects speech as well as movement and balance.
The vestibular system has a huge impact on behaviour – both the highs and lows of emotion. Fun fairs tend to bring out the best or worst in our little people. They are an ocean of sensory overwhelm. Noise, movement, hustling people. Not always the fun day out you wanted for your family. Here are some ideas to make the day more peaceful:
- Go early when there are less crowds
- Find a quiet corner to unwind between activities
- Take some calming snacks : chewy dried fruit, biltong, popcorn
- Drink a thick drink like a milkshake through a thin straw
- Consider ear plugs or headphones to reduce noise
- Know when enough is enough and time to go home.
Hope that helps!
We know that our play spaces are shrinking. Winter is coming, and the little time that our children spend outdoors after school is cut short by the sinking sun. In our family we eat quite early, which leaves some free play time before bath time. On long summer evenings this is an ideal wind-down time – kicking a ball, cricket, trampoline time, watching the sun set. But the cooler evenings are chasing us indoors, even if we’re not quite ready to bath. The kids do quite a lot of fine motor play at school so we need to find a way to play and move indoors, without wrecking the house.
This is where the bowling alley comes in. Every house should have one. I grew up in an oldish house in the older suburbs – a big property and a long house with all the rooms coming off one central passage. Not by design, my husband and I ended buying a similarly designed home. Large garden for two busy boys, and very long, smooth, wooden floor passage running down the middle of the house.
The kids love playing here. It’s the ideal space to skid along in bed socks, slide around in the washing basket, and of course, throw/roll/kick balls. Sometimes the doors to the rooms are open and add goals or traps to the game, other times the doors are all closed to create a darker bowling alley.
Here are some of the games the boys are enjoying at the moment:
- Seated soccer: rolling the ball to each other and scoring a goal by getting it past the other’s legs
- Bath mat golf: rolling a golf ball down the passage and getting it to stop on a bath mat at the other end
- Bouncing ball mayhem: throwing a handful of bouncy balls at once and enjoying the chaos
There are photos along the walls so we have some rules regarding the size and type of ball allowed for the various games. To date, no casualties.
What are your children’s favourite play spaces in your home?
It was without any planning that our most recent trip to the library resulted in reading bedtime stories that assume the wonderful imaginations of our children are based more in reality that those of their parents. My eldest is definitely at the age where he is constantly at war within himself, trying to figure out what is real, what is play-play and what is in his best interests to believe in (i.e. Father Christmas and the Tooth Mouse).
We came home with two wonderful books:
- “I want my light on!” by Tony Ross
- “There’s no such thing as a dragon” by Jack Kent
I want my light on! is the story of a little princess who doesn’t want to go to bed, because she believes there are ghosts in her room, despite all the palace staff trying to convince her otherwise. In a lovely twist, the book ends with the little ghost convincing his mom that little girls are real.
There’s no such thing as a dragon is of a similar theme, although perhaps with a slightly more poignant theme for us to take note of. The little boy’s dragon grows bigger and bigger, eventually carrying the family’s house away on his back, just so that he will get noticed, taken seriously, and that the parents will believe he is real.
These books highlight the role of imagination in early development, specifically in toddlers and preschool children. Reading plays a vital role in the development of imaginative narrative, that the children then play out in their play routines. While dragons, fairies, ghosts and the like show evidence of the child’s community’s beliefs, they also play a significant part in shaping the child’s world view.
What should imaginative play look like?
Between 18 and 24 months toddlers will start to play their first pretend games, acting out things that they see the adults in their lives do. This may include talking on the phone, cooking, driving a car.
By two years, they understand that an object could stand for something else e.g. this spoon could be my “phone”. They also like to pretend e.g. that they’re eating. I couldn’t believe it when my husband taught my toddler to fake sleep, eyes closed and snoring and all! It was definitely his first demonstration of understanding “play-play”.
As the child nears their third birthday they will really enter the world of imaginary play. You can look forward to more complicated scenes: boats and railways, tea parties, fight scenes and careers start to emerge. By age four they’ve moved from action and sound effects to complicated story lines and character traits.
So how can you as a parent foster this vital form of play in your child?
- Read read read! Books are a wonderful way to develop imaginative skills, abstract thinking and an understanding of story lines.
- Provide your child with props for their play time. These need not resemble anything in particular. Old curtain rings, wooden blocks and pieces of material can be used to create all sorts of scenes.
- Keep some old clothes for dress up and role play. These could be specific outfits from a school dress up day such as a doctor or princess, or a collection of hats, jewellery and shoes that they can use as their hearts desire.
- Get on the floor and play! There’s a fine line between teaching your children to play on their own, and promoting their play by acting as their play partner. If your child invites you into their story, by all means play along. Ask questions: What happened next? Who is this? Who am I?
Imaginative play is such a wonderful phase of development. Your child will develop their cognitive and social skills, as well as test out their own theories of how the world works. It is their safe space to explore interactions, sequences and consequences.
The information provided in this article is intended to foster a playful spirit in homes and to provide parents with ideas. This blog cannot replace a consultation with a health professional. If you have any concerns about your child’s development please seek individualized advice.
There’s a quote up on the wall in my therapy room: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child”. It’s an old folk wisdom saying. Yes be your child’s advocate, but to what extent will they be able to cope when you’re not around?
Here’s some interesting reading for those of you who enjoy commentary on the world as it stands, and more specifically how that might be affecting the development of our children. One such book is “The Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. While I must admit that I have not read the book myself yet, this is why Mark Manson’s comments interested me:
- The book describes why kids who grew up with smartphones are emotionally stunted, overly fragile and exhibiting mental health issues at alarming rates. Yes, mental health. Not just square eyes like our parents told us we’d get from watching too much tv. One of our previous posts commented on this specific issue.
- The book focuses on cultural shifts that have happened over the past few generations, and doesn’t just jump on the band wagon of why “social media is so terrible and ruining our lives”.
According the to the review (profanity warning!), Haidt and Lukianoff argue with a lot of convincing data that adolescents today are maturing emotionally and psychologically at lower rates and later than ever before. Their main targets are:
- The ballooning dysfunction of school bureaucracies, who are now treating kids as customers rather than students.
- The trend of “helicopter parenting,” where paranoid parents are coddling their children, protecting them from everything that is uncomfortable and/or potentially threatening.
- Of course our favourite: The heightened expectations for academic achievement — most childhood development happens through playing with other kids. Kids these days play less than ever before, and when they do play, they are often isolated. Instead, they’re busy doing homework and prepping for college applications, sometimes as young as kindergarten.
- There is also the obligatory “social media is ruining everything” chapter that we all know and love.
Gwilliamsfamilyeye also reviewed the book and had the following to say: “Lukianoff and Haidt are college professors who are watching how students act and the responses of the administrations. The authors are concerned about how “safetyism” is interfering with the ability of colleges to fulfill their mission. Safetyism shields young people from the experiences which will be uncomfortable in the short term but are necessary to develop the character and antifragility necessary to handle the challenges that life will present to them. The authors recognize that life is now more stressful for children than it was in the past and that true trauma can be disabling, but the definition of trauma cannot be allowed to creep until everything that someone doesn’t like is considered trauma.”
Safetyism. Now that’s a new term for me but one that makes so much sense, especially in terms of all I’ve been reading about how we don’t let our children engage in enough risky play. I’m a boy mom and guilty as charged. I hate to see them take risks. Maybe the trick is to watch over them a little less closely. Is it even responsible parenting to say that?
Now you might not like doom and gloom predictions, the tech vs traditional upbringing decisions you have to make for your children on a daily basis, but take the time to read the excerpt below:
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
To what extent does your child’s environment get adapted to cater for their needs on a daily basis? To what extent are they being protected from risk and “trauma”, perhaps at the expense of becoming a well-functioning adult some day?
The above article is intended to keep us open-minded as we navigate childcare together. We all want the best for our children and find ourselves in unchartered waters. We’d love to hear from you, but please be nice. Any defamatory or discriminatory comments will be removed.
This past weekend saw the world’s biggest toy fair take place in Nuremburg, Germany, and in keeping with their development rate of the last few years, Moluk once again impressed with their designs, showcasing two new products and this time branching into the arena of baby products.
- Baby teethers
Meet Nigi, Nagi, and Nogi! A set of three silicon tactile baby teething rings. These have been developed with such care and thought into the sensory development of the child’s mouth. Not only are they safe for baby nibble on, but look at the wonderful tweaks that keep baby interested beyond the mouthing phase.
- Little teeth on Nigi: great for scratching those itchy gums, but also great for creating really cute little smiley faces in combination with Moluk’s other toys.
- The centre of Nagi has two little knobs which prod those gums, but get creative making all kinds of crowns, hats and constructions when used with Mox and co.
- Nogi sports three scoops that resembles the surface and shape of a spoon. When baby transitions to solids they will be used to the fact that a spoon has a convex and a concave surface. And it’s a cute teddy face!
Made of 100% food-grade silicone rubber, MOLUK’s new teething rings are easy for small hands to hold and offer essential tactile and visual stimulation. The rings are dishwasher and freezer-safe and come in beautiful pastels or primary colours.
- Haibo! It’s Oibo! The elastic baby ball
- A) grasp + chew
B) roll + throw
C) stack + nest/build
There have been some popular baby balls on the market which are easy to grip, but Oibo takes this line of thought one step further. Oibo is made of soft silicon, making it a popular choice for a larger age range. When babies are learning to sit, we prop them up with pillow and surround them with toys, but what if the toys they topple over onto are hard? The collapsible nature of Oibo means that no-one gets hurt if baby wobbles before sitting balance has developed. And the thin pieces mean that despite its large size, two blocks can be grasped in the palm at once.
Oibo can be grabbed, thrown, caught, squeezed, chewed and even stacked, thanks to the clever design cut from a sphere. The easy “grippability” of Oibo makes these skills more achievable at an earlier age or assists children who need the challenge to be modified. For example, Oibo’s many places for fingers to grip make it much easier to catch than a regular sphere. This will be a great asset for therapists working with children with slower reaction times, as the nature of the cube is “forgiving”, allowing for mastery of skills that are still developing.
The unpredictable bounce caused by the silicon and irregular shape provide novel appeal initiating play rather than skill mastery as the motivation for children to try. And Oibo is fun for adults too – can you juggle?
Oibo is made from 100% food-grade silicone rubber, free of BPA, phthalates, lead, and latex. It is dishwasher-safe and highly durable. Available in monochrome or primary colours.
Using them as a combo
Both the teethers and Oibo are made from soft silicon, allowing them to be suspended over your baby lying on their back as a mobile, and the various size openings encourage poking, gripping and passing from hand to hand, working on those eye-hand coordination skills at a very early age. The easy-grip of both toys also allows them to be passed easily from one hand to the other, encouraging the child to bring the hands to the midline.
Without being solid, the shape of Oibo is suggestive of a cube and other toys can be posted through the top and sides easily. The teething toys can be posted into Oibo. Later on, the teething toys can be threaded onto a pipe/pole/cone. And of course they are wonderfully compatible with the rest of the Moluk range.
Well done to Moluk following a new line of thought while still staying true to their values of open-ended play, interchangeability, sensory and motor development and durability,
WOW that’s a long read! If you’re still here you must think they’re worth investigating further so why not follow us on IG or Facebook and we’ll let you know as soon as they arrive.
This weekend (30 Jan – 3 Feb) marks the 70th anniversary of the world’s biggest toy fair, and the Spielwarenmesse is taking place in Nuremberg, Germany. Anyone who is anyone in the toy industry is there, releasing cool new toys, bargaining for licenses, finding out what trends are hitting the playgrounds of the world this year, and living the spirit of play. The strangest thing about the fair though, is that there are no children. It’s a trade fair. It’s the place where adults decide what toys will make their way into the playrooms in 2019.
My heart longs to be there, and it’s hard to believe it’s already 5 years since I made my way through the snow and crowds to experience the largest exhibition halls you can imagine. One hall just for trains, one for dolls and accessories, one for tech toys, one for soft toys, one for educational toys, and the list never ends. Five days is barely enough to walk through once, and it’s hard work looking out for new stars.
The show sports a trend gallery, where they identify the up and coming themes that seem to be popular in the industry. This year the trends are:
- Ready, Steady, PLAY!
At Straight Zigzag we’re all for getting kids outside and active, so we’re 100% behind parents looking for attractive toys to grab the kids’ attention and get their muscles working. It’s easy for us to see how the Bilibo, wobble boards, climbing ropes and scooters are popular in this category, and why parents are prepared to spend good money on sports equipment that will last through phases and seasons.
2. The WOW effect
These toys encourage the curiosity in our children. Some conceal unexpected surprises to be discovered during play. Whether through water or heat, technical gimmicks or sophisticated mechanics – the toy is suddenly transformed into something special.
3. Toys for Kidults
Adults like to reminisce about the toys they played with, and some collectors pieces are placed in prominent places in homes and offices, often showcased in glass cabinets.
There are wonderful ways to use technology to spy on the exciting world of the toy fair. Summary videos get posted on Youtube, you could watch for news on the official site here or you could follow #spielwarenmesse2019 to see more personal impressions. And for a primitive little video of my trip 5 years ago, click here.
PS we’ll have an exciting news release from Moluk soon!