Monday, March 28, 2011


This is my fourth and final post on PLAY, based on Stuart Brown's book "play".

"The intense visual stimuli that screens provide, along with a captivating narrative, can be very seductive playmates. I've seen kids who are happily playing with blocks on the floor, interacting with each other, negotiating, inventing new story lines, being energetic and talkative. And then the television comes on and play stops. Interaction is no more. The story line is set by the box, and the kids are now merely along for the ride, motionless and mute. Single-player video games are similarly attention hogs and socially isolating.....
......The other concern I have with the excessive use of screen based entertainments is that they neglect a deep human need to interact with the material world:...... Much of our interaction with this world is through the hands ........ the hand has been far and away the primary tool our body uses for manipulating (a word derived from the Latin word for "hand") the world around us. ......  "a hand is always searching for a brain and a brain is in search for a hand" as Frank Wilson likes to say.
Wilson feels, as do I, ....... that the use of the hands to manipulate three-dimensional objects is an essential part of brain development. All over the world kids play with blocks, fashion mud pies, push around toys, throw balls, build 'forts' and 'houses'. Normal play, the play that I have shown is constantly fertilizing neural growth and complexity, is packed with examples of hand use.
......... So when kids involve their hands in work, play and exploration, they are developing their brains in a manner that is in line with our design ......."
Page 184 -185 "play": Stuart Brown.

How many screens do you have at your house? I have to be honest and report that currently there are 5 at my house :(
As Nicholas Carr says, "........ it is hard to imagine life without it (the worldwide web)." But Carr joins Stuart Brown in his concern about its affect on our brain, then goes a step further to say ~ "The digital age is changing the makeup of our brains in a negative way". Carr speaks of scientific research revealing that the net's constant interruptions and distractions "is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers". Carr admits his own difficulty in this area in an article "The Internet is Making us Dumber", saying, "I realised I was losing my own capacity for concentration and contemplation. Even when I was away from my computer, my mind seemed hungry for stimulation, for quick hits of information. I felt perpetually distracted." His research backed up his personal concerns - that computers increase the speed of mind function or automatic thinking, but that simultaneously the mind lessens its rigorous thinking skills and the "subtlety of human thought."

Nicholas Carr also compared the comprehension level of a reader reading "text studded with links", to the reader "who reads words printed on pages." The first reader, who was reading online with the ready-to-go clicks to numerous extras on offer, comprehends less when compared to a reader reading words printed on the page of a book. (For your better reading comprehension I will stay add-free and linkless if possible :))  He says the same is true for people watching a multi media presentation versus "a more sedate and focused manner" of information presentation.

The common element under attack here is one's concentration or one's attention.
Paying close attention to new pieces of information is essential for any connection "meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in our memory" to occur, says Nobel Prize winning Neuroscientist Eric Kandel.
The constant distraction of the screen of our computer or mobile phone makes it virtually impossible for our brain to form the deep and wide connections essential for the development of a mind of substance.
Patricia Greenfield is a developmental psychologist and runs UCLA's Children's Digital Media Centre. She has reviewed dozens of studies on how media technologies affect cognitive abilities. Greenfield says that the asset of screen-based media is that it develops visual-spacial intelligence, providing skills of "keeping track of lots of rapidly changing signals", as a pilot would use when piloting a plane, or a medic would use when "monitoring a patient during surgery." But the detrimental side is dramatic, with "new weaknesses in higher-order cognitive processes", and lacks in "abstract vocabulary, mindfulness, reflection, inductive problem solving, critical thinking and imagination." It all points to "shallow" brain development.
Working styles of both academic researchers and the working habits of school and university students on line, involves rapid movement from document to document with little time actually spent looking at the words on each page. 
A recent experiment at Stanford University found that people who are heavy media multi-taskers were more easily distracted, had trouble controlling their attention and were less competent in identifying important information from trivia. these findings surprised the researchers, with one summing it up saying, "Everything distracts them".
Nicholas Carr says that the trouble is that when we turn the screen off, these problems don't leave us, because "our habits of mind" are being remodelled by the computer. Some aspects are being strengthened while others are weakened, permanently altering how we think.

But, you may say, this is all 'miles away' from where my children are, and you may think their video gaming or computer screen play is completely suitable.
Online gaming, Stuart Brown says, "offers a world in which they (kids) can succeed. They are quickly rewarded for success and failure is easily reversed." But real life is not like this - full of regular quick rewards, or offering control to reverse failures. The child therefore who spends a lot of time in online gaming is learning a distortion of how life and relationships work. Regular gamers are not equipped to deal well with life's varied and ambiguous challenges because they 'live' so much in the false game-created world. 
Brown says that children. as well as adults who experience intense pressure to succeed, a strong need to 'get to the top', or find themselves in 'rigid career paths' which offer little opportunities for them to express or be themselves, can often find online gaming very attractive ~ even addictive. The controlled world, the clear unambiguous qualities and the decisive WIN nature of these games, is extremely comfortable to them.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ where will you 'go' with this information?
It may all be old knowledge, or seem thoroughly 'over the top', or a worry to you.
Stuart Brown throughout his book, "play", refers to the need for children and adults to be involved in "three-dimensional, physical and social play". He likens this to being on a balanced healthy diet that gives nourishment and maximum strength in development as well as contentment and satisfaction.

Dominant play that consists of gaming, Stuart describes to be like a two-dimensional picture which activates only part of the visual cortex of the brain, leaving vast areas unaroused and "silent". This he compares to be like living on a diet full of sugar hits - yes providing instant gratification but in truth being hugely damaging in the long term.

I know I need to have some conversations with my family. 
How about you?


Sunday, March 20, 2011


                                                RE-ESTABLISH YOURSELF AGAIN.

This post is PART 3 of a series on PLAY based on Stuart Brown's book "play".

"The  creative process is popularly thought to be mysterious. Highly creative people come in various temperaments, work habits and educational backgrounds, making it difficult to find a common denominator to their creative processes..... Creative people can be simultaneously hardworking and goof-offs. They can have a laser focus on a task, but keep the wide view that lets them see how something fits into the big picture. They are well-versed in their domain of knowledge, but they don't automatically discount new bits of information that don't seem to fit with the accepted canon. Creative people can escape into the imagination, but also are firmly grounded in reality. Creative ideas are often those that bring together ideas from different domains or fields.
Many of the paradoxes of creativity are embodied in play. Creative people know the rules of the game, but they are often open to improvisation and serendipity. Play is..... designed, to activate functionally diverse brain regions to synergistically integrate their function."
Today huge searches go on for innovative and creative people in their 20's and 30's. The hope is that these people will provide the new technology, new ideas, new processes for the future through their ability to think 'outside the square' in imaginative and radically new ways.
"....... a human resources officer working for a ....... US bank, Dave Stevens ........ found accurate indicators for innovation hiding within emotionally charged early play memories ........ he was able to establish criteria to assay whether prospective employees enjoyed novelty, how they reacted to making mistakes and learning from them, whether they were willing to take risks, and other factors that he had previously identified as being really important ....... He was able to accurately identify creative people and screen out those for whom innovation and creativity were not their primary nature."   
Page 135 - 137 "play": Stuart Brown.

As the opening sentences of this week's quote states creative, innovative and imaginative people come in many different varieties. Straight away as parents wanting to do our best in encouraging these qualities in our children, we are freed from a search to find THE product, game, book, school system or whatever to provide our child with exactly what they need leading to success in the creative areas of life. All children are unique and therefore certain games and activities that help one in their creativity, may be of no help for another.
As the quote goes on to say creative people - creative children are ecclectic. Even if their special favourite area is say drawing, their imagination which is naturally open scanning for ideas from other spheres, will be activated when in a completely different area such as touching a wet surface in the dark, or listening to sounds in the bush. Regardless of our thinking these areas to be unrelated, an imaginative mind can find parallels and connections between them, unique to their mind.

Children therefore need freedom to find, pursue, and work with a variety of experiences in life, and that most naturally happens for children through play - child-directed play (see the previous post on PLAY - How Can I Help my Kids Through Play? Week 30  Quote 30).
Play, the perfect situation where dealing with mistakes in several ways can be explored by the child.
Play, the perfect circumstance where one can gain confidence in self, finding aspects in oneself through taking risks.
Play, the perfect place to explore humor, things that could be described as zany, bizarre, foolish or crazy.
The trouble is that many of these aspects of play, which I clearly remember from my childhood, are now no longer the norm.
Some of these aspects are just too hard or take too much time.
Some are not thought educational.
Some would be thought to be nonsense, only leading to bad or uncontrolled behaviour. But these were the areas when played in through childhood, that grew creative, innovative and imaginative adults.
My often referred to 'hero' Charlotte Mason, wrote over a hundred years ago of imagination growing during childhood years "by what it gets". Childhood she said, "is the time for its (imagination) nourishing".
Dave Stevens joins with Charlotte Mason in pointing to rich experiences where children are enabled to put themselves into another's place, time, or person. Charlotte writes that this is also as essential of educational material, claiming that if the material is unable to transport a child's imagination, then it has failed in its purpose to educate - maybe this is something to test our systems of schooling by today! Her point is that to 'educate' a child or to work at extending their mind the development of their imaginative powers was essential.
So, what does a childhood that results in innovative, creative and imaginative adults, look like? As already stated there is no one model. But here are a few descriptions of some creative people's childhoods.
1.  He was born into a small community beside the Derwent River where he played alone in the mountains, in and by the river and in the ruins of the old castle tower. He was sent off to school at eight when his mother died, where his priority to be in nature continued, now along with his keen mates. Being in nature was like an addiction to him, with the trips over the hills and on the water becoming more daring. Study took him to Cambridge University after which he went to France, back to London then finally to the Lakes District where he began to write poetry. In time he was summoned by Queen Victoria to be her Poet Laureate. This was the life of William Wordsworth, poet of dozens of brilliantly clear, detailed poems about nature. This creative man was profoundly influenced all his life by his imaginative play in childhood.
2.  He was born in Germany near the end of the nineteenth century into a Jewish family. His father was a salesman and engineer. His father's gift of a pocket compass at age five intrigued the tiny boy who was mesmerized by the movement of its needle. The building of models and mechanical devices filled his childhood which led to a developing interest in mathematics. By age twelve, study-wise he was well into geometry and calculus. He did not finish high school, applying for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. He failed the entrance exam, but did exceptionally well in its mathematics and physics areas. At sixteen "he performed his first famous thought experiment, visualizing travelling alongside a beam of light". Albert went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his phenomenal contribution to theoretical physics. Albert Einstein is best known for his Theory of Relativity and is one of the most creative and innovative men in the science world. It all began in imaginative childhood play.

3.  Another of my life 'heroes' was born in Spain, into a not particularly affluent environment. From an early age he was plagued with rheumatic ailments removing him from a normal active childhood of physical romping play. However it was with his eyes and thoughts which had free rein, that he 'played'. His standards of accomplishments in school and university seems to have been measured as completely ordinary. But from this man's creative brain came the most innovative architectural designs of all time. At the time of his premature death in 1926, the genius of this man was only starting to be discovered. Today in 2011, Antoni Gaudi's exquisite "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona, Spain, began in 1883, is nearing completion. When I saw it 18 months ago, after a wait of 36 years, I was not disappointed, but totally inspired by Gaudi's imaginative creativity. The most complex architectural, topographical and engineering computer programs still can not reproduce what this man nearly 100 years ago created through models of thread and plaster -  that's imaginative innovation!
There are many examples of creative people that prove this link of early beginnings in imaginative childhood play. In every case there must be time, space and freedom to explore, pursue, investigate, get-to-know, to feel comfortable and choose when to step off into one's next level, through imaginative thinking and doing, in play.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ give your kids space and time to pursue what captivates them. Read this quote from Plato to be personally inspired, to then inspire your children -
"He (Plato) desired not to assist in storing the passive mind with various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul was a mere ...... banqueting room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite its germinating powers to produce new fruits of thought, new conceptions and imaginations and ideas."