Play is Good Trouble

HS Rock

Photo CNN

“Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis

We have all heard the story about how a frog won’t leave a pot of water if it is heated gradually. First off, that contention is just not true.  But more importantly, it makes the analogy that things before were better and have only grown worse over time. This assumption allows us to believe if we mobilize for change, there is a preexisting condition that will naturally come about. When the issue is self-determination, the myth of gradually becoming accustomed to change is not true as well. I suspect, and much of history and anthropology bear this out, as far back as we can look, there have been times of civil liberty and others of repression.

In today’s America, we can see that the repression of peaceful demonstrators is not that different from Child Protective Services taking children from parents because they allowed them to play on the playground across from their home while at the same time, the mother watched over them from the kitchen window. Forcing children to sit at desks for most of the day to memorize information unrelated to their interests or abilities is just as draconian. When autos are so dominant that children cannot play freely in their neighborhood, or when cars become the new weapon of choice for attacking demonstrators, we can see our society has run amuck. When we cannot distinguish from “peace” officers from boogaloo boys dressed up in camo with multiple machine guns and ammunition strapped on them as these poor guys struggling to come to terms with their impotence, we know that we live in a repressive society.

The thing about repression is that social norms don’t just creep in unbidden. Rather they grow on fertile soil. One of the first agendas of any leader who wants to move the tenor of their society in one direction or the other is to change the educational system of children. This is as true today as it was in the times of the Romans. Children are the fertile soil on which both slavery and freedom spring.

There are many ways that the imbalance in our society can be ameliorated. Confrontation, working from within, and mobilization are all effective. History shows, and the founding fathers knew that education is perhaps the most critical and sustainable change agent. But note that protecting schools is not in the constitution, but a free press and speech are. This is an important observation. The constitution does not guarantee education, but a free press and unfettered inquiry are.

“The constitution does not guarantee compulsory education, but a free press and unfettered inquiry are.”

Hummm, “open unfettered inquiry.” That sounds an awful lot like “play-based” learning. As Tom Hobson, aka Teacher Tom, points out in many of his essays, when children are allowed to play with minimal adult interference, democracy and fairness between children generally blossoms. He is also keen to show that this process is not without challenges for children or for observers who want to spare the participants from pain.

As Lenore Skenazy at Let Grow points out, the change that must happen is regaining trust. Lenore’s message is we can trust our children to roam our community as it is objectively safer than it has ever been. We can trust our children to navigate life without our constant overwatch. This is what a free society does. It trusts its citizens to self-govern.

As Ms. Cheng Xueqin, the founder of Anji Play said so poignantly during the recent Play First Summit; we can also trust children’s “true play” to be a powerful change agent.  I can personally attest to this power as I have seen play as members of playground building crews went on to become school board members and engage in other civic responsibilities. Its power is clear, as the play settings we create require that teachers and parents must stand back because the children become so engrossed in their play that adult direction becomes unnecessary and unwanted.

After the Summit, I was describing to my sister the conversation Ms. Cheng had with her co-founder of the True Play Foundation Jesse Robert Coffino.  While I love my sister deeply, she is an arch-conservative and steadfast supporter of the current occupant of the White House, which makes conversations somewhat guarded. But this time, the conversation took an unexpected turn as she recalled her days as an elementary school teacher. She recounted that as a test, it was her practice at some point during the school year to abruptly leave her classroom unattended for a short period. To her profound joy, she would find on returning her students just as engaged in their projects as they were under her watchful eye. I realized at that moment that our shared commitment to children was, and will be going forward, a bridge we can cross together to reach new common ground.

Advocating for true play is what John Lewis called “making good trouble.”

Play and Metamorphosis

Wikipedia Commons

The world of early childhood education (ECE) is focused on child development and learning, but what do we mean by those terms?

One of the ways we can understand today’s ECE is to look at the way it describes the process of education. Pick up most any book in the field, and you will find “growth” charts of the milestones of development and the stages of skill acquisition. Parents follow these guides and can become obsessed with their child’s “performance” and worry that they may be “falling behind.”

In this way, what ECE communicates and development and learning ss a linear progression from small to big and from incapable to skillful. The problem with this way of looking at child development is that it is scientifically incorrect. The true picture of the early years is one of spurts and retreats, of stagnation and astonishment.

A metaphor for this characterization of ECE is to look at an acridid that has outgrown their skin and has to shed it to get bigger. There is no going back, and there is no change other that size. Children are not spiders.

Currently, there is a renewed interest in play-based learning. The notion that children learn through play is hundreds of years old. Since the industrial revolution, play has largely been supplanted by an education system that trains workers to fit into a production economy. The pushback on this pedagogical approach is being fueled primarily by new insights coming from studies in neuroscience and biological anthropology. The new understanding is that the infant comes not as a blank slate to be filled with knowledge, but more as a learning machine that is programmed to develop as the child interacts with the world.

In this new way of looking at ECE, rather than simply growing up, children are now seen as gaining entirely new capabilities that were nascent and are now manifest. Metaphorically, a child is like a tadpole who is transformed in the early years from a herbaceous swimming creature into a bipedal insectivore.

The presenters at recent the Play First Summit largely followed the play-based learning track with very powerful and unique perspectives. However, if you listened carefully, a new paradigm was being hinted at. Going beyond growth and transformation, one can see clues that there is the possibility of a true metamorphosis. What does this mean?

While the tadpole’s transformation is a type of metamorphosis, in this new metaphor, the child is more like a butterfly. Unlike the tadpole who retains much of their physical form a structure, the caterpillar digests itself and is literally turned in to a soup without form. Only a few highly organized cells remain intact that are the template for future butterflies.

Many of the speakers alluded to how children need to be nurtured to gain the resources and become butterflies, not just frogs. Trusting the child and their intrinsic drives to play was a consistent theme throughout the Summit. Deep listening and non-interference were also commonly sighted as essential.

The presenter that wrapped these ideas into a package that went beyond transformation to metamorphosis was that of Ms. Cheng. What she has created is a new “meta” level by which the Anji Play method transforms teaching, teachers, and educational institutions.

By allowing children to play freely, in the Anji method this is referred to as “true” play. Teachers are tasked with primarily observing and recording what happens. The observations set the stage for group discussion. This chrysalis phase of the program is truly amorphous, and there are no expectations about outcomes except to hear from the children about what they were thinking during their play. What problems were they trying to solve, and what did they learn.

So far, so good. But the change goes far beyond this new method of education. The process also changes teachers as they see how complex the children’s discoveries have been and the critical thinking that they have employed. In contrast, teaching children numbers and words pale in comparison to this “true” learning by “true” children.

With the Anji Play method, teachers become committed to this form of learning and will not disavow it for an academic approach. Administrators who insist on going backward find that they are confronted by incontrovertible evidence that the children are learning better and faster than in the old way. The Anji Play method revises the whole educational ecosystem.

What is also true of the Anji method is that everyone is joyful. This emotion does not mean there is no strife or difficulties but that these setbacks an integral part of the learning process for children, teachers, and administrators. Everyone is learning to take on challenges and succeed, and this brings about joy.

Most importantly, through Anji Play, children emerge as butterflies and take flight.


Kid’s Must Get What’s Inside – Out!

Anji white Board
Note the child documenting the play. You can see the drawing of the castle.

Photo True Play Foundation

As a student at San Francisco State University, I had the opportunity to study for three semesters with Sinclair Kirby Miller, who taught theories of communication. His seminal message was:

“We create, order, and project our world, moment by moment.

In the 57 years since I first heard this axiom, I have found it to be true on every level, from personal development to quantum physics.

A few years ago, I met Ms. Cheng Xueqin, the founder of Anji Play, and was bowled over by her vision and program. Since then, I have watched in total admiration as Anji Play has grown from a few schools to expand to all of China’s 34 provinces and administrative districts.

As a play systems designer, I have been most focused on the unique apparatus Ms. Cheng invented and the sorts of play the school’s environments support. Subsequently, one of my favorite people, Cas Holman, has refined the designs into a uniform system so that research and programming will be consistent across all schools.

Out of the corner of my eye, I was also drawn to what was happening in the classroom. The thing that has really impressed me is that Ms. Cheng has emphasized reflection. The program schedule that, following the outdoor play sessions, children gather to talk about what they did during play, what they were thinking, and what they learned. This strikes me the most profound addition to the lexicon of early childhood education. I know of no other educational philosophy that included this process specifically. Why is this important?

(Go to and watch Check-in #6 to learn more about this process)

If you go back to Professor Miller’s axiom, you can see that the essence of what we are as humans is trying to make sense of what we experience, to find the patterns that we can perceive, and rely on, act on these as if they are “real.”  For example, neuroscientists will tell you that the eye and visual cortex are constantly constructing a model of reality. The quantum scientist will tell you that the chair doesn’t exist until you observe it. And yet, despite the FACT that the chair doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way except that we perceive it, we can sit in it, take pictures of it, and give it a 5-star rating.

This process of creating reality is the job of early childhood, and children spend the bulk of their time and all of their emerging senses in this endeavor. When Anji Play purposely brings children together in groups to bring about a consensus of the children’s shared reality, it produces that highly valued condition of integrating sensory and cognitive functioning with community validation. This process greatly accelerates the act of learning.

Can I prove this assertion? Nope, science is just now able to study this sort of meta-learning. I am encouraged that Anji Play seems eager to facilitate such studies. I will make another prediction. I am confident that it will be found that children who experience this process of communal reflection of play will be far more creative than their peers. Why?

As an artist, I can say from personal experience that creativity is the process of getting what’s on the inside to the outside. As we go through life, we have thousands of impressions, as Kirby Miller would say, moment by moment. Indeed, much of the first five years of life are a process of damping down stimulus and pruning neurons to construct our reality. This process is driven by instinctual drives over which the child has little control. We don’t teach children to jump in puddles so that they learn the principles of hydrodynamics and ingest mud, so they will enhance their gut biome. No, instinct does this and gives a chemical burst of pleasure to the brain to ensure this fun is repeated.

Mud is a big deal at Anji Play as it is in most play-based early childhood programs. The everyday process of reflecting on such play has the potential for the children to realize that playing in mud is fun. Such discussion offers the opportunity for them to ask why, since playing in mud makes no objective sense. Such a question can stick with a child for the rest of their lives, and it is just such profound questions that lead to creativity. As designers will tell you, asking the right question is 75% of the solution.

It is perfectly possible to go through childhood and never wonder why about much of anything. Still, the Anji Play process of communal reflection is a powerful tool for encouraging this sort of contemplation. It may be that the scientist who was studying the gut micro-biome had an ah-ha moment when she realized that the most likely way that the bacteria Mycobacterium Vaccae made it into the intestine was from ingested soil and that came about from mud play.



The Solution for Learning During a Pandemic … and After!

Coming together
By coming together, this will work!

A great way to start understanding the issues raised here is to first read Killing Ourselves With Kindness by Teacher Tom

Increasingly we hear we can’t go back to “normal” and that we need a radical change. We are also seeing educational leaders tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to bring students back to school with social distancing and older teachers who are high risk or younger teachers who are afraid to bring the virus home.

At the same time, we learn that many employers and workers are finding that their productivity at home is up and the lower expenses of office space and commuting make this a win-win. The other reality is that many mothers are experiencing a huge added burden of home-schooling and childcare while also trying to maintain their career or having to abandon it altogether.

While all this is going on, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are in for a multi-year deep economic downturn. Schools have to gear up for added security while facing a significant loss of tax revenue. Businesses, too, will feel the pinch and want to lower wages to keep afloat, meaning less household income for families. The government cannot make-up for all of this shortfall.

In a recent conversation with Tom Hodson, aka Teacher Tom, we talked extensively about the power of cooperatives. In my last post, I mentioned Teacher Tom’s Woodland as well as Takoma Park schools, which are both parent co-ops. Along with Anji Play in China, these schools represent what I believe are the ideal early learning environments. What they share is the creation of programs and spaces that are dynamically created in response to a deep understanding of the truth of play-based learning.

Thinking more about our conversation, I realized that Tom already sees the solution to educating children going forward. His passion for cooperatives is not misplaced as they have historically been one of the keys to economic recoveries for generations. Now is the time to make that the centerpiece of learning going forward. Here’s why.

Co-ops keep tuition costs affordable, which is essential. A secondary benefit, but not less important, is they are a way for parents to learn more about child development, how kids learn through play, and to manage without negative discipline. Ok, you say, co-ops are great, but they are few and far between. What makes them a model that will scale?

Here’s how this can work. The CDC has already suggested that one way to begin to adapt long-term to COVID is for families to create small cohorts who both share the risks and defend each other, and in this way, deal with the crippling effects of isolation. These neighborhood groups will increasingly help with children’s learning as well. We already see a big movement in this direction with families teaming up to pay teachers to educate their children.

Most schools will be forced to go to full-time distant learning as the safety measures they are putting in place will fail to adequately protect students or bring sufficient teachers back. This means a huge part of public education will be virtual while at the same time, many teachers will not be in classrooms. The picture that will emerge is a largely decentralized education system when most learning is at home, and school buildings sit largely empty. It would not be at all surprising to see many campuses converted to housing in the coming years.

What will be needed?

There are some significant gaps in this scenario that are predictable. As any teacher will tell you, kids are prodigious consumers of materials, and teachers spend an inordinate amount of time, often unpaid and out of pocket, to supply this appetite. Unlike the ageist pattern of current schools, we will also see mixed-age groups that exacerbate this issue. Finally, kids need to be outdoors, and most residential homes are ill-equipped to deal with active play and exploratory learning in the backyard.

This is where co-op preschools and other parent participation programs can help as they have a wealth of experience dealing with these issues with limited resources. As I mentioned to Tom, school-based adventure play has a well-established list of play materials. This is a good start. But it is also true that these small cohorts will have a difficult time having the capacity to gather these materials efficiently. Especially given that, unlike a school, their need is relatively short-term and constantly changing as their children grow.

The solution to this requirement is to turn again to the co-op model. There are already co-op scrap stores that bring together great materials that you can purchase by the pound. There are all sorts of buying cooperatives that are hugely successful and long-lasting like REI and ACE hardware.

Forming a Play-Based Learning Cooperative is an effective way to address these predictable needs. It is also the case that a successful cooperative generally is also an advocate for its members. This is generally in the form of marketing, but it is also common for a co-op to be both a powerful advocate and lobbyist.

By coming together, this will work!


Democratizing Playgrounds

Photo True Play Foundation
Photo True Play Foundation

I’ve been reading Tom Hobsons’ Teacher Tom’s Second Book. In the chapter titled Rabble Rousing, the talks about democracy and play, as he does in a number of his writings. I was particularly struck by his depiction of the children, citizens in his narrative, when they get tired of being led and begin to get restless. In his wisdom, he has found it is better the let these rabble rousing citizens free to pursue their play-based learning or face a general revolt later.

That got me thinking about democratizing playspaces. Today’s traditional playgrounds are, let’s face it, authoritarian. They are top-down, inflexible environments that demand that young citizens play in proscribed ways. While we are beginning to see a few notable exceptions, today’s playgrounds are as similar as McDonald’s and about as appetizing and nourishing.

As a veteran of ten decades of play systems design, I can attest that children’s input is the last priority of play equipment manufacturers. Lord knows I’ve tried with all sorts of model making sessions. What I get from these sessions are ideas for themes like castles and spaceships or unrealistic concepts like ski jumps into swimming pools. For me, the saddest drawings are those of the playgrounds they already know. The fact is that we do not have a good method to learn what kids like. Well, that’s not quite true.

In 1996 China signed the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child. Rather than give lip service to this declaration, as did most other countries, China took action in the form of new standards for kindergarten education. Ms. Cheng Xueqin was charged with implementing this program. To read a detailed account of this process, see Anji Play History.

What is extraordinary in this case, is that Ms. Cheng had to develop the program without a model to draw from. Instead, she has invented the children’s play settings out of whole cloth, combining her recollections of what was fun for her as a child and a keen eye on what engaged the children. Lately her apparatus has been refined and standardized by Cas Holmaa of Rigamagig fame. What you see in the exceptional AnjiPlay Kindergarten today is the result of this rigorous and open-ended process.

We can debate if such an experiment with a different inventor in a different culture would produce the same results. I expect that there would be both differences and a lot of similarities. But regardless of a possible lack of universality, I am also confident that similar lovingly crafted environments would be equally engaging and beneficial for children. This process of adult inspiration and observation is the tool by which play settings and apparatus should be created.

Child’s Play as a Norm

Unfortunately, I have not been able to visit Anji County. But I have been observing its growth from my meeting with Ms. Cheng on her first trip to California. What I have been able to glean from photos from schools and visitors, is the universality of the play patterns. One could put this phenomenon down to kids just being kids, and to a great extent, I think this is true. But in my virtual observations of Anji Play and Teacher Tom’s Woodland and Takoma Park Cooperative Schools, as well as my own experience creating playspaces, is that there are ways that the children use spaces and as furnishings that endure over months, and years. I have visited play sites, where the same play and games have persisted over decades. I’ve seen the same unique, site-specific games played on the first schoolyard playground I did in the ’70s that are still played today when nothing of the original site remains, including the school building itself.

Norms are the other essential aspect of democratizing playspaces. This child-up, instead of a top-down form of playspace creation, allows for the formation of norms and institutions.

This is why so many of us look on in horror as the norms of our civil society that we cherish are violated. In our heart of hearts, we recognize these enduring traditions as the foundation of how we relate to each other and the deep connection those norms have to our past and our future.

Robert Fulghum, in his seminal book, All Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, had it right. It is through play in the early years that we learn to be citizens in a democratic society. Our current crisis in the economy and dealing with the pandemic can be attributed to these critical early years having been so under-resourced and the cost of supporting young children falling so heavily families.

It’s time for some Rabble Rousing!

A Tool for Play-Based Learning


Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 10.36.40 AMCAAEYC 2020 – Master the Art of Play

This is a virtual presentation I did this week that introduces my concept of using environmentally triggers to support spontaneous play. That’s an academic way of saying, kids do what their brain development demands. I welcome your questions and comments. If I get some interest in this post, I will post a second presentation that goes much deeper into the neuroscience and developmental biology.

Here is a checklist for the concept:

Play Patterns and Triggers 2-10

Kids Love Robot Poop!

Most kids think Robots are cool. All Kids think poop is hysterical. As a product promotion meme, Robot Poop is a total winner. The question is, what does Robot Poop look like. Ah, that is indeed the question. I’ve been working feverishly on my next big project and no I don’t have COVID-19. Its foundation […]

Play-Based Learning Cooperative


Photo Bonnie Diczhazy

These days making predictions is a fool’s errand. The best we can do is guess what is unlikely to happen and indicate the trends that will shape the future. So, what do we know?

What won’t happen is COVID-19 going away soon. Optimistic projections are that “herd immunity” and a vaccine will not happen for a year, and some predict two years or more.

Another thing that won’t happen is for early childhood education to continue being ignored and taken for granted. Keeping children in school turns out to be both extremely important and complex. Our society has begun to realize that unless parents have childcare, they can’t return to work. This means that more enlightened communities will now be motivated to fund both early childhood schools and teachers better.  Many supports for schools such as nutrition and health safety measures that have been taken for granted will henceforth be augmented and made permanent.

The Black Lives Matters movement has raised our consciousness to much more than racism and made it impossible to continue to ignore the inequities in modern society. It is easy to predict that the movement will result in efforts to address inequality and reduce violence. The changes are certain to be painful, profound, and lasting.

The environmental crisis is finally being acknowledged and addressing it can no longer just be dealt with through policies. The clear skies during the worldwide lock made the needed changes undeniable. Profit above planet business models will be the first targets for disruption.

Another trend that has a long history but is still not widely adopted is play-based learning. While there are many examples from Montessori to Reggio Emillia, from Forest Schools to Anji Play, schools with this form of pedagogy abound. Yet, for all of its appeal, play-based learning has not become mainstream. That is about to change, big time. The reason is simple; science shows that play-based learning works. The neuroscience and longitudinal studies over the past decade and more have established without question that play-based learning is more effective in the early years than academics. It has been demonstrated time and again that wrote learning and homework are counterproductive.

As we finally come out of the pandemic, it is easy to predict that preschool education will be largely transformed with a new play-based based curriculum and more resources. While this is good news, there is a slight problem. The new play-based curriculum requires that kids are free to move rather than sitting at desks. Most of the action now is outdoors. Since the program relies on curiosity, environments need to be rich in resources, complex, more bespoke, and as natural as possible. This means that while there may be more resources for early childhood education, they will not begin to implement and support the new curriculum fully.

While massive changes will be happening in early childhood education, they will also be happening across all sectors of the economy. This means that while early childhood education has a new prominence, it is only one of the needed changes such as housing, health care, and the environment. Thus, there will be too many hands dipping into the funding bucket for early childhood to get all the support it needs to make the changes it wants.

Though these predictable challenges seem insurmountable, this is not the first time there has been a major crisis, and it is instructive to look at those actions that proved effective to bring about recovery. For example, cooperatives played a huge role in the economic revival during the depression. They have been used in nearly every nation at one time or another, for example, by Spain at the end of World War Two and Israel during its founding.

Let’s dream a bit. What could a Play-Based Learning Cooperative look like?

Who could benefit from a Play-Based Learning Cooperative?

  • Schools

The combined buying power of early childhood education programs will mean lower prices and higher quality for the exact materials and programs they need.

  • Teachers

Above all, teachers need three things, better pay, materials, and working conditions. The Play-Based Learning Cooperative will be a strong advocate for these with a wide variety of programs, networks, and career options.

  • Makers

Too many designers who love kid and lay have great ideas that never see the light of day because of a lack of capital or opportunity. Many producers have a terrific product that can’t cut through the obstacles to the marketplace. Both designers and producers can collaborate and co-market both online and direct and thrive though the Play-Based Learning Cooperative.

  • Experts

There are hundreds of experts and advocates for play-based-leaning who have experience and knowledge that they want to share. While they have to maintain their regular jobs, they also write and give presentations. A Co-op Book Store and speaker’s bureau will make their lives easier and more sales.

There are hundreds of experts and advocates for play-based-leaning who have experience and knowledge that they want to share. While they have to maintain their regular jobs, they also write and give presentations. A Co-op Book Store and speaker’s bureau will make their lives easier and more sales.

  • Parents

There is a big swing towards homeschooling, and these parents often use a play-based learning strategy. These pioneers, as well as any parent, will appreciate the information and discounts the Play-Based Learning Cooperative provides.

While at this stage, the Play-Based Learning Cooperative is just a dream. It can happen, and I’d like to know what you think about the concept.



How Children Learn Biases

ABC Video

Viral video – Michael D. Cisneros

Please forgive my deception in the title, but I’ve done it to make a point as we begin this discussion. I will wager that as you read that title, you already have several ideas about the subject. I will also assert that you speculated about parenting, schooling, and policing. Finally, most of these thoughts are probably accompanied by strong feelings. My point is that all of those thoughts and feelings are biases. You have prejudged what I am about to share with you. That prejudice makes it harder for you to analyze the topic rationally.

To better understand my thesis, it is helpful to have a bit of background on how the brain works. In the footnotes are some sources for the science if you want to go deeper into the subject. But for now, I will give you a high-level summary.

One of the main functions of any animal with a complex brain is to predict what is going to happen next. If you watch a cat stalk its prey, you can see that they have to make assumptions about how the prey will react. Prey animals, on the other hand, must be able to predict instantly if a sound or movement in the environment signals danger.

The point here is that your previous assumptions about this subject are part of your brain’s hardwired predictive machine on which your survival depends. To layer into the discussion of biases, guilt, or shame misses the point. This is what brains simply do. How does this help us deal with biases that have a negative impact on our lives? To move this conversation into an example without any emotional baggage, I will share an example from my experience that may be illuminating.

I think I was in the second grade when the subject of astronomy was introduced as part of the curriculum. The lessons included the sizes of the planets and their distances from the sun. As an aside, the typical graphic of those depictions are grossly misleading and is an example of how education imparts incorrect information. But I digress.

The lessons also illustrated how the moon rotates around the earth. It was pointed out that the moon is tidally locked, that one side always points towards us, and the other is the “dark” side. A few poor-quality images were taken by the Soviets in 1959 and escaped my attention at the time. It wasn’t until 2009 that an orbiter did a systematic survey of its surface. It did not, at that time, caused me to wonder how they could take pictures of the supposed “dark” side.

It was only a few months ago when, as I lay not sleeping, that this anomaly struck my curiosity and I spent a while modeling the obit not just of the earth and moon, but also of both around the sun and it became clear how they got those pictures. I will leave it to you to repeat this thought problem.

Today, those in the subject of space sciences now use the term “far side” to talk about the moon, so this sort of misapprehension doesn’t arise. The whole point of my convoluted tale is that words matter. Calling the moon’s far side, the “dark” side set up in my mind an image that was false that I have carried for a lifetime. This insight has helped me see that such use of inaccurate words is pervasive in insidious. It can also be weaponized. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today.

fist copyTo bring this topic around to the contemporary issue of racism, I have, in my naivety, heard the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” as an assertion of civil rights with which I agree. It has only been as a result of the discussions surrounding George Floyd’s murder that I have come to understand a deeper meaning. Black lives matter not use to the black community, but they also matter very much to me. This conceptual and emotional reframing has led me to feel more deeply into why blacks in our society have been so demonized. I understand now the way my brain works allowed me to be misguided in my youth about the dark side of the moon, many of us are prejudiced by the way our society talks about and treats the “dark side” of our community.

It is more than time that we shine light on this subject. We have to realize that our brains are hardwired to predict and assume threats. And unless we do the work of investigating those, we will forever carry these mistaken “facts” forward to literally color our behavior.

Furthermore, this discussion should make it clear that what we say and do as parents, as teachers, and as a society has to be scrubbed of these prejudicial words and behaviors least we contaminate our children and perpetuate false biases for yet more generations.

To read more see:



Play In More Places

Photo: KABOOM!

Recently, KABOOM! launched a brilliant campaign to address the COVID-19 impact on children. The program is called At-Home Playground Kits. Here’s what they say about the kits.

Each kit includes items such as sidewalk chalk, pipe cleaners, crayons, coloring pages, origami play activities, and play prompts. The kits aim to promote physical activity while stimulating creativity. Our first deployment of these kits occurred on May 14, 2020, to families with kids attending public schools in Baltimore.

The At-Home concept is so inspiring, and I will be talking with my Rotary Club to do the same here in my hometown of Healdsburg.

We should not be surprised that KABOOM! should come up with this idea. Even though they are renowned for building play structures in neighborhoods that are play deserts, they are also very much involved with the notion of Play Everywhere. Here’s a quote from their highly informative and practical PlayBook.

Just as play benefits kids and communities in multiple ways, Play Everywhere has the potential to impact people’s lives and entire communities. When approached intentionally—analytically, deliberately, and holistically, with an understanding of the larger patterns, needs and challenges within a community—Play Everywhere can intersect with and support other community priorities, and help solve other community problems.

Reading through this empowering document got me thinking. The KABOOM! approach in this is mainly about urban placemaking. I got to wondering where else do children spend time that could use the same approach, i.e., providing practical advice and tools that are based on a deep understanding of child development? Almost anywhere, kids congregate, from after school programs to childcare, can benefit from better play experiences. What if a PlayKit is available to support Play Everywhere?

What would a PlayKit contain? Is there a model for that as well? Perhaps it can be like giant Legos with the same infinite creative potential. What are the design and performance criteria for a child configurable active play system?

  • Children must be able to construct and reconfigure the play experience without tools easily.
  • The elements of the system must be modular so that their constructions can vary in size and complexity to suit the needs of children from tots to teens.
  • The weight of the elements must be manageable by children. And conversely, the constructions they make must be able to support the weight of children.
  • Ideally, the elements should store easily, fit into a standard sedan, or at least, a pickup or van so that they can be placed where the kids are.
  • The system must meet applicable safety standards, including those for playground equipment and toys.
  • The system should be as affordable as possible.

Such a system is possible, and I’ve got some ideas about how to create such a kit. More to follow soon.