May 9, 2020

True Play during quarantine?

What does True Play look like at home, during a quarantine?  This is a question I've been asking myself a LOT recently. At the beginning of this new era, I found myself wishing that my children would be the kinds of kids that would quietly entertain themselves all day long with paper and crayons and be neat and tidy and maybe even take a nap every once in awhile. (note: I'm pretty sure these fictional children do not exist and if your children are like this, I don't want to hear about it.). Instead, my kids are loud, messy, argue a LOT and seemed to want to spend all of their time looking at a screen of one kind or another. They could be convinced to try a puzzle for 3 minutes or cajoled into building a fort for about 5 minutes but none of the wonderful activities distractions I came up with seemed to have any sticking power. 

Then one morning, my son brought a cardboard box up from our increasingly large pile of boxes in the basement and asked if he could use it.  I happily granted permission and he gathered a few other supplies and disappeared for awhile, then emerged with this:
 It's a mask based on the Minecraft version of a Five Night's at Freddy's character named Springtrap.  I'm not crazy about the whole FNAF thing and Springtrap is a really creepy looking character, but my kid spent a really long time on this project and he was so proud of it and I was deeply impressed by the level of detail he'd included.  Those teeth! The little scrappy bits coming off of the ear!  The fact that he'd made the mouth able to open and close! Wow!

 A week or so later, my son again came to me and asked if he could use the hot glue gun.  I had a moment of hesitation (hot glue burns are so familiar to me) but then I remembered all of the kids in Anji who use hot glue guns all the time and I took a deep breath and said, "sure!  Let me dig out my old glue gun if I can find it...." Again, after an entire morning of both kids being deeply engaged in hot glue creations, this is what came out:
 An improved mask design (now with a more 3D nose!) plus a new mask for his sister based on the FNAF character of Foxy:
 The strap to keep Foxy's mask on was an interesting feat of engineering.  I REALLY wanted to suggest elastic or punching holes in the mask and tying knots, but I kept my mouth closed because I could see the wheels turning in my son's head as he came up with idea on his own (an old shoelace in his room!), tried his idea (hot gluing the shoelace onto the mask), realized his first attempt wouldn't work (it was too small and popped off as soon as she tried to put it on) and adjusted his design (hot gluing another piece of shoelace onto the original shoelace to lengthen it) in a way that I was SURE wouldn't work ... but guess what? It DID work and he was thrilled to have solved it by himself and I was thrilled to discover a new solution to a problem that I'd thought only had one solution. These thrilling moments can only happen when we as adults have "eyes open, ears open, hands down, mouth closed, heart open."
 And the little sister?  oh boy.  Nothing was safe from the hot glue gun.  Everything within reach was glued together by the end of the morning.  And only one hot glue burn on a fingertip and a lesson learned about how heat can transfer through metal when you're trying to put hot glue on something metal.  And they'd burned through my entire stash of hot glue sticks.

 Honestly, I was so excited about how engaged they'd been with the hot glue that I ordered a second hot glue gun (with a low-temp option) and two more packages of hot glue sticks. The day after new supplies arrived, my daughter created this sculpture below (I love how she's used the actual hot glue sticks AS structural pieces!).
 My son kept asking me for some yellow fabric so that he could cover his mask, but I didn't have any, so when I finally had built up enough courage, I brought out the set of tempera paints (not just the watercolor pans) that I'd bought. This is challenging for me.  As much as I love painting and seeing kids paint, I still have a sense of anxiety about kids "wasting" paint or making giant messes.  So I set it up in a way to try to alleviate some of my own anxiousness (kids can pick up on adult anxiety and it makes the play much less fun) by covering the picnic table with some packing paper and asking the kids to change into "messy clothes."  I gotta say that this palette pictured below still sort of stressed me out, but you know what?  There was still plenty of paint left at the end of this project and it's all washable, so maybe we just need to bring it out more often so I can get over it?  And, as one of my Anji Play friends pointed out, if they DO use up all of the paint or mix two whole jars together and it turns into a big muddy colored mess, those are all great life lessons to learn as well.
 By the end of the day, this is how the mask (and my happy son) looked:

So... is the answer to how to do True Play at home -- go get hot glue and tempera paint?  NO!  The answer is to listen to your kids -- what are they interested in?  What do they want to do?  What materials or conditions or space do they need in order to do the things they want to do? Are you able to provide those? If not, ask your child to brainstorm with you about what you could use that you already have to reach the same end goal. Our children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with information that we dump into them.  Our children are sources of new ideas just waiting for the right conditions to blossom.  How can we help to create those conditions?  Sometimes with simple questions: "What would you like to do today? What do you need in order to do that?" And if your kids are like mine and their first response would something like be "Minecraft all day" you can either choose to embrace the creativity that Minecraft allows OR you can set a limit within your question like "What would you like to do today off-screen?" If your child has been getting a lot more screentime than usual (like mine have), the transition off the screens might be really difficult (mine threw a 45 minute rant yesterday), but maybe, just maybe, once you've given them a chance to work through that transition they'll be able to rediscover true play in whatever way works best for them.

How have you been playing lately?  Have you been able to step back, pay attention with curiosity, keep your suggestions to yourself and have an open heart?  I'd love to hear about the adventures in play that are happening at your house!

May 6, 2020

Top 5 Apps video series!

During quarantine, I'm guessing that a lot more parents are using apps with their kids, even if they hadn't used them before.  In an effort to make the App Picks page even less daunting to navigate, I have been creating a series of videos in which I choose my Top 5 apps for different categories.  So far, I've got my Top 5 Totally Free Apps for Big Kids:

 My Top 5 Totally Free Apps for Little Kids:

and my Top 5 Apps for Off-Screen Play:

Coming Soon, my Top 5 Spanish Apps for Kids and some "Ask Carissa About Apps" videos with quick tech tips for caregivers.
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