DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET ten essential play experiences for a joyous childhood COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Cre at ing a Be a ut iful Mess Ten E s s en ti al Play E x periences for a Joyou s Ch i ldhood An n Gadzi kow s k i COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117 © 2015 by Ann Gadzikowski All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photo- copying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or elec- tronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Elizabeth MacKinney, Berry Graphics Interior design by Erin Kirk New Typeset in Scala Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gadzikowski, Ann.   Creating a beautiful mess : ten essential play experiences for a joyous childhood / Ann Gadzikowski.        pages cm     Includes bibliographical references.   ISBN 978-1-60554-386-4 (paperback)   ISBN 978-1-60554-387-1 (ebook) 1.  Parenting. 2.  Families.  I. Title.   HQ755.8.G323 2015   306.874—dc23                                                             2014047334 iv  …  Running Foot COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET To my d ad, for teaching me the value of a good knock-knock joke COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET vi  …  Running Foot COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents    Acknowledgments ix Introduction: Play Is Still Play  1 1 Building with Blocks  11 2 Pretending and Make-Believe  27 3 Running Around Like Crazy  42 4 Cuddling Something Soft and Small  56 5 Laughing, Joking, and Other General Silliness  65 6 Creating a Beautiful Mess  80 7 Playing Turn-Taking Games  95 8 Finding and Collecting Things  109 9 Telling Stories with Toys  124 10 Making Things Happen with Machines  140 References 153 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments Thank you to all my beautifully messy playmates, past, present, and future. Many of the ideas expressed in this book were inspired by happy memories of my own childhood playing with my brothers, my parents, my grandma, my neighbors and friends. Later, when I was a student of child develop- ment at the Erikson Institute, Professor Lorraine Wallach first introduced me to the academic study of play. I’m grateful to Lorraine and all the other mentors and teachers who have guided my work. A special thank-you to my friend Damian Hughes for serving as my board games consultant.   I also owe many thanks to the children, families, and teachers I’ve worked with over the years in early childhood programs. I’m especially grateful to the parents of students in Northwestern University’s CTD Leapfrog pro- gram; the questions you asked about play inspired this book.   Many thanks to all my Cleveland Street neighbors. Watching our kids play Ghost in the Graveyard at block parties convinced me that play is still play, even in the twenty-first century.   And I’m grateful for the support, encouragement, and expertise of my Redleaf team, Kyra Ostendorf, Danny Miller, and Alyssa Lochner.   But most of all, I want to thank my very favorite playmate, my daughter, Alexa. All the best fun began with you.   ix COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Cr e at i n g a B e a u t i ful Me ss COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Introduction • Play Is Still Play Most books about this topic start with an argument in defense of play—a litany of reasons we should all value play as a legitimate use of children’s time and energy. I choose instead to begin this book on the offense, ready to score, prepared to rack up an easy victory on behalf of Team Play. I can do this because the strongest evidence for the value of play already lives in you, in your heart and mind, fueled by all the positive memories of play from your own childhood. Remember that time you lay in the grass and rolled down a hill, the sky spinning over your head, the smell of wet mulch in your nose, laughing out loud when you crashed into your best friend at the bottom of the hill? Or that time you built a castle out of a cardboard box, with a maze of rooms and corridors inhabited by wizards and elves? Remember when you cuddled that beloved soft, stuffed bear, surrounded by a fort of pillows and cushions, whispering secrets in your bear’s fuzzy ear? You may not have these exact memories of these exact play experiences, but you probably remember something very similar.   We each have our own direct experience with the excitement and plea- sures of play. As parents, we often use our own memories of childhood play as a sort of rubric for measuring our children’s experiences. In my work as a teacher and director in early childhood education for more than twenty-five years, I’ve listened to a lot of parents talk about play. Parents often wonder if play today is different from what they enjoyed as children. They sometimes don’t recognize play in their children’s behavior, especially when children use toys and materials, such as iPads, that they never had. Many parents wonder if technology has a negative effect on their children’s growth and development. Most of all, parents just want to know if their children are normal, happy, and healthy.  1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET   The good news is that play is still play. It may look a little different, but it really hasn’t changed. In this book I will remind you of the play you expe- rienced as a child and show you the connections between those memories and the play your child is experiencing today. Some of the toys and the vocabulary of play are a bit different, but the essential play experiences are timeless. What Is Play? Let’s take a moment to define play and ground our conversation in a shared understanding of the experience of play in the lives of children. I prefer a broad and generous definition. Play is pretty much any activity that is done purely for pleasure. While some people may find pleasure in their work, or even in chores such as washing the dishes, that’s not really play, because in play, pleasure is the primary and often sole reason for doing it. Play is just for fun. Play is pretty   Play is often, but not always, something children much any activity do. But sometimes adults can play, especially when the that is done purely adults are parents playing with their children. Play often, for pleasure. but not always, involves toys. In truth, toys are not nec- essary for play. The pleasure of play usually comes from freedom and spontaneity, a lack of goals or structure. When we “play with” something, it usually means we are not trying to accomplish a specific goal; we’re just experimenting and seeing what happens. Play can be joyous. Children often smile and laugh when they play. But play can also be absorbing. Instead of smiles, children’s faces may instead show great concentration and focus while they play. Focused, intense play is still play. The Ten Essential Play Experiences This book grew from my talking with parents about their children and lis- tening to parents’ questions about their children’s behavior and develop- ment. I’ve noticed that most parents already have a good understanding of what play is and how their children benefit from it. The concerns I hear 2  …  Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET from parents have to do with balance. Most parents wonder how to bal- ance their own family and work lives, and they are also concerned with how to find the balance between their children’s free, unstructured time at home with planned activities outside the home such as music lessons and organized sports. Also, many parents wonder if their children are spending too much time involved with technology—whether it’s playing computer games, watching television, or using an iPad.   My concern is less about what children are doing and more about what they’re not doing. When discussing how children should be spending their time, I try to help families refocus on the goal of living balanced lives. Children benefit from exposure to a broad variety of experiences. If they are spending most of their free time doing one thing, that’s probably not a good idea. So when I’m asked, “Is my child doing too much [fill in the blank]?” I like to reframe the question and ask, “Is there anything missing from your child’s life? Is your child enjoying a full range of play experi- ences?” This concept of balance in children’s play experiences is similar to the concept of nutritional balance. Suppose I drop by your house one random day and find you eating a bowl of cereal and you ask me, “Do you think I eat too much cereal?” I won’t know the answer to that question unless I ask about what else you usually eat. Serving a balanced diet of play to your child follows the same pattern. If you’re wondering whether your child spends too much time on the computer, or too much time playing alone with dolls, or too much time building with Lego bricks, then you need to look at what other play experiences your child is having. Is there variety? Is there balance?   The ten essential play experiences described in this book represent a full range of play experiences for a balanced and joyous childhood. There are many different ways we might categorize play into ten experiences. Early childhood educators think of play in terms of the domains of develop- ment—physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language. Parents often think of play in terms of when and where it takes place—after school or before bed, indoors or outdoors; or perhaps in terms of how the play affects the rest of the family—quiet play or loud play. For the purposes of this book, I tried to put myself in young children’s shoes and create categories of play Play Is Still Play  …  3 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET that represent their perspectives. When children think about play, they probably think in terms of actions—for example, running, building, and laughing. This is how I organized the ten play experiences. They are not in any particular order—all are equally important—but the first six categories focus more on young children, toddlers through kindergarteners, and the last four focus more on school-age children, ages six through twelve. 1  •  Building with Blocks Building with blocks is first on the list, not because it is the most import- ant play experience but because it is often the most overlooked. Blocks are bulky, clunky, and noisy. They take up too much room on the bedroom floor and they take too long to put away after playing. But the truth is, blocks offer the ultimate multitasking play experience because children have every- thing to gain from block play—they learn about physics, math, engineering, geometry, architecture, and design. Block play develops physical skills such as dexterity and balance. And when children play together with blocks they learn to collaborate, communicate, negotiate, and connect.   Even if you take away all the amazing educational and developmental reasons for sitting your child in front of a pile of blocks, there’s still the sim- ple, pure truth that stacking one block on top of another is one of the most satisfying actions a child can do during play. What could be more pleasur- able than taking one plain block and adding to it, turning it into something bigger, taller, higher in the sky with each block you add? The only action more empowering than stacking blocks into a tower is knocking down the whole stack.   Block building is not just for boys. Girls can and should be encouraged to construct their own buildings, cities, and worlds. Girls need to know that a toy doesn’t have to be pink in order for a female person to play with it (more on that later).   When children create structures out of wooden blocks (or foam blocks, or Lego bricks, or, for that matter, cardboard boxes from the recycling bin), they are constructing more than buildings; they are developing and expand- ing their problem-solving skills and capacity for abstract thought. They are 4  …  Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET almost literally building bridges from one idea to the next. In chapter 1, we’ll look closely at the cognitive, physical, and social benefits of block play and how to promote and facilitate your child’s block play experiences. 2  •  Pretending and Make-Believe Pretend play seems to take place spontaneously among children of every culture across the world. In very young children it often begins when small toddlers pretend to be Mommy or Daddy, toting Mommy’s purse or shuf- fling across the floor in Daddy’s big shoes. This kind of role-playing has a practical function—it is a rehearsal for real life, the earliest iteration of “Fake it ’til you make it.”   Pretend play is also a form of storytelling and fantasizing. As children’s minds develop and their imaginations take hold, they progress from pre- tending to be a mommy or daddy to pretending to be a mermaid, pirate, superhero, or wizard. Pretend play becomes an escape, a vacation from the ordinary world, a chance to soar above everyday experience. Pretend play is also a way to interact with other children and create a deeply meaningful social connection.   Pretend play often goes by the name “make-believe.” In pretend play, children “make” themselves (and each other) “believe” that a towel can be a cape, a closet can be a castle, or a little girl can be the ruler of the whole wide world. A large body of research supports the idea that pretend play and make-believe are important ingredients in children’s mental health, partic- ularly during stressful times. But pretending does not always come easily to every child. Some children need encouragement and modeling to learn how to pretend, especially now that there are computer games and mobile apps to distract children from their own stories and ideas. A parent’s role in pretend play is just one of the many issues explored in chapter 2. 3  •  Running Around Like Crazy The glorious experience of running across a grassy lawn at full steam can hardly be described in words. The freedom of all-out physical exertion defies definition and can’t be held inside the confines of the text on this page. Play Is Still Play  …  5 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Human children, like puppies, antelopes, sharks, and cheetahs, just need to move to be alive. Physical exercise is essential for health and well-being. Pick up any newspaper or visit any news site and you’ll read about the prev- alence of childhood obesity, the extinction of school recess, and the dimin- ishing green play spaces in urban areas. The experts agree: children need more opportunities to run around like crazy cakes.   This essential play experience includes other forms of physical move- ment, such as climbing, skipping, dancing, or rolling down a hill. In chap- ter 3 we’ll look at ways parents can help make sure their children get out and move. 4  •  Cuddling Something Soft and Small All young children, boys as well as girls, need to find something smaller and softer than they are, something they can hold and hug and cuddle and love. Most children will find a special lovey without any assistance from an adult. It will probably be a doll or stuffed animal, but it might be something more unusual, such as a scrap of a baby blanket, one of Daddy’s old T-shirts, or a dishcloth. Often the special lovey becomes a friend, a confidant, or even an extension of the child, a surrogate in times of stress (“Baby bear is scared, she needs a hug from Mommy.”).   Not every child will naturally gravitate toward a special soft lovey. Some actually prefer the solid, smooth texture of plastic or rubber toys. Others may prefer to strike out into the world on their own, unencumbered by a special toy. The complex gender, cultural, and developmental issues involv- ing cuddling soft toys will be explored in chapter 4. 5  •  Laughing, Joking, and Other General Silliness Laughter is the currency of childhood; it is more valuable than gold or sil- ver, stocks and bonds. For many children, the first joke they make involves putting something ridiculous on top of their heads—a shoe, a handful of spaghetti, the dog’s slobbery bone. What could be more delightful than a toddler with something completely silly balanced on top of his big round head, squealing with delight? From peekaboo games to wet, messy 6  …  Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET “raspberries,” the young child’s arsenal of funny gestures and sounds is endless. Over time, as children grow and develop, their humor becomes more sophisticated, such as the slapstick hilarity of the kids who shake up your bottle of diet soda at the family picnic or the nuanced potty talk of third-grade boys. The surprising value of humor in child development and the parent’s role in encouraging this funny business will be discussed in chapter 5. 6  •  Creating a Beautiful Mess I’ve traveled far from my own childhood (nostalgia alert!), but when I close my eyes I can still remember the yeasty smell of fingerpaints in my kin- dergarten classroom. I vividly recall the smooth texture of the paints, thick as toothpaste, on the shiny paper. Back then, no one saved our paintings or posted images of them on Instagram because creating a gallery of mas- terpieces wasn’t the point. The main thing was the process—the sensory experience of smearing that gooey mess across the page, the tips of our smock sleeves dragging over the tacky surface of the paint. Fingerpainting is much rarer today. Advancements in the technology of children’s art prod- ucts have provided us with “no mess” paints, markers, and clay. These days, it seems there is always a layer of clear plastic between children and their art supplies.   What’s missing here? Children must make messes. It’s in their job description. They must knead playdough, splash water, slap mud pies, blow bubbles. Some parents may find this news discouraging, especially if they have light-colored carpeting in the family room. There are, however, some commonsense strategies for reducing damage to your home. The valid, research-based arguments for allowing children to safely enjoy these sen- sory experiences will be detailed in chapter 6. 7  •  Playing Turn-Taking Games This next play experience, turn-taking games, is a close cousin to the run- ning-around-like-crazy play experience. Most children love the thrill of the chase, of escaping or of being “it.” But we often forget that the world of Play Is Still Play  …  7 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET games is so much bigger than Tag. I believe there are two broad categories of games, those I call “playground games” and those I call “table games.” Playground games include running-around games such as Tag, Kick the Can, and Ghost in the Graveyard, as well as jump rope games, ball games, hiding games, clapping games, and thumb wrestling. Table games include any kind of board game or card game or games using dice or playing pieces, including pen-and-paper guessing games.   The pleasure of playing games with other people is very different from playing on your own. It’s like the difference between humming your own sweet tune and having an opportunity to play a musical instrument in an orchestra. Each activity brings very different pleasures and very different challenges. The social interactions, the turn taking, the negotiations and alliance building that go on during game playing make this a truly essential play experience. Through games, children learn to understand and follow rules, self-regulate, listen, remember, and strategize.   Also, playing games with friends and families can be hilarious. Think about the times in your life when you laughed so hard you almost peed your pants. I bet it happened when you were playing a game. Parents, however, are sometimes bored with the repetitive nature of children’s games and may be reluctant to respond to their children’s pleas to “Play with me!” Chapter 7 examines some of the possibilities for parents to find games they truly enjoy playing with their children. For example, we’ll discuss the widespread mis- conception that Monopoly is a great family board game and look, instead, at the wide range of alternatives. 8  •  Finding and Collecting Things When my daughter was young, from about age two to five, every time we went for a walk in our neighborhood she would pick up at least one rock and bring it home. We collected so many rocks her room began to look like a quarry. Collecting things is a common childhood activity. Many children (and adults) enjoy collecting items that can be purchased from stores, such as Pokémon cards, comic books, or charms for a bracelet. But this essential play experience is not really about things you buy at the mall. It’s about the 8  …  Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET rocks, shells, leaves, sticks, and acorns we find outdoors. It’s also about the discarded treasures that captivate children’s imaginations—the shiny gold candy wrapper, the pink plastic ring from the juice bottle cap, or the little milk carton that looks like a tiny house with a slanted roof.   Children enjoy finding the secrets that adults have overlooked. They love to make something out of nothing: a plastic bowl can become a boat, a handful of paper clips can be made into a necklace. Sometimes the pleasure in finding and collecting is the ability to keep adding more and more to the collection. A wealth of small items, such as buttons or bolts, can be endlessly counted, sorted, and categorized.   The process of finding and collecting interesting stuff increases our awareness of the world around us and makes us more conscientious about how we use our resources. A collection can be a group of items or objects in a box, but a collection can also be a group of experiences, such as keep- ing a list of the cars you see with out-of-state license plates. The pleasure is in the pursuit and discovery. Chapter 8 examines the ways parents can support and encourage their children in the finding and collecting of interesting stuff. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving your child a box to put her rocks in. 9  •  Telling Stories with Toys Every culture has stories to tell. Stories offer a way of collecting, remember- ing, and honoring our experiences. Children sense this in the ways their ears prick up each time they hear “Once upon a time . . .” Telling a story is serious business but it is also part of play. Children tell stories with words and actions, through pretend play with toys and props, or they tell stories without words, through drawings or sound effects and movement as they play with Spider-Man figures or Polly Pocket Playsets.   If there were a family tree of essential play experiences, telling a story with toys would be closely related to pretending and make-believe. Both play experiences stretch the imagination. Chapter 9 looks at the complexity of storytelling in the lives of young children and the role of parents in nur- turing that process. Play Is Still Play  …  9 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET 10  •  Making Things Happen with Machines I have yet to meet a child who did not enjoy pushing buttons in an eleva- tor. In child development circles, the concept is called “cause and effect.” Children want to shake things up and make things happen. They figure out very quickly that buttons, machines, and technology are the way to go. By “machines” I mean all machines: simple nonmotorized machines such as bikes, machines with ordinary motors such as remote-control toy trucks and cars, and machines with computer chips and screens—sophisticated computers and other electronic devices, such as iPads and cell phones.   I use the word “machines” here because so many parents are terrified of “technology.” We are afraid of all these devices that we love to use but don’t fully understand, the devices that are going to take over our children’s minds and turn them into robotic zombies. In chapter 10, I’ll remind you that you are in control of what happens in your home and can make reasoned and informed choices about what machines your children play with. From chil- dren’s perspective, the appeal of playing with machines is not going away anytime soon. We just need to make sure they’re pushing the right buttons. Learning How to Play One of my favorite quotes from pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton is, “Parents need to understand that they can relax and have fun, because the baby will teach them how to become a parent” (NPR 2013). I so agree. Parents, your children will teach you how to play, a process that will bring you great joy. Ready? Set. Go! 10  …  Introduction COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET PLAY/PARENTING Play is a child’s pathwa y to joy. Parents want their children to be happy and healthy, to play and to learn. In this fast-paced information age, parenting advice is everywhere. Yet what families really need is a reminder that raising a child isn’t a series of right or wrong answers; it’s a playful, joyous experience. Drawing from years as an early childhood educator, Ann Gadzikowski describes ten universal play experiences all young children enjoy (as well as the developmental benefits they provide) and answers questions commonly asked by families, including: • • • • What kinds of toys should my child be playing with at home? Does my child play too much? Does she play enough? Does my child spend too much time watching television or using a computer? Are there fun activities our whole family can enjoy together? Creating a Beautiful Mess gives parents the news they can use to foster a balanced childhood, one with plenty of running, building, creating, cuddling, tinkering, and pretending. “This amazingly simple yet innovative look at children’s play recalls the wonders of our own play memories and connects them accurately to the developmental milestones of today’s children and their need for simple and creative play experiences.” —Dr. Mary Ruth Moore, PhD, U.I.W. Ann Gadzikowski has more than twenty-five years of experience working as an early childhood educator. Gadzikowski is a frequent presenter at conferences and currently serves as the early childhood coordinator for Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. She is the author of many books for children and about children, including Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms and Story Dictation: A Guide for Early Childhood Professionals. ISBN 978-1-60554-386-4 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL $15.95