Posted on

Do As I Do And As I Say

Family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is our most family-centered holiday. We come together to share a meal and spend time with those we cherish, or at least that’s the plan. I’m aware that often friction among relatives mars the experience, and an opportunity to celebrate kinship and strengthen family attachments is lost in a whirlwind of discord. That’s enough to make some folks opt out of future family gatherings. Sad as that is, sometimes it’s the last and best solution.

Other times, however, appealing to “the ties that bind” everyone together as family and friends works wonders. Insist that hot button topics be avoided so that everyone can focus instead on getting to know each other better. However committed we are to our positions on matters of politics or religion, we’re much more than those preferences suggest. We need to keep our hearts open and as our parents’ taught us, to treat others the way we want to be treated. Yes, we must establish boundaries and insist upon being treated the way we’re treating those around us. Our goal is to establish mutual respect and open dialogue that strengthens relationships. Even among siblings who have maintained close ties, there’s always something new to learn from and about each other. We’re all multi-faceted, ever-evolving people capable of surprising and being surprised by those nearest and dearest to us.

When we model the behavior we expect from those around us, we’re teaching our children more than our words alone ever could. This Thanksgiving, let’s adopt an attitude of gratitude for our families and those friends who’ve become family. With grace and sincerity, stress the importance of making fond memories of Thanksgiving for ourselves and our children. And speaking of children, those “little pitchers with big ears,” I recommend sharing your plan and helping them figure out ways to deflect or redirect negative comments in these highly polarized times. Diplomacy counts.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Worry Eaters Relieve Anxiety

Plush character that eats your worries

Acknowledging Feelings

When life throws a curve ball, ignoring our feelings makes matters worse. Successful coping requires us to acknowledge our feelings. Otherwise we’ll likely “come undone.” Suppressed emotions have a way of escaping, often at inopportune times and in inappropriate ways. Self awareness is the first step. Sharing how we feel with people we trust opens channels of support and helps us find ways to ease our distress.

Managing Feelings

What we do with our feelings speaks volumes about our ability to manage our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to control us. Some adults keep journals, appreciating how writing clarifies and comforts or express themselves through art. Others turn to prayer, meditation, or physical activity.

Worry Eaters Help Kids Cope

Truth is, we all worry – adults and kids alike. Sometimes our worries are small; other times overwhelming. The causes differ, but we all know the feeling. Managing anxiety requires identifying its cause and finding healthy ways to cope. Worry Eaters invite kids to express their feelings and help them develop healthy coping skills. With self confidence and optimism, keeping calm and carrying on in the face of adversity is easier.

Worry Eaters help children do just that. Kids write out or draw what’s bugging them, zip their cares in a Worry Eaters mouth, and let their favorite character hold on to them. The message is you don’t need to carry your worries all by yourself.

Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters

Certified Child Life Specialist Morgan Livingstone has written a Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters that outlines common childhood worries by developmental stages, from toddlers to preteens. She stresses the value of Worry Eaters as a tool to help kids “to identify worries, clarify misunderstandings or misconceptions, resolve conflicts and build self esteem.”

Worry Eaters Appeal to Everyone

There’s a Worry Eater for every personality and situation. Consider Flint. He has horns, but to a kid who wears an eye patch, Flint is an appealing companion. Whether short and wide or tall and narrow, all characters are soft and cuddly, eager to take care of our worries so we don’t have to.

Available in two sizes, the large invites hugging as well as carrying worries. The small make ideal take-alongs. That’s why some children tuck a Worry Eater in their back pack.  When they know their Worry Eater is nearby, they say worry less .

Worry Eaters appeal to adults as well as kids. Many parents buy Worry Eaters for kids in college and beyond, saying these young adults need reminders to worry less. We all do.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Life Happens – Be Resilient

baby brother and sister hugging

We’ve all likely heard the oft quoted, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Experience confirms the truth. Lest I forget, however, I was reminded when my daughter-in-law called in tears to say she needed a ride to the hospital. She was in labor. And only 25 weeks into the pregnancy.

Despite efforts to prolong the pregnancy, life-threatening complications dictated the baby be delivered three days later. Fortunately she was born in a medical center fully equipped to care for her and is blessedly stable. We know that could change in a heartbeat. Yet we’re optimistic that she will not only survive but thrive.

Continuing to navigate the unknowns that lie ahead will be stressful, yet we need, as the Brits say, to keep calm and carry on. Not as easily done as said, but certainly best practice when difficult situations arise. Staying calm requires acknowledging feelings and embracing healthy coping strategies. Once grounded, we’re better equipped to carry on.

All this has me thinking about resilience. How do we learn this and can we teach children how to be resilient? Why do some people seem more capable of bouncing back than others?  What accounts for these differences?

These are questions without clear answers. Still as adults we have a responsibility to empower children with knowledge and skills they can call on when difficulties arise. Here’s what I think everyone, adults and kids alike, need to know about getting through difficulties and helping others in their times of distress.

Keeping calm does not mean ignoring our feelings. Emotions can run high and deep and must be acknowledged if we’re to carry on. Sometimes people have conflicted feelings and may feel fearful or ashamed. That’s when a trusted friend or therapist is indispensable.

People often don’t know what to do or say when someone they know is dealing with one of life’s curve balls. Reach out. If not in person, call or send a text message. That simple act can be profoundly comforting and deeply appreciated.

The admonition, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” is also a solid bit of advice. Hell is no place to stop. So don’t. Keep moving forward, even if your pace is slow. Our best efforts to be resilient vary. Some days we’ll be calm, unflappable. Others we’ll struggle to keep our anxieties in check. Having caring people in our lives helps us stay grounded. Being such a compassionate, positive person is a gift we give to ourselves as well as others.

Modeling the resiliency we’d like to see in our children is critical. Actions speak louder than words. Children learn about resilience by watching us. Our actions reflect our hard won wisdom. We cannot control what’s happening, but we can choose how we respond. That’s a lesson worth passing along.

Showing compassion to ourselves and others fosters a resilient spirit. We know we’re not alone, and if we’re wise, we’re grateful for all that doesn’t go wrong and all the kindnesses we experience as we strive to remain calm and move forward.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Learning to Value Process

I admire creative people and am fascinated by the creative process. I’ve been observing how people view what they do and how they react when challenges arise along the way. Process leads to product, and that’s where differences surface. If we begin our process with a specific outcome in mind and consider our efforts a failure if we do not achieve that exact result, we’re product oriented in the extreme. If, on the other hand, we embrace the undertaking, knowing that nothing is certain in this life except the proverbial death and taxes and accepting that we do not have control over everything that affects the outcome, we’re process oriented. Either way, we have an end product. How we react to the outcome lets everyone know where we stand.

Being extremely product oriented can leave us feeling distressed even when the product turns out well, but not precisely as we expect. If the outcome is a disaster by acclimation, the process oriented person likely feels disappointed but finds stepping back and thinking about what was learned easier. Of course, most of us reside between these polar opposites. I think we all prefer a positive return on our investment of time, money, and energy. Question is, how do we define that success? Could going through the motions have value even when the product itself doesn’t live up to our expectations? Absolutely.

I learned this experientially. Once I asked a friend to show me how to knit so that I could make a wool scarf for my father. She did, and off I flew to visit Daddy. When I got there, he had unexpectedly been hospitalized. I spent hours at his bedside quietly knitting, grateful for having something calming to occupy my mind. A novice knitting in low light, I began inadvertently adding a stitch at every row. By the time I realized what I’d done, I had no clue how to take out those ever widening rows and start fresh. Still I kept on knitting. The process itself had become too valuable to abandon. I pulled out every stitch after my father died. That brought the journey full circle for me. Someday perhaps I’ll choose to learn to knit. Meanwhile I cherish what some would call a disastrous attempt.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

What Creativity Looks Like

bottle tree with chandelier on top

We talk about the importance of children developing creativity and problem-solving skills. What are we saying? Being creative means thinking differently, being imaginative, inventive, innovative. Its expression relies upon persistence, problem-solving, resourcefulness. Creativity and problem-solving skills are intertwined. Whether artistic or scientific, the creative process is fraught with challenges. A mind open to possibilities, exploration, experimentation, tinkering, and plain hard work are all required for creativity to blossom.

That’s why open-ended, experiential learning and self-directed play are essential. Kids need opportunities to use their imaginations, experiment, discover what works, what doesn’t, revise their plans, and work out the kinks. Adults too benefit from taking on creative challenges. Find a craft that appeals and give yourself permission to explore its possibilities. In other words, learn to play. 4184534267_e2b4206548_z

Creativity knows no boundaries. Fanciful, playful expressions abound, many off the beaten path and well worth a detour. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California, on old Route 66, is a magical place, a testament to the creativity of one man, Elmer Long, who built his first bottle tree in 2000. He says he doesn’t know how many he’s built. Doesn’t count them. Those who do, count over 200. Elmer says he has another 100 in his head. Building a bottle tree, he says, is easy. Only takes welding. Then he pauses and adds imagination.

From the age of six, Elmer and his father went camping in the desert, often visiting long abandoned 19th century ghost towns where they’d search the dumps, finding buried treasure, including glass bottles. Thus began his collecting of ordinary objects and bits and pieces that he uses in extraordinary ways. Besides bottles, Elmer collects old insulators and builds trees in an unbelievable array of styles.

He often incorporates objects that evoke memories. One tree topper is the Lionel train engine he received for Christmas when he was three years old. Other bottle trees feature everything from telephones and typewriters to machinery and tools. Helmets inside which birds have built nests, rifles and interesting bits and pieces, all with stories to tell.

Imagination, inventiveness, persistence, problem-solving skills, and resourcefulness combined to create the unique artistry of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Passion fuels the process. Open-ended, self directed play fosters creative expression by developing the skills required to give original ideas their wings. Play is essential. For everyone. Everyday.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Jumping in Leaves & Other Fun Fall Activities

Fewer hours of daylight and dropping temperatures naturally find us spending more time indoors. That means more time to express our creativity.  Everyone – kids and adults alike – benefits from process activities. Autumn provides bountiful, free, natural materials that invite us to experiment and find out what happens when we do this or that. Sometimes the outcome isn’t what we expected. Sometimes we’re pleased with the unexpected; sometimes not. Either way, we’re  okay. We’re exploring possibilities, exercising deductive reasoning, solving problems.

Scavenge Natural Materials 

Our adventure begins outdoors where we’ll comb the neighborhood for materials. What we collect will determine our options. Some suggestions will appeal primarily to adults, others require adult assistance, and still others are kid-friendly enough for kids to pursue on their own. The best ones allow collaboration and memory making between adults and kiddos.

Gather branches of autumn leaves and fill a basket or a pail. Pick up leaves and acorns for crafting. If you want to preserve favorite ones, melt beeswax in a double boiler, dip each leaf, one at a time, by its stem, let the excess wax drip off, then lay on waxed paper to dry. Consider laying the most colorful leaves, preserved or not, on a tray as autumnal decorations. Sparkle acorns among the leaves.

Leaf Craft

Or make a wreath or a garland. Pinterest is brimming with creative projects using autumn leaves, from Mason jar candle holders to embedding autumn leaves in pillar candles. Speaking of Pinterest, I discovered two projects using faux autumn leaves that likely could only be done with faux foliage: leaf bowls and an autumnal topiary. Both make unique, attractive autumn decorations and invite kids and adults alike to experiment.

Kiddos have ways to get creative with autumn leaves too. Collect leaves for paper punching and use the leaf die cuts in creative ways. Consider adding the die cuts to place cards for Thanksgiving dinner or to gift tags. Or decorate a pumpkin with autumn leaves. Lasts longer than a carved one. Another idea is adding soil at the base of the stem of a pumpkin and planting a tiny succulent garden.

Raking and Playing

And finally, look at all those fallen leaves and grab a rake. Seize the opportunity to enjoy a crisp, sunny, autumn day outdoors. Dry leaves are easier to rake than wet ones and more fun to jump up and down in too! The exercise benefits our bodies and our minds, and many hands make light work. Yes, just as “making hay” was a community endeavor, getting up the leaves works best as an “all hands on deck” family activity. Admittedly living in a grove insures that getting up leaves becomes a chore before the last leaf falls, but the shade those trees  provide brings delightful relief from the high heat of summer. Raking gives everyone another chance to scavenge for natural materials for autumn crafts, and piles of dry leaves are irresistible invitations to play. Jump in and experience pure joy.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Play While the Sun Shines

Autumn, our third season, marks the transition from summer to winter. Delicate summer fruits give way to crisp apples and pears. Leaves on the trees turn glorious shades of red, orange, and yellow before cascading to the ground. While the season offers opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, our focus begins to turn inward as hours of daylight become fewer.
Have you ever heard someone say “make hay while the sun shines”? This expression is thought to have originated among medieval English farmers who needed sunny, hot, dry weather for cutting, drying, and gathering hay. Every able-bodied person was expected to seize the opportunity to harvest when conditions were right. Once the weather turned cold and wet, hay could not be harvested.
Most of us have no crops to bring in, yet sunny autumn days are fleeting, and we do ourselves a favor when we play while the sun shines. Seize the opportunity to get outdoors and experience all autumn has to offer. Engage the senses and savor the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the season. Invite a friend or gather the family for a search of seasonal delights.
Those glorious autumn leaves demand attention. Soak up their beauty as you walk around the neighborhood or hike a favorite trail. Listen to the crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Feel the warmth of the sun and the cool, crisp air on your face.
Bring a basket and gather leaves and twigs, acorns from beneath oak trees and samaras –  that distinctive fruit of maple trees commonly called “helicopters” or “whirlybirds.” Spy a feather? Pick it up. As you fill the basket, observe the colors, shapes, and textures. Imagine creative ways to use your bounty. Or simply appreciate the beauty of what you’ve collected. A shallow basket or a wooden dough bowl makes a perfect repository for such gifts from nature.
If you’re lucky enough to live near an apple orchard, take a trip and taste test the different varieties. Then buy a bushel and a peck of your favorites. Some orchards even allow customers to pick their own. That’s our chance to participate in a harvest. Stock up for eating and baking. As night falls earlier and earlier and the temperature drops lower and lower, people tend to bake more. Delicious and nutritious, baked apples are a traditional autumn dessert – ideal after a day of making play while the sun shines.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

From Radio Shows to Movies-on-Demand

From Radio Shows to Movies-on-Demand  challenges us to look at the decline in human attention spans over the decades. Walking backwards in our minds can be illuminating.  Our lives differ significantly from those of our parents and their parents when they were our age. Looking back in time gives us insight into how what has happened between then and now impacts us.

Radio – Creating Your Own Visuals

Imagine returning to a time when news and entertainment came to us over radio, and families gathered around to hear the news and listen to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Flash Gordon, or The Shadow. Everyone had to listen, interpret, and imagine what was happening for him or herself.  When reading a book, we imagine what the characters look like, how they’re dressed, how they move about and interact with the other characters. Radio listeners also had to create the visuals with their “mind’s eye.” Naturally everyone sat quietly and listened intently.

 A Picture Is Worth a Thousands Words Or Is It Always?

Technological advances have changed both the ways we get news and entertainment and the nature of those experiences. Consider how listening to an old radio show and watching a movie differ. Combining visual and auditory input creates a different sensory experience. We no longer need, or even have the option of using, our mind’s eye to supply the visuals. When “a picture is worth a thousand words,” we don’t need to give our undivided attention to every word. An image provides details previously either left to our imagination or gleaned from listening.

Motion Pictures: Larger Than Life Multi-Sensory Experiences

Action adds another dimension to the multi-sensory experience of watching a modern movie. Authentic, believable action is imperative in the motion-picture industry. Evolving  production techniques and special effects create realistic action that pulls us in and transports us to another place and time. Original musical scores strike emotional chords that deepen our engagement.
Even when radio predominated, people flocked to theaters, eager to watch the latest big budget films with their bigger than life stars. During the golden age of Hollywood, movies were wildly popular, albeit occasional, sources of entertainment. Interestingly, some movie stars heightened their popularity by performing in radio dramas before live audiences.

 Movies on Demand

Ultimately television transformed the way we got news and entertainment. Granted it was no substitute for the big screen, but it was more accessible. Initially a short supply of programming meant nightly sign-offs. Despite the limitations, people had, in the comfort of our homes, access to pictures and the information and emotions those images convey. With time came improved televisions with ever larger screens and movies-on-demand.

 Having An Attention Span Shorter A Than A Goldfish

Now smart phones, tablets, and laptops keep us connected around the clock and allow us to download movies at will. Text messages and email, social media and news feeds jockey for our attention. All these distractions have lead the decline in our attention span, from 12 seconds at the turn of this century to only eight seconds now – a period of only 16 years. We’ve moved quickly from being able to sit quietly and listen intently to having a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Fidget to Pay Attention

Distracted? Not Paying Attention?

Is there anyone alive who hasn’t been admonished to pay attention? We’re all prone to distraction. When we’re absentminded, daydreaming, or preoccupied, our minds are miles away. We’re not alert and observant, not on the ball. That can be deadly. Think of the consequences of texting while driving. Fortunately most inattentive moments are not that disastrous.

Even so, getting the most from any activity requires being engaged. Many children and adults aren’t wired to sit still and pay attention. They’re restless, as if they actually have ants in their pants. Their constant squirming prevents them from focusing. Impedes their learning. And ultimately causes disruption. Finding ways to cope is critical.

Counter Intuitive Solution

The solution is counter intuitive for those of us who recall teachers scolding doodlers for not paying attention. By doodling the student was actually self-regulating. Having discovered a way to calm her ants, the doodler could listen and learn.

That’s the key. Figuring out ways to convert restlessness into controlled movement enhances focus. The sensory input of the activity enables self-regulation. We can pay attention. But that’s only half of its benefit. The motion itself involves crossing the midline, the imaginary line bisecting the body from top to bottom. The two hemispheres of the brain are connected by the corpus callosum, the site of the largest concentration of white matter in the brain. This white matter facilitates communication between the hemispheres. What we learn crosses the midline and gets disseminated throughout the brain. Consequently learning improves.

Fidget Toys

Fidget toys are an easy way for kids and adults alike to redirect their restlessness into controlled movement. Think stress balls. Transferring the ball from hand to hand. Squeezing. Pressing down with the palm and rolling the ball back and forth on a flat surface. Flattening the ball. All these activities involve controlled movement and relieve stress, making paying attention easier.

Stress Balls for All Situations

Some stress balls are smooth, others spiky. Some light up. Still others make a sound. What works best depends on individual preference and the situation. Sensory seekers prefer the tactile input of a spiky ball. The most tactilely defensive may dislike the feel of all of the balls. In a classroom or a meeting, a light-up or sound ball could be a distraction to others. One is never enough. Best to have multiples and keep one handy in all the places you’ll likely to need one. What’s your favorite?

Smooth and squeezable, Bead Ball and DNA Ball are quiet stress balls. 

Glitter Bead Ball makes a soft crunching sound, reminiscent of walking on hard packed snow.

Light Up DNA Ball and Flashing Spiky Ball are all about flashing light. Light Up DNA is smooth, soft, and squeezable. Flashing Spiky features soft spikes and flashes when bounced or whacked against a flat surface.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play



Posted on

How Play Increases Concentration and Focus

Our Waning Attention Span

What’s the attention span of a goldfish? What’s yours? According to a Microsoft study, a goldfish averages nine seconds, one second longer than the average human. Not so long ago – at the turn of this century – the average human attention span was 12 seconds. Not long, but longer than a goldfish. Our waning ability to concentrate causes problems for children and adults alike. When we’re inattentive, our productivity suffers: tasks take longer, we make more mistakes, become frustrated and stressed out. What are we to do?

Play Helps

Play more. While engaged in play we naturally pay attention. We’re concentrating on an activity that gives us pleasure. We’re in the present, oblivious to time, not easily distracted. Relaxed and confident, we’re apt to take glitches in stride, assess the situation, and apply our creativity to finding solutions.

Play is recreation, an activity we choose to do for the pleasure we derive from doing it. Play relieves stress, giving us a fresh perspective and  renewed focus. Play is essential for everyone, at every age. Playing games is a traditional pastime adults and children can enjoy together.

Find It Improves Focus

Find It, a series of thematic games designed for players six years old and up, requires players to search for objects hidden among plastic pellets in a cylinder. These intergenerational “contained adventures” both require and reward concentration and focus.

The top cap of each game lists the objects hidden in the cylinder. An enclosed guide assigns a point value to each object: one point for the easiest to find and 20 for the often elusive penny hidden inside every Find It.

A pack of double-sided playing cards expands play possibilities for two or more players. Finding objects is the aim of the game, whether played alone or with others, cooperatively or competitively.

Find It game about mythical creaturesConsider Mythical Creatures with 40 hidden objects. What better way for a child to learn about folk tales and supernatural beings from around the world than with a favorite adult who might know what’s what? Some objects will be familiar, but expect to be baffled and have to search for answers.

Otherwise, when you see the word hippocampus, you might think of the region of our brain thought responsible for emotions and memory. That’s true, but you’re looking for a fish-tailed horse from Greek Mythology. The fun is in finding out who’s who and what’s what. While concentrating on finding out about the Jersey Devil, a kraken, or a troll or taking note of the similarities and differences between a hippocampus and a manticore, you’ll feel more relaxed.

Play is essential. We learn while playing. Play more. Stress less. Pay attention. Concentrate. Focus. Thrive.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play