Archive for the ‘Playful Practice’ Category

Doing art projects out in the world (library, special events, etc) is a challenge for my LP.

She is all about the process and exploration of materials and usually those art experiences are about product. LP wants to feel the paint, glue and glitter on her skin and explore it completely with her hands.  Her art experiences at her wonderful preschool are all about process as our 99% of the ones we do at home (every so often I push for product for a present), so she has many opportunities to go for it on the process front.  When she participates in an art project in public, I want to balance honoring her natural impulse to EXPLORE materials with what is appropriate to the setting.

I believe that it is important for kids to consciously experience adjusting to the rules of a situation AND find their spontaneity within those rules.  It is challenging for a person of any age to find their place in a group and public events are opportunities for our little people to work on those skills.  I want LP to learn to find her own balance of joining in a collective experience while being true to herself.

These public art projects are a great chance for LP to get that experience of creating within more boundaries than usual. Often there is 1) limited time, 2) limited materials and 3) a “sample” that the kids are supposed to emulate. Those are three tough limits for my girl.

While I can’t do anything about 1 & 2, I am always supportive of LP doing the project she wants to do within those constraints.  If she wants to do the sample, that’s fine too but that day has not yet come and for me the point of the project is to have a collective experience, not make a garden collage or challah cover that looks like the sample.

The biggest difficulty is with materials since my tactile girl wants to rub glue all over her arms and spread glitter with her nose and paint all over herself.  The where and when of these events determine the boundaries I set with her. (I watch the art project set up with my questions in mind…Do I have a change of clothes? Is there a sink reasonably close? How soon do we need to catch the bus home? How much of the materials are there? And of course, the occasional parent insecurity about what other people think…)  Within those boundaries, I let her go for it.

But oh the heartbreak of projects with gluesticks.  Her desire is to use her fingers on those gluesticks and dig out all the glue and sculpt with it.  And that is not an option when multiple kids are supposed to be sharing a gluestick.

Like a recent morning at the library.

After storytime, the librarian directed the kids over to two covered tables to make garden collages.  Gluesticks, tissue paper, colored paper, crayons and markers were laid out and the librarian showed “the sample.”  LP wanted to do the project (I was hoping to head out to the farmer’s market right away) so we stayed.

As the minutes went by, her energy became more and more withdrawn, so unlike herself, as she sat and tried to wait patiently for her turn with the gluestick. I could tell that this was not satisfying…like just one bite of a chocolate chip cookie. After about 10 minutes, I asked if she was done and she was quite ready to leave this project behind.

I mulled it over during quiet time.  Despite my observation of her not enjoying the project, she did enjoy the overall storytime experience and wants to go back every week.  She was very successful on the impulse control/sharing front.  I wanted to acknowledge that AND give her  for a balancing, playful experience. After working so hard on restraint, I wanted to give her a chance to fully explore.

After quiet time, I asked her if she wanted to do a glue project which got a cheerful “YES!” in response.  So I gave her paper, two gluesticks (a bounty in our house!) and a bottle of glue and let her go for it.

LP enjoyed glue to her heart’s content for about half an hour.  I sat with her at the table and worked on my own crafty project and just enjoyed her pleasure.

It is a helpful frame for me…when LP has worked to rise to the occasion that calls for restraint, to give her an opportunity to be fully expressive and exuberant — whether that means a chance to run free after a long bus ride or sculpt glue (& herself) until she’s done with it.

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While I was packing for our last trip, LP would not leave me alone for a minute. Finally, she came up with one of those games that makes a parent groan.  She was tearingteeny strips of paper from her easel in the living room and running into the bedroom where I was packing to spread them out and then use the strips to create clothes for her small panda bear. On one hand, it was wonderful that she was (finally!) playing independently and I could focus on getting things together. On the other hand, it was making a mess and I was not in the mood to deal with clean up.

Fortunately, ImprovDad got home in the nick of time. So instead of Improvamama going all authoritarian and raising my voice to say “Clean that up NOW!”, she got non-stressed ImprovDad who suggested they “pack” the panda’s wardrobe up together.

That moment stuck with me as LP and I spent 10 days visiting family and friends on the East Coast.  We had a good time AND like all travel, we individually and collectively got tired, stressed, cranky or all of the above.  Those moments can be so hard for me to hang on to the parent that I want to be (playful, patient, empathetic, energetic,  good boundaries — those are some of my ideals).

I find that when I’m not able to muster those qualities from the inside, channeling someone else helps.  It becomes especially important when I’m traveling solo with LP and we’re are away from the support of daily routines.  I just have to remember I have a lovely stable of parents, teachers and friends in my head to choose from to emulate.

I’ve been calling on them a lot in our travels recently (especially as I’ve been having trouble sleeping which takes me to cranky level 100 very fast). If I catch myself berating myself, thinking, “Well T would know what to do.” I try to flip that around and pretend I’m her.  It usually gives me a little burst of energy that helps get through a difficult moment.

Who do you channel when the going gets tough for you as a parent?

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In our house, we have the (fairly standard) rule of  “no potty talk at the table.”

LP loves to push the boundaries on this one.  With a glint in her eye, she’ll ask me questions for which the answer is pee or poop (for example, “Why do we walk dogs?” and “What did the dogs do on the living room floor when no one let the dogs out?”).

The other night after I reminded her of the rule, she looked at me crossly and said, “Then no monkeys!” Just moments before, ImprovDad and I had been imitating monkeys although I can’t recall why.

Much as I hate to give up monkeying at the table, it seems fair and, more importantly fun, to incorporate LP’s rules into the picture. So I said, “Okay now we have two rules at the table. No potty talk and no monkeys.” Then I asked ImprovDad if he wanted to set a rule and he said very seriously, “No talking about toasters.”

LP & I have had rule setting discussions in the past but they have always been a serious kind of talk. I had not thought of playful rule setting before.  It lightened up my job of enforcing the rules and we had a playful time skating near the edge of each of our rules and reminding each other about them.  I’m going to remember to do this (the I set a rule and you set a rule)  on purpose in the future as a playful way to get buy in from LP about rules.

What rules have your little people come up with?

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ImprovDad was out of town for a week and when we finally got the timing right for a family skype call, I appreciated anew the playfulness he brought to the interaction (especially since I was feeling low on my playful energy).

Although I have big appreciation for skype, I feel  self-conscious on video so I am a reluctant participant.  AND even at almost 4,  it is a challenge to keep LP in the video frame (and really, everyone we skype with is family who really wants to see and interact with her).  She gets restless after a minute or two. So that ImprovDad made it fun for all of us and kept the little girl engaged for the whole call…that is an achievement!

What did he do?

First…special effects!  He did extreme closeups (LP thought that was hysterical, especially eyes and open mouth) and long shots. (“Daddy’s so small!” she cried out as he backed against the far wall of his hotel room.)  And then he upped the ante and flipped his laptop over so he was talking to us upside-down!

Second…he initiated a space-object game.  He said something along the lines of “look, here comes a cow” which he then pretended to milk into an imaginary glass.  He took a sip and then “handed” it to us (oh, the magic of the camera).  I “took” the glass and had a sip and then gave it to LP who sipped a bunch and then asked for “more!”  We played that milking the cow game and handing glass back and forth for quite awhile.

It was a great end to our day.

How do you bring play to your interactions when you are at a distance?

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ImprovDad and I were talking last week about how we want to help LP expand and challenge her physical self.  She is often reluctant to use (or experiment using and therefore build) her strength. ImprovDad expressed a longing to be able to toss a ball back and forth with her and we smiled at each other, knowing our girl is much more interested in setting up a ball family than tossing them around.

We started brainstorming how to invite LP to use her body more fully.  The idea that caught our imaginations was for ImprovDad to create and play Horse Ball with her.  We had fun with the different ways that could look and also acknowledged engaging LP in creating it would make something different and fun for her too.  We’re pretty sure the idea of Horse Ball  will engage LP’s vivid imagination and love of horses AND give ImprovDad the enjoyment of something he wants to share with her.

After our brainstorm, I remembered one of my favorite child development books Building Healthy Minds by Stanley Greenspan (also love First Feelings which focuses on babies).  He focuses on social and emotional milestones for babies and young children and provides a framework to think about them.  One thing he advocates is identifying and actively building on your child’s strengths in order to help them take on challenges.  The idea of “woo-ing” LP to try something new or attempt something she felt scared of has been influential in my parenting and I found his insight into possible strengths/comforts useful.  It had been quite awhile since I had thought about this and here it was in action in our parent brainstorm.

I also think this a good practice for us as parents.  If we develop this way of approaching small challenges, we can be more open to each other’s ideas and imagination when we hit larger parenting bumps in the road.

Horse Ball hasn’t been put into action yet…I have hopes that ImprovDad will have a chance tomake LP the offer to play it this weekend.

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