Posts Tagged Julia Steiny
Published by EducationNews.org — The best, most educational toys don’t always need to plug in, have a micro-processor or cost a fortune.
“IT CAME FROM THE MAIL ROOM,” BY FLICKR USER LAST MARINER. USED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE.
Ah, the quiet week, the post-holiday pause. The gifts have been purchased, wrapped and unwrapped. The house is returning to normal. Most of the nation’s children are busy with new goodies from under the tree. Most will spend their vacation downtime hunched in front of some sort of screen. Some might actually be physically active, using a Wii to simulate an outdoor activity in a messy bedroom.
Consumer Christmas jumped to light speed with TV, of course. Before then Christmas was a time to spoil the children A LITTLE BIT with a doll or a toy car, chocolates, and a sweet collection of myths and magic. Solstice, Hanukkah and the Nativity are all celebrations of the waxing of the light as we face the dark of the season. But who notices that anymore? The season’s holy days are now fully transformed into a toy orgasm, in a triumph of mass advertising over cultural tradition.
So let’s head over to the Geek Dads column in Wired Magazine to see if your kids got the hottest must-have item. The columnists home-test toys with their very own children, or geeklets. These tech-heads know whereof they e-speak.
Jonathan Liu puts it right out there with “The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” And they are:
Stick, box, string, cardboard tube and dirt.
Hmmmmm. Not exactly sophisticated, cool, “the latest,” or advertised as educational.
Some readers objected to his priorities, so Liu included a few more in a subsequent column. They are:
Bubble wrap, rock, ball and water.
Once I got over the shock of the refreshing lack of batteries needed, I wanted to add doll, sand and clay.
But whatever. For once I am at one with hip, young super-sophisticates. Liu acknowledges that his choices involve a bit more risk than video games, and thus need some unintrusive supervision. But adults should be doing that anyway.
Still, the contrast between super-absorbing electronic entertainment and the traditional elements of play raises the question: What is a toy?
While researching children’s play and its relationship to academics, I found this oft-repeated saying: A good toy is 90 percent child and 10 percent toy.
A video game, or a movie-character doll, have plot lines already laid out. A kid “plays” by doing the plot correctly – finding the right pre-made path through the video adventure, or following the movie character’s story line precisely. Zero creativity.
Three important qualities characterize traditional play materials. (Ropes and blankets that make up indoor forts are hard to call toys, exactly.)
First, a good toy brings out the personality and passions of the child. What does he like to do? What does he repeat so he can get better and better at it? Is he a builder? Game-player? Adventurer? Pretender? Children are always telling us what skills and interests they want nourished, if we listen.
Secondly, traditional playthings are the way the child’s brain uploads the features, benefits and liabilities of the world around her. Sticks, for example, can be anything. (Which is why forbidding toy guns always seems to me like a losing proposition.) They can dig, be weaponry, scepters, farm tools. But they can also poke, hit and hurt. They come from trees, which are giant jungle gyms when frightened adults aren’t looking.
In a video game, the weapon in the avatar’s hand has no weight, length or other properties that might inform a kid’s later encounter with, say, tools. Playing with play stuff gets the kid ready to handle real stuff.
Because third – and this is a point almost entirely lost on adults – play is a way of getting ready for work. As kids get older, their traditional toys increasingly mimic adult work. Kids like to pretend to be adults. They want to tinker, build or cook, like the adults. Cars and roadways are dangerously adult, but kids can reproduce them in a sandbox.
On a fact sheet, The Alliance for Childhood recommends that you “bring back the art of real work. Believe it or not, adult activity – cooking, raking, cleaning, washing the car – actually inspires children to play. Children like to help for short periods and then engage in their own play.”
This is huge. If children learn to work through their play, later when they’re adults, they’ll look for work that has an element of play in it for them, hopefully. If play is just about being passively entertained, even with “interactive” features supplied by a keyboard, then work and school will just be boring drudgery because they’re not entertainment. Lots of essential work is tedious, but playful people can find the game aspect and make it work for them.
Honestly, I believe that the key reason we’re struggling to raise our kids’ academic achievement is that we’ve sucked play out of learning and work. Our work can look like such a drag to kids. We come home, plotz in front of the TV, and make it seem like there, on the screen, life finally has some juice.
Surely Geek Dads get their fill of playing with screens when they work. So no wonder that when they get playthings for their kids, they want to go retro with dirt, water, and totally fun cardboard boxes.
But theirs shouldn’t be the only such lucky kids.
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears atGoLocalProv.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, seejuliasteiny.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.
Published by EducationNews.org — Eliminating ‘managed risk’ from normal childhood play does a disservice to kids by sequestering them from life’s normal ups and downs.
When I was maybe, like 7 years old, I accidently broke Bill Kelly’s leg.
I’m guessing he was 12, maybe 13.
Three doors down from ours, the Kelly’s house teemed with neighborhood kids and their brood of 7. They’d set up croquet in their backyard. And I got it into my idiot head that I would hold onto the handle of one of the mallets and swing it round and round, enjoying the centrifugal pull of the mallet head. In the midst of my hands-on experiment with momentum, I lost my grip. The mallet flew. I heard Bill scream bloody murder and saw him go down.
Mortified, petrified, hysterical, I ran home, and when I could stop sobbing for a second, blurted out my crime to my parents. They were suitably alarmed. My dad went down the block to see what he could do.
While the grown-ups were buzzing about the incident, no big wave of fury crashed on me. In time I was marched down to apologize to Bill in front of his and my parents. Bill was rip-snortingly angry because his leg really hurt.
But most importantly, he couldn’t play baseball with a cast. The Kelly boys were sports nuts. I’m sure I gushed remorse, because my face gets hot with shame, to this day.
But that’s all that happened, such as I remember. Surely my parents paid the medical costs or settled up somehow. Surely the adults’ conversation was dark and concerned as they scrambled to care for Bill. I didn’t need retribution added to how stupid and awful I felt. My mother let me know she believed it was an unfortunate accident.
It was a hard lesson for all of us: Be careful. Be mindful. That lesson can’t be learned once and for all, like multiplication, but must be faced time and time again.
I’ll bet a point came when my parents and the Kellys had a good laugh, and perhaps a drink together. The families developed no tensions. Bill was back on the ballfields soon enough. The Steiny kids played at the Kelly’s house, and their kids at ours. Life went on.
In those days everyone assumed that stuff happened.
These days? Are you kidding? That could have been a massive law suit. That could have set off ugly tensions between the two families, perhaps infecting the swarm of neighborhood kids.
These days an amazing number of people assume that childhood should be scrubbed clean of broken legs, bruised egos and minor property damage. Communities teach children that they should not have to expect nor tolerate adversity. And in the event of accidents or even deliberate misbehavior, adults often turn to the problem-solving industry, the legal system – or some other authority with the power to impose retribution.
So parents, neighbors, schools and Departments of Parks and Recreation spend vast resources protecting themselves from litigation, in the name of protecting the children. You’re a lawsuit waiting to happen if you don’t practice zero tolerance towards foolish youthful behavior and the inevitable consequences of immaturity.
So kids do not learn managed risk. If kids never fall, how do they learn balance? If they never resolve their own heated disputes, how do they learn to deal with bullies? If they never make mistakes, how will they persist to real, hard-earned success? Childhood is the perfect time to suffer the minor consequences of getting dirty, getting hurt, and losing one’s temper.
What is childhood without managed risk?
Well, poor training, for one thing. Kids arrive at the school door with less and less common sense. Beyond organized sports and electronics, they know nothing of the kind of playing that includes banging wood together, roaming the neighborhood, breaking something or, sigh, accidently hurting someone.
In a recent study by the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, college officials report that students’ demand for mental-health services is soaring. These are the youth who have survived our educational system and have enough family support to get them to college. But even they now arrive at college fragile from over-protection and clueless about managing the big world in front of them. They have little resilience and no notion how to deal with a crabby roommate.
Consider that nationally SAT scores have declined, the NAEPs have been flat, and the states’ local testing programs show remarkably little progress. Yes, the quality of schools is part of the problem. But we’re asking the great majority of kids to build their understanding of Algebra I and the scientific method on a clueless foundation of protected and manufactured experiences. Organized sports, T.V., and video games do not teach creativity, resourcefulness or how to resolve disputes without adult intervention.
The fear of liability is not keeping the kids safe at all, but making them stupid with lack of everyday, knockabout experience. Put up with the occasional broken leg. And get real. Bullying will never go away. All of us need to learn the skills and confidence to manage social challenges.
Adversity is life. We’re sparing kids the work of learning to deal with life.
And just for the record: the most dangerous thing a kid can do is get in your car with you, even properly secured.
I’m pretty sure Bill became a successful doctor. Absolutely no worse the wear. And my accident was just a good story and big lesson for our ‘hood.
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at GoLocalProv.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at email@example.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.