Nov 14, 2018

Anji Play: Recording the entire arc of play

Frequently, over the past three years, I've taken videos of play and then when I share them with the Anji Play professionals they tell me the video stopped too soon or doesn't show the whole arc of play.  While capturing the beginning of a particular arc can be hard to predict, sticking with it until the end is a skill that can be honed. What does that look like? The 20+ minute video above shows a whole arc -- from the first frustrated attempt (a lucky catch on my part) until at the end of the video, he's going back for more and saying, "This is fun!"  Yes, that took 20 minutes.  And yes, there were a few distractions for me during that time, but I am so glad that I stuck with it and got this one long video so that you can see how the play evolved.

Many times, parents, caregivers, staff and volunteers have agreed to get some video of kids playing, but everyone starts to feel nervous when the play that is being recorded begins to stretch longer than a minute, then longer than 3 minutes, then longer than 5 minutes.... are you going to run out of space on your mobile device? (maybe...) Are you going to be able to share this video with anyone or will it be stuck on your phone forever? (I recommend uploading it to Google Photos and then deleting it from your device, then you can share it with anyone.) Do you really have the patience to stick with this one instance of play when there's so many other interesting things going on?  What if you miss something else amazing?  After three years, I've learned that you just have to rely on other people to catch the other amazing things.  Sticking with one group of kids playing until they are "done" with that particular play allows you to observe more closely, notice nuance, find patterns when you watch the video and have a better sense of the abilities, interests and personalities of each of the children involved in this play. My final tip is that even if you THINK the play arc is complete, continue to record for a little bit longer.  I can't tell you how many times I've stopped recording RIGHT before the kid said or did something really meaningful or interesting.  I'm slowly learning to just keep it rolling a bit longer.

What do you notice in the video above?  How does watching it make you feel? What are the children actually doing? What are they saying? What has changed from the beginning of the video to the end and how did they get there?  Watch this with open ears, open eyes and an open heart.  If you find yourself wanting to step in and tell them how to solve this or to shout "good job!" realize that that is perhaps a natural urge, but also totally unnecessary for these kids.  What's the longest video you've ever captured?

Sep 19, 2018

Slime for the masses

This past summer, I hosted a Slime Party at my library.  My wonderful colleague Janelle had put together a set of ingredients and instructions for a party at her library earlier in the summer AND she was generous enough to come help me run my party and I was SOOOO grateful!  We had about 90 people show up for our program and it was a bit of a tight squeeze.  During the process, we learned a few lessons that I'd like to remember just in case I'm nutsy enough to host this program again, so I'm posting those tips here for myself, but also for anyone else who's looking for the simplest way to throw a slime party for a large group.

Tip #1 -- if possible, require registration!  Being surprised by a large group with a project this messy and popular is stressful for the adults running the program.  Sometimes though, your program requires a drop-in format.  If that's the case....

Tip #2 -- When buying glue, one gallon of glue will make about 15 batches of slime.  It's nice to have a choice between white glue and clear.  Plan accordingly.

Tip #3 -- Have everyone make the same base recipe for slime (though some can use clear and some use white glue) in a baggie.  I recommend the saline solution version. Do it assembly line style: each kid gets a bag, then walks down a table of ingredients, measuring and adding each to their bag, then zip it closed and mix.

Tip #3B -- TEST YOUR RECIPE.  Make it just like the kids will -- in a baggie. Do the quantities work out as written?  Does it work to squish it in the bag instead of stirring it in a bowl?

Tip #4 -- Individualize slimes by having add-ons on a separate table that kids can go to after their base slime is mixed and ready -- food coloring, glitter, fake snow, styrofoam pellets (note: have a bowl of styrofoam pellets and ask kids to put their slime into the bowl and work in some pellets that way rather than trying to pour pellets into the ziplocs), confetti, pom-poms, air dry clay (Daiso brand is often recommended), rock salt, gold leaf.... or try out your own zany ideas!

Tip #5 -- for the purposes of your assembly line, it might be useful to know that small Dixie cups are approximately 1/2 cup.

Tip #6 -- although it might be easier to mix in a bowl than in a baggie, most disposable bowls are too small for a recipe's worth of slime and if you use re-usable bowls, you'll spend an hour and a half scraping slime out of bowls and then washing them clean.  REMEMBER: SLIME SHOULD NOT GO DOWN YOUR SINK DRAIN unless you want a really slimy clog.  Slime scraps and failed slime go into the trash only!

Tip #7 -- do the program outside or at least on a moppable floor surface.  Trust me (and Janelle) on this point.

Sep 17, 2018

Evolution of an app maker: Cowly Owl

Recently, I got an e-mail from one of my favorite app makers with news of an exciting new direction for the company.  It's such an important message about how he's taken the research about kids benefiting most from apps that encourage playing with another person and turned it into a credo for his brand.  Take a minute to read it here.  I especially love the sneak peek into the different owl sketches he considered for his new logo!  Then check out my review of his newest app designed for two players, Sizzle & Stew.

Sep 14, 2018

Interview with an app maker: Yatatoy

I enjoyed this article about one of my very favorite app makers: Yatatoy!  I love learning amazing details like the fact that the three developers who created this company live in three different countries and haven't even all met face-to-face! Unfortunately, the article is only accessible via Apple mobile devices, but just in case you're reading this blog post on one of those, click the link above!  You can read my review of the Bandimal app here.

Sep 13, 2018

Wild Rumpus: Flying

 Another really common play pattern, especially in Anji Play is leaping, flying off of tall things, often onto a softened surface.  Here are some examples of jumping from this summer.

Here are some kids in Anji County, China leaping:
 Image may contain: 1 person, child, basketball court, tree and outdoor 


And here are some play stories from the Wild Rumpus about this kind of leaping:

Aug 9, 2018

Wild Rumpus Update: Adult discomfort with children's play

At one of our Wild Rumpuses this year, a group of kids turned the orange climbing cube into a jail. This is a pretty common play theme but with complex and specific details (like dates and hashmarks on the wall, discussion of "going back to court" and poor food rations), some of the adults watching the play felt a little uncomfortable. But there is immense value in children playing about a wide variety of topics, especially those that are full of challenging or difficult emotions.  Playing through these scenarios helps kids to work out how they feel, trying out different ways to approach the topic in their own minds.

I consulted with Dr. Lawrence Cohen, licensed psychologist specializing in children’s play and author of Playful Parenting and he pointed out that, “For some [children] the theme is actually jail.... For more, the theme is "who is in control," which is a deep theme for all children (given the limits on control that children have over their own lives—which is something this general kind of play is meant to contradict). School can feel like a jail to many children, so jail play is often a way to work through school-related emotions, especially for older children who are not likely to "play school" the way younger children do….Aggressive play often plays with the theme of control (or lack of control) over one's own impulses, and how to handle threats and adversity in life. Important themes! Banning this kind of play is like telling children: no, you can't think about such areas of life. But play is their philosophy class, their practice in moral reasoning, the extension of their highest order levels of thinking.” [emphasis added]

In his book Free to Learn, Peter Gray says, “Even children who have never experienced any particular trauma, beyond the little ones that everyone experiences, often play at emotion-arousing, traumatic scenes.  In doing so, they may be steeling themselves to deal with all sorts of unpredictable but inevitable unhappy and painful events.” (p.170)

 [the jail]

So how should we as adults respond when these situations arise?  

Step 1:  Watch and listen to what is actually happening (NOT what we think is happening).

I strongly recommend recording a long video because when you go back and watch it later, you’ll be able to see more than you will if you just rely on your memory (which will be tainted by your own emotional reactions to the play).  If someone is in danger of being seriously physically hurt, YES you should step in to ensure safety, but aim for minimal intervention. Listen to what the kids are saying during play -- what looks like one thing to us might be something totally different to the kids who are playing and THEY are the only ones who can tell us what they were really playing.

Step 2: Pay attention to the kids’ emotions.

Dr. Cohen says, “Many adults have trouble telling the difference between real violence and aggressive play. I will give you some suggestions on how to tell them apart. Healthy aggressive play, like all play, is consensual; everyone agrees to be part of the play. In situations of real violence, one child hurts another without their agreement or consent. Aggressive play is meant to be fun, and it is. You will see joy on everyone’s face and you will hear laughter. Aggression is meant to be hurtful, and it is. At least one person ends up miserable, angry, or upset.”

In this particular scenario, none of the children involved showed signs of agitation or distress. Despite some in-character scolding, it was clear that no one was actually angry.  When adults are feeling anxious about the play, this is one element to watch for. If some (or all) of the children involved are clearly NOT enjoying themselves, it doesn't necessarily mean that we as adults need to put a stop to the play, but instead we should watch very closely, step in if children are actually getting harmed (physically or otherwise), but if they're just arguing, let it play out and then talk about it with the group after the play is finished.

 ["FREE DOM!"]

Step 3: Pay attention to your own emotions.

Pay attention to your own internal reactions (but try to keep them internal for now.  I KNOW it's hard!). Just recognizing that part of our discomfort lies in our own feelings about the uncomfortable topic is a huge step. Do we have a personal history with this topic? Have we already formed strong opinions and beliefs about this topic (remember, kids are still figuring out their own opinions and beliefs!)? If it’s too challenging for you to watch, is there another caring adult present who can be the careful observer so that you can step away to manage your own anxiety levels?

Step 4: After the play is done, show the video to the children and ask them to talk about their play.

Listen to the kids afterwards and pay attention to what they say about the play, this is the best way to have insight into their experience and to find out what they were thinking and doing.

["git me out"]

Playing through difficult subjects is how kids figure out how their world works. There is great value in children having the chance to work through play that is meaningful and important to them. Sometimes those meaningful things are difficult for adults to watch. We may not know why the kids are playing in these ways, but it’s important to know that for whatever reason, this kind of play is essential to their development. It is a form of highest respect to give them the space to play, even when it makes us uncomfortable.

Jul 28, 2018

Wild Rumpus Update: The Trailer!!

Last year, we received grant funding that allowed us to purchase a trailer to store and haul Anji Play materials in.  This was a huge upgrade from the previous year when materials had to be loaded and unloaded twice each time we did the program (loading at the storage site/unloading at the park, then vice versa).  Now all we had to do was unload at the beginning of the program and pack it back into the trailer at the end of the event, then drive it to our parking spot and it was ready to go for the next program.  Hurrah!  But it was plain white and gave no indication of the fun stored inside.

This year, we received grant funding from the Madison Public Library Foundation that allowed us to install a beautiful new trailer wrap!  We wanted to incorporate kids' artwork into the design, so we left some blank spaces (the monster's thought bubbles) for the kids to design.  We're working through a few different iterations of the best way to attach this rotating art collection onto the sides of our aluminum trailer, but the kids are making some AMAZING art and they're so proud to see their art on the trailer.

 "These are monsters and the round things are rocks.  They eat the rocks"

"sliding on slides" (sorry, I can't remember whether this artist told me if these were monsters or people, but I just love those ladders and slides!)
 (second artwork iteration: clear contact paper! lesson learned: dry erase wipes off really easily, especially when you have to smooth the contact paper down to the trailer surface.  sigh.)
I'm so excited that my little 2" tall sketches have grown into these huge monsters that work surprisingly well for so many different types of printed media.  Awwww!

Jul 27, 2018

Wild Rumpus Update: Making Signs

You may have noticed in the previous blog post about forts that there were a few signs hanging around the edges.  I've been totally fascinated by the signs (and other examples of written words) kids have been creating at the Wild Rumpus this summer.  Since Writing is one of the 5 Early Literacy Practices of Every Child Ready to Read-- this pattern of play is especially exciting to me!  I added these whiteboards last year, inspired by the play-planning boards that the kids in China were incorporating into their play, but right away, the kids at my programs deemed them perfect for signage.  That pattern has continued this year.  Here are some of my favorite examples:

Check out that amazing vocabulary!  The inventive spelling!  The complex group discussions that clearly happened around creating the fort rules! The thoughtfulness around risk! The desire for a kid-driven space (stay out, adults!)!  These signs bring me a deep sense of joy because I see the complexity behind making them.

p.s. I made these whiteboards by cutting 2x6' panels of whiteboard into three equal pieces and then using a hole saw + a jigsaw to cut a handle from the top.  They were inexpensive to make and have held up very well.

Jul 26, 2018

Podcasts for Families: The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

I'm a little late posting this one, but... here's my hilarious interview with Jonathan Messinger of The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.

We were so excited to welcome him to Madison for a live show on June 30th of this year.  85 people came to the Memorial Union to see him, some even wore costumes!  He did a live, choose-your-own-adventure Finn Caspian story, then everyone got a chance to come try out a voice effect on his microphone and take home a Finn Caspian button or sticker. 

Jul 25, 2018

Wild Rumpus Update: Building Forts

One of the things we look for in Anji Play is patterns, so this is the first of a few blog posts about some patterns of play that I've noticed this summer.  Almost every Wild Rumpus that we've held this summer has some form of fort building (or house or club or similar).  Here's some examples of the wide variety that kids have created:

 There have also been some amazing play stories drawn (and written) about these forts.  Here are a few examples:

Why do kids build forts and other special places?  What are the benefits of building forts?  Here's a short blog post about it.  What about you?  Did you build forts when you were a child?  Leave a comment below -- I'd love to hear about it!

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