Posts Tagged 'play'

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (Book Review)

By: Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by: Suzanne Beaky
Published October 2011 by Flashlight Press

We’ve reached an interesting turning point in children’s literature when the message of a kid’s book is aimed at both parents and children.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister by Linda Lodding captures the essence of the over-scheduled child in a fun and friendly way. With so many activities in her schedule, Ernestine has no time to do what she really wants to do – play. Until one day, Ernestine takes control and changes her schedule.

Lodding gently critiques the philosophy that so many of us adhere to. Ernestine’s parents tell her to ‘make every moment count’ and ‘live life to the fullest’. But trying to pack in too many activities can be disastrous. While Ernestine suffers from activity overload, her parents believe that they are providing the best for their daughter.

While the book’s message can be sobering, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is far from serious. This light-hearted story will entertain any elementary school-aged child as they read about Ernestine knitting with Mrs. Pearl Stitchem and practicing yoga with Guru Prakash Pretzel. The illustrations by Suzanne Beaky are bright and engaging.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is a wonderful reminder that play is just as important as – if not more important than – organized activities. Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play and founder of the National Institute for Play, reminds us that play allows children to get in touch with their innate talents. If children are confined to scripted activities all the time, they will never get a chance to explore other interests.

Released just in time for Christmas, this book will make an excellent gift for the child [ahem, parent] who needs a kind reminder to relax and take time to play.

Available October 1, 2011, where children’s books are sold. Visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble to order online.


My New Play Guidelines

There are times when I will not play with my children. Seriously, there are children’s games that I simply do not have the patience for. For example, I will never be a person who can play ‘pretend’ with children for hours on end. I simply can’t stand it. I will not have tea parties with them or play dress up.

I’ve started to feel that there isn’t anything wrong with admitting this. If play is supposed to be fun, then I need to be having fun too. And I don’t have fun playing ‘school’ for an hour with a five-year-old and nearly two-year-old. There are some parents who do enjoy these activities. That’s great, but it’s not me.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of activities that I do enjoy doing with girls. We do play together. But I’ve stopped trying to force myself to enjoy all their games. Instead, I make sure that I participate in games that are fun for me too. I enjoy colouring with the Bear, for example. And I love exploring and discovering nature with them – like a recent trip when I helped them catch about 20 leeches from the lake.

Here are my new play guidelines:

1. If I’m not having fun, I don’t push myself to endure the activity.
2. I make an effort to do things with the girls that we all enjoy.
3. I try to come up with activities that they love, but are combined with getting things done. Hence, bath time for the stuffies. Pete (the sheep in the picture) is Banana’s favourite. He gets filthy as she drags him everywhere. So I made the animals a bubblebath in the backyard and the girls washed their animals. Ta-da, playtime that also accomplishes something. Best activity ever!

Playing on the Edge

Banana playing in the water drain at the Millwoods Spray Park.

Some of you may recognize the location in the picture. This is a water drain that runs parallel to Edmonton’s Millwoods Spray Park. We recently visited the park on a hot day last week. It’s a new park – beautifully landscaped, fresh sand in the sand box, clean picnic tables and bathrooms. And of course, the amazing spray area. Where do my kids end up playing? Yup, in the water drainage system.

As I’m watching the Bear float her flip-flops through the culvert, I hear another mother tell her children – very firmly – that they are NOT to go to this area of the park; they must stay in the playground or the spray area. She was not the only parent. Another told her children that the drain was ‘filthy’ (and admittedly, it was!) and to stay on the concrete. All these comments had a similar message: play in areas that you are ‘suppose’ to play in; play in ways that are expected and ‘normal’; play in places that adults perceive to be sanitary and safe.

Now, I have to be careful not to judge too harshly. Maybe there were circumstances that I am not aware of. And there were plenty of parents who were letting their kids explore the water drain. But I’m guessing that the parents who did not let their children play in this area were parents who regularly miss the point of play – to have fun! And children have fun in ways that we usually never expect. Their fun involves exploring, creating worlds, and imagining games that are outside of the mundane world that adults control.

We have to let the kids go to these places – the places that are dirty, uncontrolled and on the fringes. And I am always grateful to the parents who let their kids play alongside my children in weird but wonderful ways.

Where did you love to play as a kid? I only have faint memories of playgrounds – my favourite place to play was in the forest that surrounded our small town. This was a place where we were free to invent whatever world we wanted. We’ve got to extend our children the same sort of privilege. Let them play on the periphery. Let them play unsupervised. Let them explore the worlds that adults have forgotten still exist. Let them play a little on the edge.

Miserable Tidiness Vs. Happy Messiness

Photo Credit: Juliet James from

Want to be a true idle parent? Embrace the messiness and shun the soul-sapping focus on a tidy home. At least that’s what Tom Hodgkinson says in his book on Idle Parenting.

And trust me, we’ve tried. I try to force myself not to worry about the thin layer of dust accumulating in the living room. I let myself leave dishes on the counter when my mother-in-law visits. I tell myself over and over that an exceptionally tidy home is one that discourages children to be comfortable and play where they please. I’ve let the stuffed animals sit on the stairs for days at a time. I’ve ignored the heap of plastic dishes in the bathroom sink where kids have been playing. We’ve avoided tearing down the tower of blocks or the train track at the end of the day.

But alas, MJ and I cannot completely turn off the neat-freak sides of our personalities. Both of us enjoy having everything put away. For us, happiness is simply not messiness; it is a home that allows you pass through the rooms without falling over a fort or putting your hand in something sticky. I can hear MJ in my head right now, “Everything in its place and a place for everything.” Groan.

There has to be a compromise somewhere. Is it possible to be more relaxed about the house while the adults remain happy, and well, sane?

I think I’ve figured it out. It’s kind of obvious, but it didn’t really occur to me until this month. As I’ve waged war on our ‘stuff’ this month, I’ve been throwing out, giving away, or selling things. It started with the small things – the Kinderegg toys, the seasonal erasers (seriously, why do we even have Valentine’s Day themed school supplies?), the bouncy balls that you get out of a machine with a quarter. And I’ve moved on to bigger things – I got rid of 15 stuffed animals the other day and several pairs of shoes from the front door. With less things around, the less of a mess there is, and the easier it is to clean up.

This might be a no-brainer to some of you, but it has really made an impact on me. Consider having eight crayons in the house versus the usual 80 or so children’s writing and colouring tools. Eight will always be easier to clean up than the 80 items that always seem to get dumped out of the storage box.

Less stuff. Less mess. Happier parents.

Why I’m Anti-Playdate

Okay, I’m as guilty of it as anyone nowadays. A parent suggests that our children get together and we whip out our calendars. It’s time to negotiate the playdate: time of drop off and pick up, snack or lunch or both, allergies, bring gear so they can play outside, etc, etc, etc.

At what point exactly did we start calling children’s time with a friend a ‘playdate’? I would venture to say exactly around the same time that helicopter parenting hit the vernacular. The same time that we all started to carry our calendars on portable electronic devices. The same time that we started to feel the necessity of putting our children’s activities into a schedule. (Check out Wikipedia’s definition of a playdate)

Of course, I’m very pro ‘play’. I’m just a tad resentful of the idea that we need to make play into a ‘date’ – a date that is sometimes planned weeks in advance.

Remember how we would play as kids? We’d head outside to see who was around. If there was nobody there, we’d knock on doors to see who could come out and play. I doubt my parents ever knew exactly where we were. They’d just ask my sister and I to come home in time for dinner. Occasionally they would call around to our friend’s homes until they located us.

Then there were the times that we’d randomly ask our parents if so-and-so could come over. We’d come out of swimming lessons, for example, and I’d ask if a friend could come over for dinner. No warning, no advance planning, just spontaneous company.

I had a quick chat about this with a friend of mine. I wondered if it was because I was raised in a small town. But she confirmed that she, too, had played this way as a child in the city. Distance between friends will always demand some advance planning. But as long as friends are in the neighbourhood, there should be no reason to turn play into a date.

I was thinking about playdates when I wrote this week’s Slow Saturday Challenge. I sometimes shy away from playdates because it feels like a burden when there is a schedule to follow. I get annoyed with an exact amount of time allocated to play. I’d much rather causal playtime…

I love that the Bear is now old enough to go out and knock on a neighbour’s door to see if a friend wants to come out and play. The kids grab their boots and head outside. No advance plan, just time to hang out. Sometimes they only play for about 15 minutes before one of them is called inside. But the children know that they are allowed to have that random, unscheduled, unstructured play between other obligations.

I was glad that we spontaneously invited one of the Bear’s friends over on Monday. It was spur-of-the-moment; just an opportunity for the two of them to get together. And, as I mentioned in the Slow Saturday Challenge, more kids often means less work. They just make their own fun and disappear to invent their own games. The more, the merrier. And spontaneous play will always trump planned playtime.

How much is too much when it comes to kids’ activities?

In a few weeks the Bear will start swimming lessons. But we’ve also promised her that we will sign her up for soccer. She’s wanted to play soccer for the last two years. Until now, we felt that she was just too young for organized sports.

So, here I am writing a blog where I theoretically frown on too much organized activities for kids. But our family is about to embark on a spring season of swimming lessons and soccer for our five-year-old – at the same time. Which begs the question, how much is too much?

My sister has this story. On a whim, she signed up her three-year-old daughter to take highland dancing because it was an activity that was part of a city-sponsored outreach program and, therefore, inexpensive. The plan was to have a Saturday activity just for fun. My niece loved it and she was quite good at it. Suddenly, my sister was looking at the next session of dance lessons (more expensive this time because she would need to join the dance academy) and investigating the specialized outfit that her daughter would have to wear. Then my sister started to worry that she hadn’t started her daughter in dance earlier – was she already behind?

And I think that that sort of sums it up. We (parents) get swept into children’s organized activities without really thinking it through. Psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, co-author of Hyper-Parenting: Are You Hurting Your Child by Trying Too hard?, says, “Childhood is for preparation. It’s not a performance.” Incidentally, my sister had a reality check and didn’t join the dance academy. Instead, she signed my niece up for gymnastics, part of the same inexpensive city-sponsored outreach program, and she signed her up ‘just for fun.’ In other words, she knew where to draw the line.

I know that there are many bloggers and readers who rally behind the position that you do what is right for your family. But I disagree. We should talk about the limitations we place on our children’s lives. Because even in the name of ‘just for fun’, we are placing parameters around children’s lives when we put them in organized activities.

How much is too much?

Some will argue that organized activities build skills in sociability, teamwork, learning how to be physically active on a regular basis, etc. But still, this is our [adult] definition of not only what skills we think our children should have, but our [adult] idea of how they should acquire these skills. And don’t we tend to disguise adult skill acquisition under the moniker of ‘fun’? We applaud the ‘fun’ that happens in organized activities and dismiss the ‘fun’ that children have on their own.

Tom Hodgkinson of The Idle Parent, shuns any organized activity (except for swimming):

The modern parent fills the child’s days with enclosing activities. From the enclosure of school we enclose them in the car, and then we drive them to more adult-organized activities: ballet class, football, extra French, drama club, all in the service of making them into competitive entities…

I remember that the best places to play were old rubbish tips, where we could find springs and fridges and old bits of car. The best places were the places we had discovered for ourselves. We played in the margins. We didn’t need adult-designed play parks. I remember even as a kid being keenly aware that there was something wrong with adult-organized fun. It was disabling.

Unfortunately, this post leaves me with more questions than answers. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with the Bear. She really wants to play soccer. And perhaps we need to give it a try. Maybe tackling our first organized sport as a family will help us better define what is too much. The driving force is the Bear, not us. I’m just conscious of the pressure to be part of the world of organized activities without asking the all-important, ‘why?’

To be continued!

Bring the Weather Indoors

The Bear and Banana playing with snow indoors.

I’m always looking for activities for the girls that are relatively easy to set up and also free. With the cold weather yesterday, we brought the snow inside for some playtime. I had to share this activity as it has been the BIGGEST hit. Bringing the snow indoors is such a novelty for them. We have also brought snow indoors during bath time.

All I did was empty out two containers that usually hold Lego and Play Mobile. Then I filled one with warm water and the other with snow. I put them on a kid’s table in the kitchen and voila. Banana had to stand on a child’s chair in order to play but that didn’t seem to be problem. They played for about 45 minutes. Best of all, I was able to do a load of dishes while they played.

Clean up was easy. It’s not like playdough or paint where you’re worried about the activity has ended up. All you’re doing is cleaning up water and putting the kids into dry clothes afterward.

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