Play and Nurture Space

 Mom

Curious creatures that we are, humans seem to be able to make anything into a “science,” empty space, cow farts, literally anything. Did you know that there is a science of how close we stand to each other? It’s for real, and it’s called Proxemics, which is a part of Kinesics, the study of body language, I kid you not. These disciplines may seem obscure but, because they enable us to make visible the otherwise hidden, they can tell us something significant about child development and parenting.

Why is this important? Over the last several decades, early child development experts have established that there may be no more critical parental task than ensuring a secure child/parent attachment. Children with insecure attachment can be disruptive, destructive, controlling or attention-seeking. At the other end of the spectrum, they may be withdrawn, rejecting or clingy. And here’s the thing, these days about 50% of all children come to school with attachment issues, 50%!

Now, for many of these children, their lack of a secure attachment may not become a significant disability but just be one of the many challenges they face in life. But as a parent, you will want to know how your child is doing in this regard and how to ensure a secure attachment. To do this, you will have to become a bit of a scientist yourself.

Let’s see what tools the science of proxemics can offer us.

6127-09035002elevator 2

Humans are supremely social animals and being able to successfully navigate among all the people we encounter takes very sophisticated social skills. Proxemics looks at the space that surrounds us and identifies four different types of space, public, social, personal and public. The images above illustrate the all too common challenge of moving from public space to intimate space with total strangers. While this is uncomfortable for almost everyone, individuals who have insecure attachment find this highly distressing.

The issue is control. We generally don’t object to other people being in our intimate space if we give permission. Thus, the elevator is uncomfortable, the doctor’s office somewhat less, and nursing our baby actually pleasurable.

Children who have secure parental bonds are able to move from public space to intimate space effortlessly. Insecure children will struggle in various degrees. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage socially, and eventually academically and professionally.

space

Antonio Damasio (1999) The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

 What does this have to do with play?

I’ve made promoting rough and tumble play something of a personal campaign as I believe that play in all its forms, but especially those types of play that involve personal contact, act therapeutically for that 50 % of children who are insecurely attached.

If children do not have close and trusted bonds with their parents and siblings, how do children learn to express affection in appropriate ways? How do they learn their boundaries and communicate them?

rough

The good news is that there are great ways to overcome the lack of social competence that results from insecure attachment.  Babies, of course, break down all of our barriers and this shows us that the earlier we address the issue, the easier and more natural it will be. I’ve tried to get adults to give each other a big group hug and, believe me, you can cut the initial discomfort with a knife.

I am committing the last few years of my career to Gymboree Play and Music because one of the highest priorities for Play and Music is to create a safe place for parents and children to play, and through play to develop and enhance the child/parent bond.

Oh, and have fun too.

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Play and the Thinking Body

 

Ice cream sunday

When it comes to educating children, we seem to be stuck with what I call the “ice cream Sunday” model. That is, we focus on the cerebral cortex as if this was all there is to thinking. Imagine if all there was to desert is the over processed cherry on the top, ugh.

Our fixation on stuffing more facts and learning into the brain ignores how we really think. It’s as if the only thing that counts on a computer is the microprocessor, when in fact, the display, mouse, memory, keyboard, and most fundamentally the connection to the internet is what turns a lump of silicone into a thinking machine.

I like the Sunday meme, let’s go with that. If we think of the cerebral cortex as the cherry, what lays below is the limbic system, or so-called “lizard brain” because it is so old, which controls most of our emotional life. For the for first few years babies are almost entirely controlled by this area of the brain. A lot of the function of this organ is to regulate all of the various chemicals that modulate and control emotion. In our Sunday meme, all that whipped cream.

Most of the information processing is conducted by neurons, also known as nerve cells.  These are electrically excitable cells that receive, process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. Surprise! Neurons are not just located in the head.  They are also found in the heart. If you’d like a deep dive on this subject and learn about the parasympathetic nervous system, there is a great film, Of Hearts and Minds, that goes into the science in great detail.

But wait there’s more! How about the old saying “Go with your gut”?

Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.  Scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). And it’s not so little. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. 

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

also see: https://www.thecut.com/article/a-thinking-persons-guide-to-going-with-your-gut.html

OK, that’s it, right? Wrong. There is a whole other system you probably know very little about. You see, every muscle, every organ in your body is held in what is, in essence, a bag. These bags are made up of collagen and are called fascia. It is said that skin is our largest organ, but the facia is many times larger, and yes, in a way it thinks. Facia contains neurons and participates in the chemical soup that is part of the whole process.

So back to the Sunday. What we are talking about is the mind. That mysterious entity that has confounded philosophers from time immemorial. We literally think with our whole Sunday of body parts.

As impressive as all this is, what does it have to do with play?

Children spend the bulk of their first six years learning through play. Play is a whole-body curriculum and does a truly astonishing job of turning a baby into a functioning human. And then just when the kids are getting ready to take flight, we send them off to school where 99% of the curriculum is about only one part of the brain.

Just think about that.  No wait, feel about that, use your whole body-mind and ask yourself, “Is there a better way?”