Playing Is Not Just For Kids

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I saw a great piece on the news last night about a new pensioner’s playground which has been built next to the under 5s playpark.  Basically, it’s designed to encourage the over 70s to participate in some gentle exercise, working on their hips, toning their legs and their upper body.  However, the by-product of this ‘gentle exercise’ is laughter, and this to my mind is actually far more important.  If you click on this link, it will take you to the BBC story where you can watch the news clip of elderly men and women trying out the equipment, and they look like they’re having an absolute ball!

It started me thinking though, that it seems like the only time in one’s life when it is appropriate to play is if you are under 5 or over 70. What about the 65 years in between! One of the (many) reasons why I home educate, is that I don’t think our education system emphasises enough the importance of free play for a child’s development once they’ve hit primary age (5+).  There is a programme on CBBC at the moment dramatising the education department’s attempts to close the boarding school Summerhill, which is a very special place where the students devise their own curriculum and there’s no obligation to attend lessons.  In other words if a child wants to spend the whole day at free play, then they are more than welcome to.  This is exactly how I (un)structure my own children’s education.  It is a child focussed approach with an emphasis on free-play.  (More on this here)

However, I also believe in the value of playing for those who have left their childhood behind and made the move into the world of work and responsibility.  There are so many ways to make room for playing in your life, and while you, or perhaps disapproving others, may think that it’s a ‘waste of time’, you may find that the resulting benefits render play anything but a ‘waste of time’.  Just for starters, taking the time to play:

  • Facilitates the learning of new skills.
  • Develops a keen curiosity about a wide variety of topics.
  • Encourages creativity and innovation.
  • Increases productivity by aiding concentration.
  • Creates new perspectives.

Some of the ways I like to play include taking photographs, brainstorming for new imaginary projects, making voice threads, drawing big colourful mind-maps, writing blog posts (!), colouring in, planting seeds, trying out new social media (Twitter, StumbleUpon, Facebook), making origami cranes, devising new recipes, winning at Cluedo, beachcombing for shells, thrifting through vintage clothes, going on the swings at the playpark, feeding the ducks, and foraging through the local woodland.  For me, playing is all about discovery, innovation, and enlightenment.  How could it possibly be a waste of time?

How do you play, and what benefits do you see from integrating play into your day to day life?

For more fun, follow me over to Tumblr.

January 31, 2008. Creativity. 15 comments.

Here Comes The Sun

Here Comes The Sun

OK, I realise that this may not be the best photo that you’ll come across on the net today, but I just had to capture the moment when the sun peeped over the rooftops.  This is the first time I have seen a sunrise in such a long time – actually, it may not have been such a long time, but it sure does feel like it!  I had no idea how much the weather affected my moods, but this morning I’m virtually bouncing round the house and I can feel little bubbles of excitement in my soul.  Yesterday, I spent the day virtually dragging myself around, and by early evening I had absolutely zero energy.  I wrote my post on rainy day reflections yesterday as an (successful) attempt to remind myself about all the good things I had seen that day: namely my children’s joyful attitude!  Today, even if the rain arrives later, I won’t need that reminder.

Oh, I also found this in the Icing archives – I’d forgotten all about it!  For more sunshiny goodness, check out today’s Tumblr.

January 30, 2008. Environment. 10 comments.

Rainy Day Reflections

Rainy Day Reflections

It has rained here almost constantly for the last 2 weeks. Puddles are huge and irresistible for any small child in wellies.  The rivers are swollen and fast moving. Hills are hidden and fog-bound.  It’s the kind of weather that can get you down after it’s persisted for a while. In Scotland we get so many rain showers that we not only take them for granted, but we also begin to actively resent them. It’s so easy to forget that there are parts of the world where the rain does not fall, the rivers are all but a trickle and the parched earth is defined by its scars, rather than its puddles. Yes, it’s easy to forget to be grateful of the rain.

Kids are a great reminder though.  Splashing through puddles.  Standing with their umbrellas under drainpipes.  Squeals of excitement watching the river rushing by.  They remind you what’s good about the rain.  Colour is more brilliant, more intense against the background of dreich grey.  Hugs and laughter warm the soul, if not the fingers.  The sound of raindrops on wet pavement strike a jaunty staccato.  The smell of fresh, clean, newness pervades the air.

It’s good to be reminded.

January 29, 2008. Environment, Inspiration. 14 comments.

Lessons From My 1st Week On Twitter

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Picture from Birds of Oklahoma

It has now been exactly one week since I joined Twitter, and so I thought I’d let you all know how I’m getting on with it.  I’d like to say right off, that it has exceeded my expectations and I will be continuing to tweet.  Here are my stats after one week:

  • Updates:  44
  • Following: 22
  • Followers: 13

As with all new things, I’ve had a pretty steep learning curve.  I know that there are a lot of people who read this blog are not a part of Twitter, whether that’s because they believe they don’t have time for it, or because they are put off by the prospect of others microblogging about daily minutiae.  These were also concerns of mine, but what I’d like to do in this post is explain why my fears were unfounded and to give a few pointers to those either considering trying it out or who are new to it too.

One of the best things about joining Twitter is that I’ve met some really interesting people through it.  I’ve now subscribed to their blogs, and I enjoy reading what they have to say both on Twitter and on their blog.  Similarly, I would like to think that those who have discovered me through Twitter enjoy what I write.  It has certainly brought new people to my blog, who may not have discovered it otherwise.  As for the endless noise of Twitter – you don’t have to tune into it if you don’t want to.  You will only be sent the tweets from those that you follow, and you decide who to follow.

Now, on to my lessons learned over this last week:

  • Upload a photo or image to use on your profile.  I can only speak for myself, but I am so much more likely to check out someone’s tweets, and then possibly choose to follow them, if they have a photo instead of the generic Twitter image.
  • Write a short bio which renders you unique.  When you move your mouse over someone’s photo, their bio appears and that, along with the image, is your first impression.  Make sure the first impression you leave is memorable.
  • Don’t limit your tweets to blog post broadcasts.  Twitter is a platform which facilitates microblogging, and, as with all blogging, it should be a conversation.  By using @username you can reply to other’s tweets in order to answer question, recommend links etc.
  • Provide content.  I’ve been using Twitter to share TED talks that I’ve watched, inspirational quotes, photos that I’ve liked.  If you only use Twitter to reply to others then it can seem a little cliquish, and I tend to take it as an indication that you won’t be contributing a lot of new content.
  • Use direct messaging to continue conversations.  As a way to negotiate the balance between content and replies, use direct messaging.  In this way you can keep up a dialogue without drowning out your content.
  • Remember to promote others as well as yourself.  By using tinyurl you can condense links to fit into your 140 character limit.  When I find a post that I like, I stumble it first, and then I make it into a tinyurl before including it in a Twitter post.  This shows that you are engaged in your niche and that you are not solely interested in yourself and your own blog.

I hope this has been of some help to those just beginning their Twitter journey, as I am, or if you’re considering having a go at it. I would love to hear what lessons you have learned from Twitter.  Also, if you have any questions about it, I’ll do my best to answer them or give you advice on where to find an answer.

Piqued your interest?

January 28, 2008. Inspiration. 10 comments.

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Last night, I watched Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters.  I first saw it years ago, and I so enjoyed revisiting it.  One of the particularly brilliant parts of the film is when Barbara Hershey’s character, Lee, reads out the e.e. cummings’ poem [somewhere i have never travelled].  The last line is the title of this post, as it struck me as such a beautiful line.  It inspired me to take some photos to accompany the poem here.  Let me know what you think.

Hands Study 1

Hands Study 3

Hands Study 6

[somewhere i have never travelled]

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

e.e. cummings

January 27, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 13 comments.

Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf!

According to my daily email from Encyclopedia Britannica, today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday, and I just couldn’t let the birthday of one of my favourite authors go unmentioned, despite the fact that I’m trying to write up a chapter for my thesis today.  I suspect that those of you who write regularly are familiar with the agonies that I’m currently encountering.  As I try to arrange words upon the screen, I find it comforting to note that Virginia understood all too well what I am going through.

“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read it and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple, now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.” Orlando, Virgina Woolf

Only one who truly comprehended the torment involved for those intent on writing well, could write about it so eloquently. Do you experience this kind of seesawing from rapture to despair when you write?

January 25, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 6 comments.

Burn’s Night Voice Thread

Rabbie's Red Rose

Just a short post to let you all know that in honour of Burns’ Night, which is tomorrow (25th Jan), I’ve recorded another voice thread. See if you can guess which poem I’m reciting (hint: the clue is in the photo).

January 24, 2008. Creativity. 11 comments.

Long Live Libraries

Medical Library

I cannot remember my first trip to a library, as it seems as though libraries have always formed a part of my consciousness. Such wonderful spaces filled with books of all sizes and colours for both the young and the not-so-young reader. As a teenager, especially, I spent many hours in my local public library. I would borrow my full quota of 12 books and then read and return them within the week. These days I spend most of my library time in the university, but I still hold a great affection for the public lending system. I think possibly the best public library I’ve been to in recent years was the new one in Kirkwall, Orkney. It has a truly phenomenal children’s section and their fiction collection seems quite literally endless. I would seriously consider moving to Orkney Mainland just to have that library as my local!

But, of course, libraries are not the domain of just books these days. Libraries are required to be at the forefront of knowledge transfer. They need to cater for the changing needs of those they serve, and they need to maintain their relevancy in a digital age. I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries today (see today’s Tumblr) after watching a great talk by Joshua Prince-Ramos, the architect behind the Seattle public library construction. He talks about the social role that libraries have, and how his design in Seattle accommodates this through its integration of a ‘living room’ area: a freely available communal space for conversation, rest or simply respite from the rain. He also talks about how the space within the library needs to be flexible in order to adapt to the changing and unforeseeable demands of the future. His observations concerning library use are incisive, and his solutions to some of the problems pertaining to flexible space are extremely innovative. I thoroughly recommend that you take the time to listen to it!

Do you use your public library? Do you think that libraries in general are keeping abreast of technological advances? What changes would you like to see effected in your local library?

January 24, 2008. Creativity, Environment. 11 comments.

In Defence of Animation

As regular readers may recall, I recently posted a video clip called En Tus Brazos, which was an animated short about a tango dance between a husband and wife.  One of the comments I received concerning that clip suggested that the short film would be improved if a real actor and actress had played the leading roles.  I’ve turned this over in my mind more than a few times, and I’ve decided to post a short defence of animation.

I love all forms of animation.  As a mother of 3, I watch a lot of animation with my kids.  We have the full Disney collection on video.  We watch The Nightmare Before Christmas every Halloween.  We visited the Pixar exhibition more times that I can remember. We think Nick Park is a genius.  I think it would be fair to say that I was raising my kids with an appreciation for the animated medium!

The various techniques used in animation absolutely fascinate me and I love to see what innovations animators are coming up with.  From line-drawing to stop motion to computer generated, I just so admire those who have mastered the skills involved to produce an animation.  But, you know, it’s so much more than the technological innovation that I love.  It’s also the content, the messages, the stories that animation has the capacity to tell.

Animation can be powerful and political:

It can be surprising:

It can be thought provoking:

It can be educational:

And it can offer fresh interpretations of already known works:

What it is not, however, is a poor man’s substitute for acted drama.

Do you agree?  Do you have a favourite clip that you would like to share?  What was your favourite childhood animation?

If you have enjoyed these clips, why not head over to my Tumblr blog where I have posted some more animation which has touched me.

January 23, 2008. Creativity. 11 comments.

Blogging Footsteps

Bridge Reflection

Recently, Liz Strauss at Successful Blog asked the question How is a blog like a bridge? The question over defining blogging through metaphor has played in my subconscious for a while now after reading Darren Rouse’s post Blogging is Like. Despite the issues I had over the confusion over metaphor and simile, I found it very interesting as it links back to a whole project on blogging metaphors. A little while back I posted about a photo I took of a swan with its head dipped into the loch and the ripples circling out from it. I suggested then that that was a visual metaphor for our interactions in the blogosphere. However, after reading Liz’s post about bridges, it got me wondering about whether architecture and space might offer another way of thinking about collective blogging.

I love reading about space and spatial practices, and I’ve presented a couple of papers at academic conferences about how space functions in literary texts (which you can read more about here). One of my favourite theorists on the subject is Michel De Certeau. I want to quote you a section from a chapter in his book The Practice of Everyday Life called ‘Walking in the City’:

“The chorus of idle footsteps

Their story begins on ground level, with footsteps. They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because each unit has a qualitative character: a style of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. In that respect, pedestrian movements form one of these “real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city.” They are not localized; it is rather they that spatialize. They are no more inserted within a container than those Chinese characters speakers sketch out on their hands with their fingertips.” p. 97

I just love the way De Certeau writes, but I think that this quote in particular draws me like no other when it comes to questions of, what is the practice of blogging. For me, blogging is a footstep which spatialises the virtual. It sketches out, it defines, it creates, it deconstructs and it measures out space within the net.

Blogging is not the bridge; it is the footsteps of those that have crossed it.

For more on architecture and space, check out today’s Tumblr.

January 22, 2008. Environment, Inspiration. 8 comments.

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