Category Archives: Play

In GPS Era, Map Reading Skills a Lost Art

This article relates a tale that is no doubt being played out all over the developed world:

Two college students playing in an out-of-town hockey tournament went out to eat with their parents after a late game, but the restaurant they picked had just closed its kitchen.

“There’s another place just a few blocks away,” the hostess said helpfully. “Take a left out of the parking lot, go two blocks, turn right and go one block.”

The parents and the players retreated to their separate cars. When the players sat in the parking lot for a couple of minutes without moving, one of the parents walked over to see if there was a problem with the car.

“Not at all,” they said. “We’re just programming the directions into the GPS.’ ”

Is that where we’ve ended up, with a younger generation that can’t go three blocks without being told by a electronic voice where to turn?

Like the author, I found this story dismaying. I know GPS (Global Positioning System) and similar devices are helpful, but they can also be a crutch and, ultimately, a detriment.

According to the British Cartographic Society, high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features like geographic and built landmarks, and this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy.

I, too, find the GPS experience extremely limiting, especially when visual or voice commands tell me (sometimes incorrectly) where to turn just before the turn needs to be made. With a map, preferably one on paper, one can pull out to a bird’s eye view, get a complete picture, plot a route, and have true satisfaction and awareness about ones place within it.

Nothing wrong with having a GPS as a back-up, but I see far too many people who completely depend on them, to the degree that, like the boys in the restaurant parking lot, they’re afraid to travel anywhere, even a few blocks, without one.

One study, from the University of Tokyo, found that people on foot using a GPS device actually made more errors and more stops, and walked farther and more slowly than traditional map users. They also demonstrated a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography and routes.

GPS, researchers say, encourages people to stare at a screen, rather than looking around at their environment. Also, most GPS screens makes it impossible for a user to take in both their location and their destination at the same time.

Ah, there’s that Big Picture again.

There are additional consequences to over-reliance on GPS devices. I wrote last year about Nature Disconnect in Britain. It seems that a lack of map skills is actually somewhat responsible for keeping a whole generation of children there, and surely elsewhere, homebound, fearful of exploring, playing, and being outside in the unknown. Children’s very sense of adventure is being terribly circumscribed.

Luckily, there are steps being taken to combat this. This list of ideas ranges from walking in ones neighborhood and making friends, to creating neighborhood green spaces and safe pedestrian and bike routes, to educating parents about unfounded fears. And, of course, one can and should learn basic map reading skills.

Interestingly, technology is helping with the latter, as geocaching (group scavenger hunts which use GPS devices) as well as old-school scavenger hunts continue to gain popularity. In addition, the Boy Scouts have responded to the crisis in map reading by upping their universal requirements for using a compass and map. (Girl Scouts also offer geocaching and orienteering badges and programs.)

Debi at Go Explore Nature offers some tips for getting out and geocaching.

Where is the paper map in all this? Some say it’s going the way of the phone booth and the milkman. I’m sure many of you remember family car trips, during which the map was unfolded, dutifully followed with index finger on highway line, and then folded up, yet never in quite the same neat way it had come. (We still honor this practice in our family and begin many adventures with a trip to the California Automobile Association, which stopped producing paper maps a few years ago.) Indeed, maps are on their way to becoming collectors items.

Here’s hoping that you get to enjoy the tactile pleasure of an old-school map, the inner satisfaction of locating your place, the fun of an outdoor scavenger hunt or other adventure, and the gift of knowing which way is up.

Images: Hands on Museum, Built St. Louis, Route 66 Guidebooks, Ferrell Digital

Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

As many of you know, I’ve been riding the hobby horse of free play for some time on this blog, as have many other delightful and like-minded colleagues.

Now the New York Times has chimed in:  The culture of play is vanishing, Hilary Stout writes. It’s an all-too-familiar tale — children’s face-time with electronic screens is growing, their outdoor world and their freedom within it are shrinking. Organized activities have replaced imaginary and child-directed ones. Fear of litigation and/or academic fallout have caused some schools to do away with recess. Some parents hover; some are too busy; some don’t like the mess ..

It has all added up to a culture in which free play is not valued or experienced. The New York Times tells us that the tide may be turning. They cite many groups that are working toward enhanced free play, such as Kaboom and Play for Tomorrow, which created a “play day” in New York’s Central Park last fall, with more than 50,000 attendees!

People, clearly, yearn to play.

The folks at the Rhode Island Children’s Museum would concur. Their Play Power program largely came about because they noticed that children were starting to be conditioned to want to be told the “right way” to play. And parents seemed to be oriented to outcomes, rather than the process of playing.

From the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, comes this resource about the benefits of free play.

Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, has a lot to say about children’s need for play, including:

A good toy, a toy that nurtures creative play is ninety percent child and only ten percent toy.

From Education.com comes a really good piece about the importance of free play, how it may have been lost and how to get it back.

Last April, I wrote about the trend toward toys that fostered children’s imaginations and led to open-ended play, and included the wonderful story of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, which built a whole Box City when they realized that kids were happier playing with empty boxes than with some of their installations.

Since then, I came across another delightful tale of box play.

Other great resources and people fostering the free play movement include The Alliance for Childhood, The National Institute for Play, Playborhood, and The Children & Nature Network, among others. (There are more on the Slow Family Resource Page.)

Want to explore more? The U.S. Play Coalition is holding a Conference on the Value of Play, Feb 6-9 at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

Whatever you do, keep playing! And fostering a love of play in your kids.

Related Posts on Slow Family: Babies Learn by Playing

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

A Roundup of Halloween and Fall Fun

Everyone seems to be inspired by Fall and by Halloween, which comes at the exact height of the season. There is no shortage of wonderful blog posts and ideas about play, creativity, and celebration of this pivotal and lovely time of the year. I’ve gathered a few:

Fall’s bounty and beauty are explored by Mom in Madison

A roundup of Fall outdoor activities comes from Your Wild Child

Backyard Mama brings us ten ways to enjoy Fall

Make shrunken apple heads with Active Kids Club

Create a Sugar Sprite tradition for Halloween candy with Stephinie on Rhythm of the Home

A wonderful compendium of Halloween herb and food history and lore comes from The Herb Companion

From The Squirrelbasket: Halloween traditions, superstitions, and pumpkin carving

DIYLife weighs in on composting Fall leaves

Shivaya Mama describes experiencing peace and joy through watching children’s delight at jumping in Fall leaves

Have a glorious Halloween and Fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: Nickelodeon Networks to Go Dark to Encourage Play. First Lady to Pull Plug

It’s rare for a TV station to opt to go completely dark in the middle of a day, but that’s exactly what children’s network Nickelodeon, its sister networks Nicktoons, Nick Jr. and TeenNick, and its affiliated websites are going to do for three hours tomorrow in an effort to encourage children to go out and play.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has done a lot of work to fight childhood obesity and encourage kids to play outside with her Let’s Move campaign, is going to symbolically pull the plug on the station at Noon, Eastern Time and Pacific Time.

The event marks the 7th Worldwide Day of Play, an effort begun in 2004 by Nickelodeon. Last year this announcement appeared on participating TV stations for 3 hours:

Today is Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play! Turn off your TV, shut down your computer, put down that cell phone-yes, YOU! and go ALL OUT! We’ll see you back here at 3!

It’s a great message and it’s terrific that it comes from a TV station, for whom time is definitely money.

Saturday, September 25, also marks Nature Rocks Day, and National Public Lands Day (U.S.). The entire week is Take a Child Outside Week. So if you’re looking for an organized activity or a way to help your public lands, one is available. If you just want to get outside and have fun, here’s hoping you have a pretty early Fall day during which to do that!

Photo: Evan Vucci, AP, Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like: Slow News: New White House Programs Support Children’s Nutrition & Play

Rhythm of the Home: Make an Autumn Leaf Placemat

The Autumn issue of Rhythm of the Home came out today. I’m thrilled to have an article in it:  How to Make an Autumn Leaf Placemat.

This beautiful online magazine has been one of my favorites since its inception. Each season brings lovely and inspiring ideas from a terrific array of bloggers and crafters who write about fun family craft projects, family connection and balance, nature, inspiration, and love.

The Autumn issue marks the full round of the seasons for Rhythm of the Home, and the spirit of Autumn comes through in so many of the pieces. Congratulations on the 1-year anniversary!

Every story in the current issue features something lovely. To name but a few, there’s an interview with Salley Mavor, the creator of  Felt Wee Folk. There are stories about creating community with the NoCo Nature Tribe and Mothers Circles, and honoring family rhythms with a Blessing Hour.

Pieces explore Simple Living, Finding Balance, Loving with Intention, Mama Journaling, and Making a House a Home. I learned about Moroccan Babywearing and Life in a Viking Village, the tradition of Mother Roasting for post-partum women, and a creature called the Halloween Sugar Sprite. I continued to enjoy Kristie Burns‘ nice writing about the Four Temperaments, this time focusing on their relation to Fall.

There are tons of lovely and inspiring craft projects. I want to make them all! They include a Harvest Basket, a Story Table, a Playscape, yummy Pumpkin Bread and Autumn Spice Scones, Flower Pounding, Autumn Fleece Washing, a Thankfulness Journal, a Family Library Bag, and many more fiber, cooking, and other projects.

Can you tell I’m crazy about this magazine? Come on over and get inspired for Fall.

Click to Read

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Summer Inspiration

It’s time to celebrate Summer! If there is a slow season, this is it. Schedules relax a bit, and the lucky ones can stay up and awaken late. It’s a season of sun, relaxation, memories, play, family, friends, fresh air, and fresh food at its peak.

Here’s hoping you enjoy the season of long days and star-filled family nights. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Snapshot: This Moment. Father’s Day, the Castro

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule and legions of lovely bloggers.

I hope you’ll be similarly inspired and leave a link with your own “moment.” I’d love to see it.

Have a great weekend!

Photos by Michael Lipman, Susan Sachs Lipman