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Reading is a Form of Play


flyingbook-insideI can’t remember how old my son was when he stopped playing. One day he was spending hours creating worlds with his little PVC Pokemon figurines and then the next day he wasn’t but I can’t really remember when that was. But I remember that he was sad about it, when his play stopped working, and it made me think about when my big sister came home (at around 11 or 12) from her first babysitting job. She trudged into my room, watched me setting up my kitchen set to make dinner for my doll and then said, “You know, playing baby dolls isn’t as much fun once you’ve played with a real baby.”

It’s hard to grow up and it’s hard to lose the opportunity for play.

Fortunately when kids (and grownups) read — particularly fiction or non-fiction with the same kind of imaginative scope, the kind that sets you to wondering — works our brains the same way that play does. Unlike television, which is fun and can be playful, books ask us to supply the sights and sounds and to imagine the people who are speaking. It’s a form of pretending, which is one reason that it’s so important that kids (and grown ups) get time to read for pleasure.

Graphic novels count, so do books below grade level. Lots of kids like to revisit their favorite childhood books particularly during times of big growing because it’s comforting to spend time with the familiar when there are a lot of new challenges happening so don’t fret if your 10-year old comes back from the library with a pile of Henry & Mudge books instead of Harry Potter.

Finally audio books are a great way to “read” for the child who is a kinesthetic (i.e., physical) learner. If she can’t sit still long enough to read to herself, let her listen to books on CD while she colors, moves around or jumps on the trampoline. She’ll get many of the same benefits — training a longer attention span, building her vocabulary and that all important imaginative “play” time — without being frustrated.

I hear sometimes about parents who use books as punishment or consequences or bribes, for example, read for one hour tonight to earn an hour of computer time. That doesn’t build literacy; it builds kids who dread books. If you’ve got a book-friendly household (access to books either on your shelves of via regular trips to the library; adults who love to read; acceptance of everyone’s favorite genre regardless of it’s respectability or educational value) then you’ll have children who understand the value of reading whether or not they become bookworms.


If you want to know what it is to be a kid

My favorite illustrator for Ramona is Louis Darling, who drew this lovely portrait

My favorite illustrator for Ramona is Louis Darling, who drew this

Parenting is infinitely easier if you remember what it was like to be little yourself. If you can remember the frustrations, the fears and the satisfactions of childhood then you will know what it is that your child is experiencing now.

If your memory is foggy or if you had a childhood that doesn’t offer you much in the way of inspiration, you can always turn to Beverly Cleary.

I loved the books when I was a kid and I still love them today because when I read them I am immediately transported to what it is to be a child and to be afraid of ghostly gorillas who might be able to flatten themselves and squeeze through cracks in the walls. Or to feel like a cozy little bunny just by putting on flannel pajamas. Or to worry that my teacher doesn’t like me and to be too anxious about it to tell my mom.

Beverly Cleary takes children very seriously. Her books are funny but never poke fun. Her children are smart but not brilliant and special but absolutely ordinary. They are like the children we were then and the children our kids are today.

Sometimes I ask parents to read them and they actually do (often they don’t because they think I’m kidding — I’m not) and I promise you that they enjoy them. They also learn from them. They remember that being a kid isn’t easy and that sometimes what we don’t understand from an adult point of view makes perfect sense to a child.

I will leave you with an excerpt from Ramona the Brave. I have a lot of favorite scenes in the Ramona books and one of them is this description of Ramona’s game, Brick Factory, that she plays with Howie, the boy down the street. I think it’s such a wonderful and accurate portrayal of child’s play, of how it’s essential and true, how it serves a purpose for the children not recognized by older kids or adults, the concentration and the work of it. Next time you’re asking your child for the third time that night to put down her Legos and come to dinner, think about this passage and remember how very serious and how very absorbing the work of play is for kids. Your understanding won’t make her come to dinner any faster but it might make you a little less frustrated.

Ramona ran out to meet Howie, who was trudging down Klickitat Street pulling his little red wagon full of old bricks, the very best kind for playing Brick Factory, because they were old and broken with the corners crumbled away. “Where did you get them?” asked Ramona, who knew how scarce old bricks were in their neighborhood.

“At my grandmother’s,” said Howie. “A bulldozer was smashing some old houses so somebody could build a shopping center, and the man told me I could pick up the broken bricks.”

“Let’s get started,” said Ramona, running to the garage and returning with two big rocks she and Howie used in playing Brick Factory, a simple but satisfying game. Each grasped a rock in both hands and with it pounded a brick into pieces and the pieces into smithereens. The pounding was hard, tiring work. Pow! Pow! Pow! Then they reduced the smithereens to dust. Crunch, crunch, crunch. They were no longer six-year-olds. They were the strongest people in the world. They were giants.

When the driveway was thick with red dust, Ramona dragged out the hose and pretended that a terrible flood was washing away the Brick Factory in a stream of red mud. “Run, Howie! Run before it gets you!” screamed Ramona. She was mighty Ramona, brave and strong. Howie’s sneakers left red footprints, but he did not really run away. He only ran to the next driveway and back. Then the two began the game all over again. Howie’s short blond hair turned rusty red. Ramona’s brown hair only looked dingy.

Ramona as hipster. Well, she is growing up in Portland.

Ramona as a hipster. Well, she is growing up in Portland.

Ramona, who was usually impatient with Howie because he always took his time and refused to get excited, found him an excellent Brick Factory player. He was strong, and his pounding was hard and steady. They met each day on the Quimby’s driveway to play their game. Their arms and shoulders ached. They had Band-Aids on their blisters, but they pounded on.

Mrs. Quimby decided that when Ramona was playing Brick Factory she was staying out of trouble. However, she did ask several times why the game could not be played on Howie’s driveway once in a while. Howie always explained that his mother had a headache or that his little sister Willa Jean was taking a nap.

“That is the dumbest game in the world,” said [big sister] Beezus, who spent her time playing jacks with Mary Jane when she was not reading. “Why do you call your game Brick Factory? You aren’t making bricks. You’re wrecking them.”

“We just do,” said Ramona, who left rusty footprints on the kitchen floor, rusty fingerprints on the doors, and rusty streaks in the bathtub. Picky-picky spent a lot of time washing brick dust off his paws. Mrs. Quimby had to wash separate loads of Ramona’s clothes in the washing machine to prevent them from staining the rest of the laundry.

Annual Toy Swap: You’re invited!

Ilegos-inside used to have this at my house but now I have an office so I’m going to move it there. You’re all invited!

This is your chance to clean out your cupboards, closets and under the bed and maybe get a head start on your holiday shopping.

Here’s how the Annual Toy Swap works:

  • People arrive with their gently used toys, books and clothes.
  • They drop things off in my waiting room and maybe get themselves a cup of tea
  • They rummage through other people’s things.
  • They laugh with each other, complain about how their kids never even TOUCHED that toy after begging for it for months, pick things out, discard things, hold up dresses to consider sizing and discuss their holiday plans as well as the extended family members with whom they will be forced to deal with in the upcoming weeks.
  • They will leave with new-to-them stuff.
  • OR they will drop their things off and leave without grabbing more, just happy to have an excuse to declutter.
  • Everything left over will get donated to either the Northwest Counseling Help Me Grow program or to the Syntero therapy offices serving kids or to Volunteers of America.

When: Sunday, November 24th, 1pm to 5pm

Where: My offices at 6660 North High Street, Suite 1A (park in back, come in the side doors)

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Can I come get things if I don’t have anything to share? Absolutely!
  2. Can I drop things off without picking things up? Sure!
  3. Do I have to hang out the whole time? Nope, but you’re welcome to if you’d like.
  4. Can I drop things off beforehand? Yes, just contact me to arrange it.


Remaining constant

Portrait of PiaThis is from A Portrait of Pia, a young adult book by Marisabina Russo about a 13-year old girl who goes looking for her — and finds — her long-lost father.

Pia could see herself standing in front of the class holding the [self-portrait] upside down. How foolish she had felt! Then she remembered Mrs. Lavelle pointing out the negative space behind her hair. It made her think of her father, the part of her life that was not here, but still defined her.

I was pleased to see that she wrote The Line-Up Book, too, because this was one of son’s favorites when he was little.

I’m always looking for books that aren’t just about adoption but also about kids finding themselves in unusual family circumstances. In this one, Pia’s mom’s boyfriend tells her that he was adopted. He tells her about finding his birth mother while he’s sitting with her at the airport before she gets on a plane with her mom to go meet her father. He tells her:

“In that instant I realized that although I’d found her, the woman who had given birth to me, I was still Greg Finer … I remember feeling really relieved because you know …” Here Greg finally took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to change. I liked who I was.”

Our children — most especially our children separated by birth parents for whatever reason — need to know that while they become better everyday, they are who they are. They are right and strong and true and they are exactly who they should be.

This is a great long review of the book and I encourage you to check it out.

More on this

I want to understand the universal in my specifics and I want to understand when I’m mistakenly extending my experience to other people.

I was thinking on this after I read momartfully’s excellent single mom post:

Single Moms — Web Outcasts

And I think of it now and then specifically around an essay that was in (I think) the Guardian, which I can’t find anymore and it points out that all the books about motherhood are written by writers, which means that writing mothers dominate the cultural discussion about motherhood, kinda the way the blog world thinks every mommy blogger is writing blithely at home between loads of sparkling laundry. (Watch Punditmom — only partially successfully — try to make this point to the Wall Street Journal.)

I don’t really have a point except that I’m thinking about it and thinking, like I said, about how to express the universal from my specific and I think the only way to do that is to KNOW what’s specific, which isn’t always easy.

I’m filing this under writing because that’s how I’m thinking about it.

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