Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Science of Play Part 2

In my last article, I started an overview of the Dr. Stuart Brown’s book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  I consider this book to be one of my top picks for parents, educators and any adult who plays a mentoring role in the life of a child.

I will continue my review of the book along with some personal input regarding the importance of play in the lives of children, teens and adults.
In the chapter called “Playing Together”, Dr. Brown makes a fascinating discovery during his interview with a fifty year old woman about how she used to play with Barbie Dolls when she was nine years old and how it foreshadowed her (and her friend’s) relationships later in life.
The woman explained that when she and her friend dug the Barbies out of storage, they talked about how they played with them.  Her preferred pretend style was the “damsel in distress” as a means to attract men.  Her friend’s style was more of a hipster who smoked cigarettes and wore Ken’s shirts.
Today, upon reflection, the woman realized that after her own 3 marriages and her friend always being with a guy but never being married, that their play style seemed to foreshadow their lives.  As well, neither of them was into playing with baby dolls… which was interesting in that both women never had children.
After I read this, I couldn’t help but recall my own childhood play habits.  At the age of nine, I never played with Barbie Dolls.  My preference, by far, was small action figures called “Adventure People”.  I loved Adventure People because they always came with really cool safari jeeps, scuba gear, rock climbing and outdoor adventure equipment. 
Go figure, I went on to become an underwater videographer for awhile and I met my husband in Rock Climbing School.  Our honeymoon was spent camping, hiking and whitewater rafting.  After our 20th anniversary, we went dog sledding and snowmobiling.  Our play as adults is simply an actual version of our youthful pretend.
Take a moment to think back on your own childhood style of play.  Did your play theme foreshadow your current life?
What do you do now that can be considered “play”?  It doesn’t have to fit the common notion of play… serious hobbies and competitive sports can be play time for adults.  If you are fortunate, some part of your work can also be considered play.  At Guard Up, the majority of our business involves dressing up in costumes, playing characters or monsters, and making up stories.  Yes, there is still the business part of it… but every person who wants to has a chance to play.

In his book, Dr. Brown quotes Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’”
He provides an excellent example of William Henry Perkin, who was trying to synthesize quinine back in 1856 and ended up with a sticky, black mess.  However, William was also an artist and tried thinning the substance with alcohol out of curiosity.  He ended up creating the first purple chemical dye and making purple cloth (heretofore, very rare and expensive) quite affordable.
You can imagine this young man (only 18 years old at the time), examining this sticky, black mess and taking a moment to dilute it to get a better look at it.  At some point, he likely uttered the words “That’s funny…” and his play became an invention that ushered in the “mauve decade” in the 1890s.

Dr. Brown also shares an idea that touches upon a concept elaborated upon by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth. Literature and mythology is filled with stories of the hero who must break away from the trodden path and take a lonely, perilous journey that culminates in a great struggle.  The ending often entails the triumphant hero returning to his or her home, stronger and wiser, and bearing something of benefit to the community.
Playing pretend gives children the chance to envision themselves as that hero… to imagine the challenges, the loneliness and the struggle – and to persevere through what lies before them.  It serves as the infrastructure for their own life story… where they come to realize, to paraphrase Ralf Waldo Emerson, that what lies inside them is greater than what lies before or behind them.

Play time is the first activity to get sacrificed when parents feel that their children are not developing the skills necessary for college admission or a career that can pay the bills.  Unfortunately, it is play time that is largely responsible for the development of our creativity and the inspiration for our desire to discover.  It is also the “testing grounds” for the formation of our relationships as well as the foundation of our self image later in life.
Watch a child play… get down on the floor, at their level, and immerse yourself within their story.  You may learn more about who this child is… and who they will be… than any school report card can tell you.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up! After School Program

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Science of Play Part 1

As some of you may know, I have a passion for neuroscience... especially neuroplasticity - the ability of the brain to change due to experience.  It was only recently that scientists discovered that the brain remains "plastic" or "malleable" past the stage of infancy... even past the stage of puberty.

I am reading a book called Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, MD.  I consider this book a must read for all parents.  Let me explain why in a multi post series on the importance of purposeless, consuming, imaginative play.

Let's start with a story from Play:

Cal Tech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) essentially invented the space age.  They were prominent in the design of major components involved in every manned and unmanned space mission to date in the late 1990's.

However, at about the end of the 20th centure, JPL noticed that they had a problem.  The engineers that they had hired in the 1960's were all retiring... and JPL was having a hard time replacing them.  Even though JPL hired the top grads from MIT, Standford and Cal Tech, the new engineers seemed to be lacking... they simply weren't that good at certain types of problem solving.  They would excel at theoretical mathmatical problems... but when it came time to bring those theories into practice, they floundered.

JPL management tackled the problem with time and energy just like they did for their engineering work.  What they found was fascinating:

"..those engineers who worked and played with their hands as they were growing up were able to 'see solutions' that those who hadn't worked with their hands coul not."  (Play Page 10)

After examining their retiring engineers, JPL discovered that as children, their older staff had often played with taking things apart to see how they worked, built soapbox racers and fixed appliances.  They had a chance to test things, make mistakes, problem solve and create without formal guidance from adults.

It turns out that the best young engineers at JPL had done the same - they played with their hands and experimented with youthful projects.  Needless to say, JPL required answers from job candidates about their experience with this type of play as part of their interview process.

Dr. Brown defines the properties of play as the following:
  1. Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  2. Voluntary
  3. Inherent attraction
  4. Freedom from time
  5. Diminshed consciousness of self
  6. Improvisational potential
  7. Continuation desire
I will only touch on a few of these attributes so as to encourage you, the reader, to check this book out of the local library and invest the time to read it.  It's appropriate for parents, teachers, mentors, grandparents and all other adults who are influential in the development of a child.

One of the key attributes of play is that it is not obligatory.  The child partakes in the activity because they wish to... not because they have to.  Another is that the play has no practical value beyond its own sake.  Yes, it does happen to have value - as we will explore later - but the value is in its lack of purpose.

Lastly, the importance of improvisational potential cannot be understated.  Play gives us the chance to develop new strategies, behaviors and ways of thinking.  We have the opportunity to step outside of rigid rules and try out a new way of doing something.  If there is a threat to the play ending because of a disagreement, we can improvise and create new rules so that the play can continue.  Why?  Because it's fun!

Dr. Brown studied murderers in Texas prisons and found that "the absence of play in their childhood was as important as any other single factor in predicting crimes". (Play Page 26)  As well, he studied kids who were abused and at risk for anti-social behavior (including violence) and documented how these tendencies were reduced through play.

Dr. Brown goes on to quote numerous studies that explain how play helps develop socialization, the reading of "cues", and social signaling.  He quotes famous scientists who have studied play among animals and how important it is as a "pretend rehearsal" for life... where animals can make mistakes without the burden of a severe outcome such as death.

The problem is that our current society has parents believing that their developing child (especially teens) need to be spending an inordinate amount of time "doing something useful".  We ferry them from organized sport activity to organized educational activity and we are constantly looking for how this latest activity will help them get into a good college or land a high paying job.

Unfortunately, this desire to control the vast majority of our children's time is stifling their chance to figure things out for themselves.  Between the rigid structure of modern education - where standardized testing of rote material supercedes recess and artistic expression - and our own need to make sure our child is a "success", we have missed the boat on giving our kids the room and freedom to be creative and autonomous... to be involved in activities where they decide what to do and how to do it. 

Do you remember being a kid, getting home from school, throwing down your books, and running outside to play until dinner time?  I lived in the country and I can tell you, I did some things that were just as dangerous as navigating heavy traffic in the city.  I am sure you can remember some of the things you did that you would never allow your child to do today.

Our obsession with protecting our children from any harm has led us to severely restrict their outdoor play.  The media has us believing (falsely) that there are child molesters and abductors everywhere... just waiting to strike.  I will talk about this in a later post that reviews two other outstanding books called The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker.

It's time to lift the chains of Fear and Achievement off of our children's shoulders.  Kids are natural learners.  We do need to provide some measure of safety - but we also need to let them make mistakes and experience consequences that may even be uncomfortable (but not harmful).

Please take the time to look at your child's free time.  Weigh how often your child is able to be freely creative and immersed in "unproductive" play.  Give them things to take apart.  Take them out to the country (preferrably where there is no cell phone reception) and let them explore.  Talk to your neighbors and encourage the kids to set up a game of tag - and let them work out their differences so they can keep playing.

And while you are at it, take some time for yourself.  Get dirty.  Take apart that appliance you were going to throw out.  Marvel at the machinery.  Draw.  And get the other parents in your neighborhood together for a game of squirt gun tag (if you can talk them into it).  You'd be surprised how fast it all comes back to you.  And if you need a rational reason for it, just explain to yourself that you are busy growing new neural pathways and improving your brain plasticity.  Oh yeah... and it's fun.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up! After School Program

Friday, May 20, 2011

Play and Weapons

Our company provides activities, birthday parties and even summer camps that allow children to use NERF blasters and foam darts as part of an ongoing, interactive adventure. Previously, our company only allowed these kinds of activities with our foam swords. We thought long and hard before we began our NERF division out of concern for whether to allow kids to use these types of "pretend weapons" that mimic a weapon which is controversial.

After much research, discussion and planning with Child Development Specialists about violence, aggression, weapons, and children, we developed a program that we feel allows kids to use NERF blasters in a way that is both physically and emotionally safe.  We also respect those who opt to not participate in our NERF events and choose to stay with the foam sword or fencing programs exclusively. 

Since many children, boys in particular, use pretend weapons during play time outside of our facility, we wanted to share some key points for how to help your child's healthy development during this type of activity.  The term "kid" or "child" is used but these basic points can also apply to teens:

1)  Teach the child to respect the pretend weapon. Be very firm about not pointing at or using the pretend weapon against any other person who is not voluntarily participating in the activity.  This is an important part of social development for a child - understanding that some people may want to play and others may not - and respecting both perspectives.

2) As in all activities that involve physical contact, there should be basic rules of safety and the ability to "opt out". A good idea is a "safe area" where kids can go to step out of the action if it gets too much.  This allows a breather for those kids who feel over stimulated and can help prevent escalation.

3) When allowing kids to play with pretend weapons, consider providing a suitable role model for them. This might be a parent or responsible adult who will mentor the kids by modeling the proper behavior while playing with them - such as using the play weapon safely and respectfully. The adult can also act as a safety marshal to make sure things don't get out of hand.

4) Provide the kids a chance to play the game with options OTHER than fighting. Our activities involve a story line where kids and teens interact with characters and/or monsters. They often find that the best action is to wait and see... sometimes even scary monsters can be negotiated with.

5) Following the advice of #4, allow the story to have consequences if the kids decide to fight a character that was not a threat. The story doesn't have to end... but it could take a turn of events that make obtaining their objective more difficult. Pretend consequences can be very good for teaching kids about real consequences in a safe manner.

6) We don't call our NERF Blasters "guns". We try as much as possible to differentiate between pretend toys and real weapons (IE We prohibit real weapons at our company). Kids and even parents will often continue to use their own terms... but it's surprising how many of them eventually begin to use our terms because we are modeling them constantly.  We are not saying that the word "gun" is bad.  We are simply reminding them that we are not using guns... we are using play weapons.  Guns are not toys and should not be used as such.

7) The Golden Rule:  Never strike a person or use a play weapon when angry.  This is our most important rule of safety and conduct for all of our events, programs and camps.   It is one of the few rule violations that can result in immediate expulsion from an event as well as future events.  Accidents happen where an overly excited kid swings their foam sword too hard... or hits another person in the face with a blaster dart.  But there is a big difference between an accident and an angry outburst where the pretend weapon is used to express aggressive emotions.  We teach kids to redirect their anger into words expressing their feelings and encourage them to take a "time out".  It is a significant accomplishment when we see kids voluntarily taking a time out because they feel angry and don't want to do something that will result in them being expelled from the game.  They have developed self moderation - a profoundly important skill for a child or teen.

As a mom myself, I have an active interest in trying to walk that middle ground where kids are allowed to explore activities of concern in a safe manner. The rule of my house was simple regarding violent movies: You can watch them as long as I watch them with you and we talk about it after. Instead of saying "no", we put conditions on the activity that make it safe and that gives the chance for us to educate the kids. They will be exposed to these ideas or items when I am not available - I would rather they be exposed to them when I am available and I have the opportunity to engage them about it and instill in them my values as their parent.

Model and Discuss.  These are the two most important things parents or caregivers can do for kids when it comes to possibly dangerous activities.  Modeling requires time and presence.  If a parent or guardian is uncertain how to model or is not available to model, then the best option is to find an activity for the child where there is a responsible adult who can provide a model that is in line with the parent's ideals.  Talk to the adults who will model the activity - understand how and what they will be modeling.  And talk to your kids after the experience.  Make sure that your kids are absorbing the values you want them to have. 

You are, after all, their most important model.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up! Inc.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Neurobiology of the Teen Brain

Last night I attended an outstanding lecture/discussion about the development of the Teen Brain by Kathryn Yamartino Ed. M., Psy D. from North Bridge Psychological Associates.  The event was hosted by the Bedford Youth & Family Services (a superb resource for referrals and parents programs).

Dr. Yamartino talked about the neurological and psychological development of the Teen Brain.  She used an excellent and simplified example of brain function developed by Dan Siegal:

This is a great visual memonic for helping parents to understand what happens, not just with their kids and teens, but with themselves when their emotions override their logic, flexibility, empathy and even their morality.

Dr. Yamartino explained how the Prefrontal Cortex, which is responsible for the above abilities (and more) is still being developed in teens all the way up to their mid 20's.  Meanwhile the Brain Stem and Limbic System, which are responsible for their emotions and threat response (fight, flight and freeze) are in full force due to the high levels of hormones which make this part of the system highly efficient.

The power of the Limbic System is a major factor in why teens will do things that don't seem rational... or why their emotions may seem erratic and extreme.  It's all part of their natural development. 

Some of the excellent recommendations that Dr. Yamartino discussed:
  1. Validate your teen's emotions.  Don't worry about fixing the problem or giving advice - you have time to do that later, if necessary.  Often, the process of validating their feelings is enough to make the situation manageable for them.  So take a moment to empathize with your teen before anything else.  Ask questions.  If the situation isn't dangerous, don't worry if you don't fully understand - that's less important than caring about how they feel.  If they say something is "terrible", then realize that it IS terrible for them.  Telling them that it isn't as bad as it seems will only cause them to feel like they aren't being understood.
  2. Empathize but don't claim their feelings.  Sometimes parents can take on the emotions of their teen and get worked up or even more upset than their child.  Try to allow and support your teen in their emotional place without taking on those emotions as your own.  Sometimes the act of claiming a teen's feelings can make them feel anxious about sharing their feelings with a their parent because they can become worried about the parent getting upset.
  3. Apologize if you overreact.  Being a "Consistent Parent" does not mean never admitting you're wrong.  If you "flip your lid" and say something hurtful or state an imulisve punishment that seems harsh, take some time to calm down and re-consider your intentions.  Then go back, apologize and establish consequences that seem more in line with the offense.  Just because you said something in the heat of the moment does not mean you have to enforce it to remain "consistent".  You are human and you make mistakes.  Just like your teen.
That's just a summary of some of the excellent information that was discussed at this lecture.  Personally, I enjoyed talking about the concepts of brain development with my own teens.  They find biology fascinating and having words of explanation (what I like to call "handles") on why they may feel a certain way is helpful to them and to myself.

Most importantly, it's good to know that teens who do things that make us go "huh?" are being perfectly, wonderfully, normal teens.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Facebook and Depression

Here is a short, but insightful, interview with Dr. Sharon Chirban about teens, Facebook and depression:

Some of the key concepts covered here:
  1. Facebook does not cause depression... but it can amplify the feeling for those teens who already have vulnerable self esteem.
  2. Teens are predisposed to focusing on select pieces of information.  Facebook provides limited snapshots of their friends' lives and so it can cause a higher level of self comparison and a feeling of "not measuring up".
  3. Teens who are finding it difficult to maintain longer term frienships may use Facebook as a way to try to become accepted into a social group.  The positive aspect of this is that Facebook can facilitate this by revealing or reinforcing commonalities.  The negative is that it may cause a teen to feel "everyone has friends except me".
  4. Active parenting is necessary to help coach teens towards beneficial relationships.  There are filters that permit a parent to "friend" their teen and yet limit the parent's ability to interact with the teen in that environment - which can help a teen feel more comfortable with a parent's presence in their list of Facebook friends.
This last point is one that I cover in my "Parent Talk: Unplugging Your Child" lecture which helps parents understand the importance of coaching their children and teens in the safe and appropriate use of technology.

Parenting seems to only get more complex.  It's not enough to just talk about drugs, alcohol and sex.  Now we need to teach them about how to use technology in a way that benefits their personal growth... and to be aware of the risks and possible negative impact from over reliance and misuse.

As parents, we want to keep abreast of the changing media and how it poses new challenges to our children and ourselves.  This requires us to stay in tune with what technology our kids are using, how they use it, and how it can influence their feelings and development.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from depression, anxiety or other emotions that inhibit their well being, talk to a specialist.  They can help you determine the best course of action to help your child.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up, Inc.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The "Un-Sport" Child

If you spend time around children, you will inevitably discover the "Un-Sport" child.  This is the child who does not enjoy traditional sports.  Or, they enjoy them for a short time, and then seem to lose interest.  This is different than the child who prefers individual sports over team sports... but that's another topic.

Chances are good that this child would rather spend their time reading a book (usually fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction), watch a movie/YouTube video or play a computer/video game.  Often, they are talented writers or artists - even if they prefer not to share their results with their parents or siblings. They are fascinated by things with which parents and teachers may have a hard time connecting.  They often love Anime (Japanese Animation), graphic novels, games of various types, and they have a superb sense of creative strategy.

Perhaps one of your children is an "Un-Sport" child. Do you wish they would be more interested in activities that involve exercise and live interaction with groups of people?  Likely you do... because those two attributes are absolutely necessary for the healthy development of any youth.

If it helps, you are not alone.  There are very good reasons why your child isn't interested in traditional sports.  It has to do with that elevated level of creativity and a desire for limitless possibilities that drives them.  They don't like singular end results (get the ball into the basket or across the field).  They don't like uniforms that make everyone look like everyone else.  They don't want to be told that there is only one way to do something and be considered odd for wanting to try something different.  They are bored with routine practice where they are commanded to do a drill they have no interest in because it leaves no room for free experimentation.

This is not a problem child.  This is a child who craves the ability to explore... the stimulation of a variety of possibilities (perhaps some no one else has ever thought of)... a real sign of tangible progress towards their goal... and a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves without having to sacrifice themselves.

You won't find these attributes in many activities nowadays.  School is about fitting a standard test.  Even classes about science, the single most Discovery Based career your could choose, is about memorizing formulas and so-called "experiments" that don't make the grade if they don't achieve a predetermined outcome. 

Most organized sports are all about winning the next point.  The team usually has star athletes who get most of the attention and awards.  The structure and methods are all about doing what everyone else is doing and staying within your defined roll. 

The message endorsed by the above activities:  If you don't win or fit the standard, you aren't talented or smart.

So how do you engage these Un-Sport children?  Find an activity that allows for creative outcomes and allows for individual expression.  These kinds of activities often involve stories (which tap that creative need as well as allowing them to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves).  If your child is interested in Historical Fiction, bring them to an historical reenactment.  Encourage them to join a program where they participate in re-enacting the past.  Here, they will shine as their knowledge of the past can be used to create their character and define their objectives.

If your child is interested in Science Fiction or Fantasy, encourage them to try Live Action Role Playing... where participants can engage in NERF type battles with foam swords or blasters while playing a character in an interactive and dynamic storyline.  These activities can actually simulate a computer game environment closely - except that they are running around and being physically active while socializing in a face-to-face environment.

Some other physical activities/sports that allow for personal expression include Skateboarding, Non-Traditional Dance, Drumming, Rock Climbing, BMX, Mixed Martial Arts (as opposed to Traditional Martial Arts), Snowboarding and more.  Notice that these activities are considered "Non-Traditional".

The key is that the activity must allow this child the freedom to experiment and provide an outlet for imagination or at least expression.

As a parent of this type of child, you may have to step outside your comfort zone.  The sports that they are interested in might be adrenalized and somewhat dangerous.  As a parent, you can research how to allow your child to participate in a safe manner.

Role playing activities may seem outlandish... thanks, in part, to the way popular media has portrayed them in a shallow light and labeled them as "geek" or "nerd" activities.  But the truth is, these activities are outstanding for developing social awareness (empathy), negotiation (compromise) and communication skills, as well as providing an outlet for self expression and imagination. 

The Un-Sport child needs to have the freedom to exercise and express their mind if they are going to be truly engaged in an activity.  This is not a reason for concern.  This is a sign of a highly intelligent and creative individual.  Help them find an outlet for their imagination and enroll them in activities that keep them physically and  face-to-face socially engaged, and they will thrive and grow to be healthy, productive and HAPPY adults.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How we do what we do...

Note: The terms "Left Brain" and "Right Brain" are used in this commentary to explain skill sets that predominately incorporate the appropriate side of the brain. In truth, almost all skill sets use both sides of the brain to some degree.

In modern formal education, much of the focus is on "measurable results". As such, most of the material taught is methodical, formulaic and with specific answers that can be standardized and compared. Logic and factual data are the foundation of this measurable knowledge. This is a very Left Brain model.

We need Left Brain education. Without it, we would be reinventing the wheel. However, the flaw in the current system is that it is terribly lopsided toward the Left Brain model. The Right Brain attributes - creativity, big picture comprehension, emotional intelligence, inspirational communication and other less easily measured (and definitely non-standard) types of knowledge - are given far less focus and energy. This is unfortunate... because the brightest problem solvers and most influential thinkers of our time are people who tend to have very strong skills in both sides of the brain.

At Guard Up, we sometimes hear of parents who withdraw their children from our story-based classes - or who prefer to enroll them in "more structured" classes such as Fencing - because they view the story-based classes as "just play". The truth is that our story-based classes are providing children and teens with a much needed Right Brain supplement to their predominately Left Brain education. Along with exposing students and campers to extremely important skill sets such as innovation, exploration and communication, our programs also provide a dynamic environment where participants stay physically active and sharpen their social skills (not to mention make friends!).

In today's society, where kids and teens are inundated with screens (TV, computer, telephone, etc) and many children's social development is focused on Facebook and online games, getting kids and young adults "unplugged" from the screen and engaging in live, dynamic play where they need to use important skills such as reading body language, receiving and providing constructive feedback, active listening, creative problem solving, working within a group, and more, is vital to the development of a modern youth who has been born with the label of "Digital Native".

At the Guard Up After School Program, kids have time to work on their school homework with the assistance of an adult - and then they are taken on an adventure where they get to exercise the other side of their brain. Too often, play time is seen as a waste of time in a society where Left Brain thinking dominates our educational system. This is an important acknowledgement as we see more and more systematized, linear logic careers being outsourced to other countries. This will continue to progress until the shift in our economy (and hopefully our education) makes us realize that our greatest resource is the well-balanced individual who has been given as much educational opportunity to develop their creative side as their logical side.

At Guard Up, we have developed a focus on three important skill sets in our story-based classes, camps and after school programs:
  1. Innovation: Creative problem solving, design, imagination
  2. Exploration: Discovery, experimentation, dynamic open-ended questioning
  3. Communication: Connecting with other people, establishing understanding with the self and others, developing empathy

The power of interactive stories, that do not have a pre-determined ending, is that our tool (the story) can be shaped to the group or individual as necessary. We provide an immersive environment with props and costuming. This helps engage the participant on an emotional level (aiding in stronger development of neurological pathways) and increases the memory retention of the learning experience.

Our staff and counselors are trained on a recurring basis in improvisational methods as well as appropriate content. As well, weekly mandatory meetings keep our program instructors current on the latest in teaching methodology, child psychology and event management skills.

We invest a great deal of time and effort into our programs. We strive to engage our students in a manner that is often neglected in current education and sorely underrepresented in modern day entertainment: We want to capture as much of their imagination as possible... and have them find exciting possibilities through their imagination.

This, I believe, is worth our effort and our parents' commitment.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up, Inc.

Suggested Reading:
  1. A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
  2. Play: How It Shapes the Brain by Dr. Stuart Brown
  3. The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why we do what we do...

The power of stories is that they allow us to personally identify (in other words "connect") with the character and situations being shared with us. Character are often represented as icons... exaggerated and sometimes simplified aspects of ourselves. This simplification allows us to break down complex ideas and examine what they mean to us.

Complexity and "gray issues" are interesting to us only after we have achieved an understanding of the more obvious traits and solutions - but only if the listener had the confidence to have their "knowledge" challenged. The more we identify with a character and the more that character grows and changes, the more likely we are to be open to the same.

We all seek the same things: Love and acceptance, a purpose larger than ourselves, the freedom to grow and create, and the ability to triumph over adversity. Many of our iconic stories deal with these needs. Even tragic stories often hold a degree of triumph. And they serve to remind us of our mortality... to deliver a message of awareness... a warning to either stop and think things through... or to follow your heart, despite the evidence. Which solution is best is left to the judgment of the listener. But all decisions have consequences. Stories share those consequences with us without having to personally risk great loss. And yet, they allow us to feel a degree of the possible triumph.

It is by way of the taste of this triumph through perseverance that our stories can inspire growth. It is the growth of the human spirit through deeper understanding that defines our purpose.

We create stories and through them, we connect our listeners (players and students) to an aspect of themselves. We ask only that they help shape the story... sharing a part of themselves with those around them... and receiving in kind.

Our stories are not our objective. The lives we touch and inspire are what we seek and leave behind. We create stories so that others may learn... and perhaps pass them on... or better yet, feel empowered to create and live their own.

This moment of growth and self knowledge is more than our purpose... it is our legacy.

Meghan Gardner
Guard Up Inc.