Tag Archives: New York Times

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

Why Can’t She Walk to School? in Today’s New York Times

Another disturbing sign of the times: This article in today’s Times about parents who are so afraid of stranger abduction that they drive a child 5 houses down (yes, you read that correctly) rather than let them walk, or even walk them themselves. Also in the article, a town in which people called 911 at the sight of a 10-year-old walking alone, resulting in a police reprimanding of the parent.

Something is extremely wrong with this picture! The areas of bizarreness and loss include: the dominance of an extreme and unfounded culture of fear, the complete absence of community, and the loss of independence for young people.

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I wrote a comment on the New York Times site, which I’ll repost here. It goes to the heart of what Slow Family Online is really about:

“This article both saddened and outraged me. Something is deeply wrong with a society in which children walking or biking short distances to school and to play is not only not the norm, but is actively frowned upon and even criminalized. There are so many things wrong with this picture: Parents are living basically alone, completely car-dependent, with largely unfounded fears and guilt that they are passing on to their children. What is going to become of this generation of children when they go off to college and to jobs and are unable to navigate their surroundings or do anything for themselves?

Children should be given reasonable increments of responsibility, and adults should be there to participate with them and teach them. We biked with our child and taught her road safety. We walked with her to elementary school and taught her how to be aware, use her good judgment, and which neighbors and shopkeepers to call on for help if needed. She is now a relatively independent teen who can navigate our town, call on her own sense of self-reliance, and have a little well-earned space away from hovering parents.

I live in a very safe small town, as I suspect do most of the people quoted in the article. I think that speeding cars pose a much greater hazard than stranger abductions. To that end, our town has a very active Safe Routes to Schools program, which is a model for others, with bike lanes, crossing guards at hazardous intersections during school hours, community involvement and interest, and continuing efforts to make the roads safer for walking and biking. Each year, for the last several years, the amount of children walking or riding to schools here has risen, and many children do this in groups. (Perhaps some parents can channel the energy they spend fretting into organizing walking groups.)

When adults and older children are out on and using our streets, they also become safer for younger children, and we all reap the benefits that come with slowing down, spending quality time together, observing things, greeting neighbors, having fun, gaining independence, being outside, getting exercise, learning about our surroundings, and getting from place to place without a car, when possible.”

This page about Slow Family Online illustrates more of my family and scout troop’s adventures in walking and challenges getting people out of their cars.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Alison Gopnik: Babies Learn by Playing

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I was thrilled to read Berkeley professor and author Alison Gopnick’s recent New York Times piece about the way babies learn by playing. Indeed, they seem to have all the materials they need naturally — no special equipment or flash cards required. Children as young as eight months old exhibit curiosity about their world and a willingness to experiment to determine cause-and-effect. And very young children actually experiment more when presented with unknowns, rather than predetermined outcomes.

Babies naturally imagine and explore as a way of learning. This doesn’t look like the way adults and older children learn — It looks a lot like play. And it’s often best done with the simplest, everyday objects, as well as with us, Gopnick writes. She concludes her New York Times piece:

“Babies can learn a great deal just by exploring the ways bowls fit together or by imitating a parent talking on the phone. (Imagine how much money we can save on “enriching” toys and DVDs!)

There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play.”

Dr. Alison Gopnick’s new book is called The Philosophical Baby; What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life. You can read about it and her other work and writings on her web site.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Saluting Silver Palate’s Sheila Lukins

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The hoopla surrounding the book and movie, Julie and Julia, has been wonderful, of course — for amateur cooks, for foodies, for bloggers. Anything that gets people back into the kitchen after seasons of take-out (if, indeed, that’s where they head post-movie) and certainly anything that makes us stop and truly appreciate the pioneering Julia Child, with her trilling voice, kind demeanor and no-nonsense insistence that any of us, too, could pull off chicken Cordon Bleu, is inherently good. For my mother’s generation, Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the guide that perhaps their own parents — in a harder era during which, for many, cooking was an artless enterprise, synonymous with “getting food on the table” — were not.

My own cooking was informed by a different set of guides. So it was with dismay that I learned that Sheila Lukins, co-creator with Julie Rosso of the Silver Palate cookbooks and empire, had died, at just 66, of brain cancer.

When I moved to New York, after college, in 1982, I quickly experienced the personal revelation that was fettuccine Alfredo. “Pasta, Etc.” stores were springing up around Manhattan, with their ready-made sauces and varieties of pasta. Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti, and usually at a restaurant. Home meals tended to revolve around chicken, meat or fish, and were dishes without a lot of variation, week to week, that my working mom could easily prepare and get on the table. (Kitchen leisure was reserved for baking projects and Thanksgiving Day.)

Then I discovered the Silver Palate stores, with their amazing chicken salads and chutneys and raspberry and walnut vinaigrettes. I snapped up the Silver Palate Cookbook and learned to make such staples on my own. The book was such an obvious labor of love — as had been the Moosewood Cookbook before it, which I belatedly found — with its hand-drawings, personal notes, and unique recipes that I could easily replicate. It had clearly been created by people who adored food and combining ingredients in interesting, tasty ways. Their recipes were (to me) informed by global cuisines, which became especially apparent when the pair split forces and Lukins traveled the world to research and create her astonishing Around the World Cookbook, which, along with the Silver Palate Cookbook and the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I am continually inspired by.

Barely a week goes by when I don’t cook from, or at least reference, one of these books (along with the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook.) Into my repertoire have gone their Chicken Marbella (which is so popular among my generation of home cooks, especially for dinner parties, that it is mentioned in Lukins’ New York Times obituary.) Four Seasons Pasta, Pasta Putanesca, Game Hens in Raspberry, Seven Vegetable Couscous, Salmon Mousse, and June’s Apple Crisp are just a few of the recipes that I turn to time and again. Just this weekend, my daughter and I made Three-Ginger Cookies from the Good Times cookbook, which, as its name implies, is a fun compendium of recipes and occasions to enjoy them with others.

Sheila, you gave me a lot.

While racking up influences from my early ’80s burgeoning cooking and entertaining life, I would be remiss in not mentioning Martha Stewart’s own first book, Entertaining. It’s hard to remember that, prior to the Martha Stewart many of us know now, this extremely talented, energetic, and comparatively anonymous caterer put together a gorgeous collection of recipes for parties that one could just happen upon in a bookstore. Not a rumaki was to be found within its pages. Like Silver Palate, Entertaining was a revelation as far as food and style — verve, really — and is another book I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.

I wonder which books will be the touchstones for the cooks who are coming of age now.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: A Cottage Garden Grows in Brooklyn

I love this story by Anne Raver that appeared in the Home section of Thursday’s New York Times. It’s about a garden that was implausibly imagined and created, and then lovingly tended, in a blighted area at the entrance to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY.

Its creator, Kirstin Tobiasson, began the project seven years ago, with no gardening experience, but plenty of common sense and a desire to create something of beauty. In the process, she found her green thumb, along with a community of people who find themselves drawn to her project.

In the article, Tobiasson says of her unlikely cottage flowers, “They’re opportunistic” and refers to her garden as “an insurrection on the sidewalk.”

Lovely, colorful photos by Jenn Ackerman accompany the piece as well. Kirstin and her garden’s spirit and cheer made my morning.