A Playful Day In the Backyard of Biomechanist Katy Bowman

Fall is finally upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not going to deny it anymore. But even as the weather gets cooler, my family and I are still finding ways to get outside and play.

I have always loved playing outside, climbing on rocks, trees, hiking, and splashing in puddles, and really want to pass this love of nature and outdoor movement on to my kids. It is so great to see other parents encourage their kids, and other grown-ups, to discover and recover their biophilia and love of playing outdoors.

One of the best outdoor play advocates I have met in a long time is Katy Bowman, although for her, moving and exploring the outdoors is simply behaving like a normal human.

Katy Bowman doing her thing

Katy Bowman doing her thing

Katy is a biomechanist with a deservedly large following of movement practitioners using her Restorative Exercise program. Katy is a huge advocate of natural movement and getting outside as much as possible, and encourages it with her kids as well. Katy talks about their experience in their outdoor “nature” preschool on her blog and podcast, but the enriching environments she has set up for her kids at home is in a class by itself.

Katy graciously invited my family out to her house outside of a small town on the Olympic Peninsula earlier this summer.

When we pull up to her house, the front yard looks fairly typical for any house containing small children; a few toys are strewn around the yard, slightly hidden by the uncut grass. Her husband and children have just headed off down the road for a walk. She helps us unload our brood out of the car after the long drive and immediately invites my daughter to explore, with me in tow.

We step out of the house into the backyard, and it is perfect.

My three-year-old daughter’s eyes light up like she’s hit the motherlode.

The lawn is littered with toys – costumes, stuffed animals, balls, a Little Tyke’s scooter car. There is a big basket of LEGOs sitting on the porch waiting to be dumped over and played with.

There are also complex toys laid out intentionally by Katy and her husband Michael for her kids to play with. A tippy rope ladder strung between two trees with a foam mat underneath; ladders laid on the ground for balancing, a jungle gym, a circle swing, large wooden ramps placed strategically up to table tops. The cherry tree is also filled with cherries, for good measure.

The kids have gotten creative with some of their building materials, including taking a couple of blocks from the flower box and made a corral for their plastic farm animals. They have also left little illustrations stealthily added around inside the house: on the wooden bed frame, the balance ball in Katy’s office, and on a couple of door frames.

And that’s before we even meet the chickens or go down to the Dungeness River to throw rocks, wade, climb, and make structures in the sand.

It is obvious the kids have the run of the house, and its affect is wonderful.

Katy has created a practice based on her high level training in biomechanics and years of teaching experience centered on creating a healthy, mobile human being, and this practice is reflected in how she and Michael have set up their home environment. Every space is open for movement, jump, climb, and play. There are edges and imperfectly balanced steps and slight risks everywhere. The kids must learn to navigate their environment safely, and have a blast doing it.

Katy often talks about getting her kids outside and exposed to new, playful challenges. And yet, when I ask her about it, she almost baulks at the idea she is supporting a primarily “playful” environment. For her, this is simply survival, teaching her little humans how to be human. She is merely creating and supporting healthy behaviors, what kids and grownups should be doing all the time.

They let their children go slow, at their pace. Their kids learn by doing, by experiencing. As do we all, really. It’s true that, thanks to the visit, I now have more confidence in being able to ford a fast-moving stream carrying my toddler. And it wasn’t part of a survival training camp or an emergency. It was part of our Sunday family outing. It may sound small or frivolous or “not necessary,” but for the survival of our species, that skill is a big deal.

To me, this kind of activity is not just good for restoring our body and capability to move, it is also restorative to our psyches and filling that need to explore and play at our own pace and learn in a playful way.

Finally my family has to head home. We take the time to let our kids say good night to the chickens before we load back into our car, driving away with the sunset on our backs. After getting to see and play in Katy’s backyard, both the grown-ups and the kids in our family feel renewed, replenished, and ready to play and explore our own backyard and our home environment in a new way.

I highly recommend digging in to Katy’s materials. She has some great ideas and thoughts around leading a healthy, restorative, and in my mind playful movement practice, whether it’s in nature or just in your own backyard.

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

This is a very well thought out and researched article about the benefits of pretend play, specifically creating and playing with puppets.

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

The [Puppet School] curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.

In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.

According to Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills.

more via How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD.

Are Teachers Distracting Students With Bad Interior Design? | Co.Design | business + design

These findings make sense to me and yet also don’t.


Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Few environments feature such a cacophony of decor as the elementary school classroom. Colorful bulletin boards, scientific posters, state maps, and student artwork tend to cover nearly every inch of wall space. Yet a new study on classroom design from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that all that educational flair may not be all that great for getting kids to learn.

The study, carried out over two weeks, examined 24 kindergarten students who were taught six lessons on topics they had not yet learned in school. Half the lessons were taught in a highly decorated classroom environment, with posters and art all over the walls, and the other half were taught in a classroom with no decoration.

CMU’s researchers found the kids spent more time off-task and were more distracted when the room was brightly decorated, and they tested better on subjects they learned in the sparser classroom compared to the ones they learned in the more visually stimulating environment.

Elementary school children typically stay in one room all day, so classroom decorations don’t necessarily match the subject matter they’re learning at any given time. If they’re sitting in front of a U.S. map, they’ll be looking at that all day whether the current lesson is on geography or math. This study, though very small, adds to previous research from the same psychologists showing that visual stimulation that’s irrelevant to on-going instruction can distract kids.

more via Are Teachers Distracting Students With Bad Interior Design? | Co.Design | business + design.

The study doesn’t go on to offer any ways to necessarily improve the classroom design, although the article does give other links discussing it.

Nature can be fairly visually cacophonous, so what is it about classroom designs that are so distracting? I also wonder how much of their distraction is from an unnatural learning style, and then other more engaging things to look at. That is not an attack on the teacher, I’m just skeptical whether any human is capable of sitting in one room for 6-8 hours, with a couple of lunch breaks, and concentrate the entire time, for an extended period of time. Even grown-ups have a hard time doing that, and suffer when they try to sustain that for too long.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

Why You Should Take Your Work Outdoors

Happy Friday. I got to start off my work day sitting on my back patio drinking coffee. Here’s why more people should do the same.

Do you feel stifled by the four walls of your office or cubicle?

There’s a reason for that.

Trapping ourselves indoors has created what health experts call a “nature deficit disorder” — depression or anxiety resulting from too little time spend outside. Getting outdoors can do great things for your health. Reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving immune function are among nature’s health benefits. What’s more, incorporating elements of nature into your workday can also give your brain a boost, resulting in increased productivity, focus and creativity.

Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, says a drop of nature is like a drop of morphine to the brain, since it “stimulates reward neurons in your brain. It turns off the stress response which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved immune response.”

Turning off the sensors that are involved in the stress response allows the higher brain centers to be accessed, resulting in increased concentration, improved memory, greater creativity and productivity and reduced mental fatigue. While Selhub says spending 20 minutes a day outdoors is recommended, studies have shown even looking at photographs of nature can deliver some of the same cognitive benefits as physically being outdoors. A 2008 study at the University of Michigan showed students who looked at photos of nature performed better on tests of attention and working memory than those who looked at photographs of urban scenes.

More reasons, and tips how, via Entrepreneur Magazine

20+ Drawing Ideas and Activities | picklebums.com

Staying playful and creative sometimes requires going back to your roots, or at least your crayons. Drawing, scribbling, doodling, and coloring have all been found to help with destressing, thinking out ideas and problems, and keep brains active into old age.

Drawing is also a great learning activity with lots of fine motor skill and development, problem solving, language development and social learning opportunities… (Editor’s note: all of which tie into the above-mentioned benefits, and these skills are all useful for both grownups and kids to practice and refresh on a regular basis).

Drawing is a way for children everyone to process their world, to represent and share their ideas and to explore new skills and information.

Drawing with Geometry Tools

Drawing with Geometry Tools

Graph Paper Drawing

Graph Paper Drawing

Collaborative Doodle Drawings

Collaborative Doodle Drawings

see all 20+ Drawing Ideas and Activities at picklebums.com.

If you think this is just “kid’s stuff” I dare you to try some of these, especially the collaborative drawing exercise. It’ll (potentially) expose some growth areas of yourself and/or others very quickly. :P

Inspire Creativity at Work With All 5 of Your Senses | Mashable

Work IS  a fully engrossing experience, so why not enhance all of those experiences?

You’ve probably heard of the debate about whether open offices or the oh-so-dreaded traditional cubicles are better in the workplace. All these discussions revolve around layout and arrangement, but did you know that ambience is equally (if not more) important for inspiring workplace creativity?

If only the interior designer had known that people working in white offices are more likely to complain of nausea and headaches, or that dim lighting jump starts creative freedom, your office might be a much happier place. In fact, the best offices engage all five senses — everything from colors and music to smells and tastes — to maximize your productivity and creativity.

Read the infographic below to decode why your office might be holding you back, and discover small things you can do to unleash your team’s creative powers in no time.

more via Inspire Creativity at Work With All 5 of Your Senses.

‘The Lego Movie’ Is An Entire Film About Fighting For Free Play!

I am a huge fan of Legos, and so the little kid in me was super excited to see this movie trailer. But the more I read about it, the more the grown-up in me gets excited to. The whole premise of the movie is about fighting a bad guy who wants to keep people from getting creative with Legos and playing with them just the way they want. The goal of the heroes is to keep free play, well, free.


Photo from the Forbes review

“The Lego Movie” explores what may be the essential question of Lego building as it applies to life: Must you dutifully follow the instructions, or can you combine pieces creatively to make anything you dream up? In the animated children’s comedy, a repressive overlord voiced by Will Ferrell is so maniacal about controlling the residents of Bricksburg that he has a weapon designed to glue all the pieces of their world together, putting an end to freestyle play. Only a band of wisecracking rebels including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman can stop him. The film is computer-animated but made to look as if all the scenery is built out of real Lego pieces. Everything moves in a way that simulates the stop-motion films that thousands of Lego customers have created with their pieces and posted online.

more via ‘The Lego Movie’: How it Came to Be Built – WSJ.com.

I am so excited to see a big budget movie with a lot of big budget actors devoted to promoting free-thinking free play, and some of the clips do in fact look really creative and are all about messing with your perceptions of the Lego reality!

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Scientific American

I’m working on an article for work, and came across this article as part of my research for the article. It pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say (darn it!).

Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

In contrast to the European Union, which mandates 20 days of paid vacation, the U.S. has no federal laws guaranteeing paid time off, sick leave or even breaks for national holidays. In the Netherlands 26 days of vacation in a given year is typical. In America, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong workers average 10 days off each year. Yet a survey by Harris Interactive found that, at the end of 2012, Americans had an average of nine unused vacation days. And in several surveys Americans have admited that they obsessively check and respond to e-mails from their colleagues or feel obliged to get some work done in between kayaking around the coast of Kauai and learning to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

more via Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Scientific American.

The article focuses on mental downtime options like naps and meditation, which are awesome, but I would argue that being awake and aware, but also not actively engaged, like going for a walk or just sitting down and observing a garden, are good options too, especially since getting outside has also shown to be mentally reinvigorating.

TED Blog | 10 talks about the beauty — and difficulty — of being creative


Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

I have been on vacation in California this week, playing with deer, ground squirrels, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, sparrows, sheep, dogs, cats, persimmons, pomegranates, oak trees, poplars, and other assorted flora and fauna. It also means I haven’t been feeding and tending to this blog as much as I would like. So, to hold you over until I am back into my usual swing of things, I am providing a link to a collection of 10 TED talks on Creativity.

Why TED?

I like to think of TED talks as little mental snacks, so this smattering of talks about creativity, both as a blessing and a curse, when it flows and when it doesn’t, and what you can do about it if anything, are a great collection of videos for you to snack on.

Why creativity?

Because I see creativity as merely a facet of play, so any research or discussion of creativity is also beneficial for talking about play. People need creativity in order to play. Creativity is also a key element to a playful space. Writers and artists often need specific environments to create (or at least think they do). And, for some reason, I find it’s easier for academics and business types to talk about creativity than play, when in many regards they are talking about the same thing. You say tom-A-to, I say tom-au-to…

Either way, enjoy!…

TED Blog | 10 talks about the beauty — and difficulty — of being creative.

Play time vital for learning

Combination playground equipment (plastic)

Playground doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we head back into the academic school year, a lot of people are focused on education and making sure students get the best possible opportunity to learn and thrive. Here’s one easy way to support that: give them space and time for play!

Numerous academic studies [sources stored in a weird place, will update soon] on school-aged kids have demonstrated that recess time is valuable for learning and aids in the overall learning process. But I think it can be more powerful to hear how valuable it is from someone who actually lives with the results of life with more or less recess; the teachers.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, educator Susanne North writes about the values of recess from an education viewpoint:

Apart from being a fun activity, it is widely recognised that play is one of the most important ways in which brain development occurs in children.

Sadly, in some schools valuable recess and lunch time has been reduced in favour of more rigorous academic pursuit within the classroom. In other schools, running or ball games have been banned due to a perceived high injury risk factor.

As many families now choose structured and adult-directed play activities after school or on weekends, the school playground becomes one of a few outlets where children can engage in free outdoor play with their peers. More than 28 hours a week, often spent solitarily, are devoted to computers, mobile phones, television and other electronic devices. Considering that as much as 25 per cent of time spent at school is playground time, we need to rethink the benefits of play at school.

Conversely, a lack of play can result in challenging behaviour and negative performances in the classroom, according to an American educational psychologist, Anthony Pellegrini.

Also, playgrounds that lack play stimuli become spaces where children often wander around aimlessly, become frustrated and bully other children. Not many schools can afford expensive playground equipment, but the good news is that this is not needed anyway.

Professor Anita Bundy, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Sydney University, has launched a large-scale study involving 12 primary schools in NSW, introducing simple, recycled play resources during recess, with outstanding results. This included crates, car tyres, foam pool noodles, plastic barrels, tarpaulins, foam cubes and other open-ended materials that lend themselves to creative, imaginary play.

Not only do children become physically more active, they also hone important social skills, build resilience and are encouraged to think creatively.

Read more: Play time vital for children | Sydney Morning Herald

The entire Op-Ed is very strongly written and makes a great case for play, and it’s great to hear it from the teacher’s standpoint, so please read it and share. And be sure to support play time in school, whether it’s by voting, volunteering, donating red rubber balls, or whatever you can do.