19 Apr

One of my favorite moms often listens to NPR in the background throughout the day.  While wrangling several small kids, she likes hearing news and stories told by other adults.  And, as she explains, it gives her something to talk about (other than her kids) at dinner parties.  I could never do that.  NOT because I would be concerned about distraction from my kids…but I hate missing words or fragments of stories.  Ask John.  I am the worst person with whom to see a movie, always frustrated and fixated on the word I didn’t get from the last dialogue.

But I have been trying to get in the rhythm of turning on podcasts while cleaning up after the kids are asleep.  I stumbled upon a TED Radio Hour from a few weeks ago that felt oddly applicable to life.  In “Press Play,” the speakers describe how all different forms of entertainment–spontaneous play, sports, video games–can make us “smarter, saner, and more collaborative.”  I was particularly taken by the work of Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute of Play.  He was one of the experts charged with examining Charles Whitman’s motives to commit the murders from the Tower of the University of Texas, Austin.  Brown discovered a disturbing lack of spontaneous, free play in Whitman’s history.  Any natural playfulness was suppressed by an overbearing and abusive father.  Anyone who knew him growing up admitted that they never saw him engage in play.  Brown’s “research of other violent individuals concludes that play can act as a powerful deterrent, even an antidote to prevent violence.  Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization.”

I mentioned I thought this was applicable to life.  There are two main reasons.  First of all, I have recently had some guilt over not having enough planned activities for my kids, or not engaging with them enough so I can clean, make a phone call, cook dinner, etc.  While I never thought I was doing my kids any lasting damage by letting them figure out their own fun using toys/books/crafts/coasters/paper bags/whatever-other-household-item-that-strikes-their-fancy (all of which I maybe ought to swamp out every now and then), I’m a little relieved that this kind of play (seemingly mundane when Evie studies a green plastic ball for 5 minutes 🙂 ) is good for their development.

Secondly, we are in the midst of signing up for preschool for Ari in the fall, and I am blown away by how much they vary.  One our close friends, who is also an educator, mentioned to me something about the importance of “play-based” learning for her kids.  What in the what now?  After poking a little bit around on preschools’ websites, I am onboard with this teaching/learning style–giving small toddlers extra freedom, allowing for self-discovery and self-guided play in the school (not that I really know anything about anything yet).

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