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Archive for April, 2009

I have a couple of wordy posts in the pipeline…I just need to untangle some of my descriptions first. So till I get my language un-ka-fuddled…here’s a quick idea that I’m using every day.

Set a timer (microwave, kitchen, oven, on a cellphone, whatever just something that beeps so no peeking at it along the way) for however long you have to really engage in some free play with your kiddo. And then go for it! See if you can follow where your little person leads for the whole time.

The first time I did this (last week), I set the timer for 1/2 hour and I was surprised at how much of a stretch it was to stay “in play” for that long without wandering off for “just a minute” to do some minor household chore, check email, make a call, start a meal, do dishes, etc, etc. AND we had a wonderful 1/2 hour in the back yard. Sometimes LP and I were fully engaged in the same activity (watching a butterfly, rolling in the grass) and other times I just was there and present while she dug in the planter box and reorganized rocks).

Yesterday when life was busy with this and that and a whatnot, I did it a couple of times for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. It seemed to support LP’s independent play AND I eluded that mama-guilt that can come from saying “in a minute” over and over again.

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There are many of what I’m calling “chain stories” (& songs) that you probably already know… “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” and “Cat Said Fiddle-I-Fee” come immediately to my mind. We’ve also been digging versions of the Russian folktale about a turnip (many versions out there called The Turnip or The Gigantic Turnip…things like that). What these songs & stories have in common is they build (add a new character to help on a task or to a list) and repeat what has come before.

What a great structure!

Sometimes LP & I use a known structure like that Old Lady who swallowed a fly and her suggestions take us into new territory (swallowing the golf cart was truly an accomplishment!).

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“Spontaneity need not be showy or dramatic; it can be subtle, gentle, and unassuming. It can be present in the way one thinks, walks, looks at nature, dances, or hums a tune softly in the shower.” – Adam Blatner (co-author of The Art of Play: Helping Adults Reclaim Imagination and Spontaneity)

To me the heart of play is spontaneity… spontaneity that is so simple and yet complex. Sometimes easy to name, label, put a box on it and then again…elusive. Spontaneity has many faces…it is the championship team where each individual is constantly adjusting and readjusting to make the goal, score the point, make the impossible play. It is the teacher opening a new door for learning to a student who believes he or she is a failure and cannot learn. It is the gentle teasing between friends. It is imagination allowed to flower into an active form be it planting a garden, writing a novel, or two stuffed animals having tea with a dinosaur. Or laughing while blowing a dandelion and waving goodbye to the seeds…or any of the small moments the LPs of the world give us to enjoy with them.

I think being a parent is an opportunity to reconnect with our own spontaneous nature, which is often buried in the “must-dos” of our lives as functioning adults. I love Adam Blatner’s description above of spontaneity as a way of being….and my experience is that I am happier when I am able to tap into spontaneity in the small acts of life as well as turn up the volume to teach or perform improv or more importantly, play with my beloved, my friends, family and of course, LP.

Our spontaneity allows us access to each other, fosters connections and builds community. When we’re in the zone of spontaneous play, we can meet as equals, share power and control and explore things that we otherwise never have access to. What a gift! And it can be as simple as saying “yes” to a moment.

I’ve learned so much about re-embracing spontaneity when I started improvising…it is truly like a muscle that one can “work out” to have more and more access to.

I had been teaching improvisational theater to adults for over a decade when I started to work with folks with Alzheimer’s. Their responses introduced me to completely new levels of spontaneity. Over time through this work I learned just how much quality of life can be found in simple emotional expression, in the experience of the moment even when that moment is not held onto in memory. I sometimes find myself thinking of these folks when I’m reflecting on playing with LP; parts of the role I play is the same (saying “yes” to impulses and ideas, offering possible ways to grow ideas) but of course LP’s life-stage journey is quite a different one, as every day she is a more aware, literally more conscious…and she is on fire to be more and more so. Sometimes when I watch her bombing around, chattering up a storm to herself, I long for that kind of easy immersion in spontaneity and imagination.

And then there are all the times, she wants spontaneity from me too. There are days – more than I like to admit to – when I feel tired, worn down and not, not, not interested in play. When it is hard to say “yes.” Yet, more often than not, that simple “yes” and LP’s positive response is often enough. And we are then off into play…reading books in funny voices, building steps to the sky, putting plants to bed, making friends with worms, making “squishballs” from playdough…or whatever comes next.

To end my musing, a quote from one of my favorite books about improv (really, if you were going to read just one, this is it – easy, accessible and has ideas you can try out in every day life):

“I know that improvisation has nothing to do with wit, glibness, or comic ability. A good improvisor is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon this impulse. My students wanted to know the password for joining the society of such people, to play fearlessly, and to work with greater ease. Here is the password – it is yes!….saying yes is an act of courage and optimism.” – Patricia Ryan Madson (author of Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up)

More improv games to play with your kids coming soon!

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Another quickie from the land of no naps, teething, and colds.

It is of great joy to me how much LP loves her books. Initially I thought, “I will read to this child whenever and however much she wants.” Ha! It isn’t possible!

One of the many special things of her interest in books is witnessing the changes in how she interacts with the books both as physical objects and with the characters and storylines. AND now that she’s got some letter recognition – it is a whole new thing to read a book to her.

AND like any self-respecting toddler, repetition is her game.

So how to keep reading the same book over and over fresh? Or if not fresh, at least not maddeningly brain-dulling awful?

Here’s a couple of ideas:

  • Read in an accent or funny voice the whole way through
  • Pick a musical style and sing it (jazz, opera, broadway musical)
  • Imagine you are the voiceover at a movie as you read in a dramatic voice
  • Pick a movie or theater genre (documentary, film noir, western) and see how that influences your reading

When I use things from that list, I often try to switch it up every reading (except LP is a HUGE fan of the jazz-scat reading and often wants that one again).

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