Parallel Process – A Rap Love Song to My Job

images-2

 

During this past academic year,  fellow faculty members met in small inquiry groups to study our work in the advisement of graduate students in supervised fieldwork. The process was reflective, exciting, daunting and helpful. How do we assist graduate students in developing their personal and professional selves as they prepare to work in public and private schools, museums and hospitals? The lyrics to this song came to me as I tried to wrap my brain around the work that we do – and how to represent it to others who have never experienced the challenges and joys of advisement, as either a graduate student or a faculty member. Here is what came to me in the middle of a sleepless night.

 

Continue reading

Get Ready to Play!

IMG_0062 (1)

Okay, so call me a nerd. Few things bring me more joy than teaching a subject that I love with a colleague who has even more passion and enthusiasm for the subject than I do. I have had the pleasure over the years of co-teaching with many wonderful and talented colleagues – Betsy Wilford, Elizabeth Laureano, Edna Garces, Karen Marschke-Tobier, Caitlin Koch and Jon Luongo, to name a few. In each of those situations, whether it was Sunday school, a therapeutic nursery school, graduate school, in another country, or at a conference, I became a better teacher within the partnership than I ever would have been alone.

And now, as I prepare for my upcoming gig at the Child Life Council’s 34th Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida next week, I celebrate the colleagues that I will be teaming up with.  Continue reading

Driving the Camel: Installment #8

 

IMG_1607

Homesick

 

Once the conference began, I was surrounded by like-minded professionals, everyone eager to learn and share.  In order to earn my keep, I was slotted to present three times on three topics, the first a workshop on play techniques to use with angry or withdrawn children. The audience was receptive and participants volunteered readily to assist me in demonstrating several activities. They shared what made them angry, hurled wet toilet paper at a paper target, and erupted a play dough volcano with glee.  Continue reading

Paper Tigers

Print

What are paper tigers? Well, they refer to a byproduct of trauma. When kids grow up in environments where toxic stress is an everyday occurrence, their brains wire to keep them in a constant state of fight or flight. They are perpetually on edge, vigilant in assessing their surroundings for dangers, real or imagined. The imagined dangers are paper tigers, not real but emanating from traumatic experiences and just as threatening as a raised fist or an unwanted touch.

The documentary Paper Tigers depicts a school in Walla Walla Washington where teachers and leaders have found a new way to reach and teach kids who see paper tigers around every corner. Instead of responding to acting out teens with punishing discipline, they seek to understand the adverse childhood experiences or ACEs that effect their students and get in the way of their learning.

More than two decades ago, two respected researchers, clinical physician Dr. Vincent Felitti and CDC epidemiologist Robert Anda, published the game-changing Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. It revealed a troubling but irrefutable phenomenon: the more traumatic experiences the respondents had as children (such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect), the more likely they were to develop health problems later in life—problems such as cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. To complicate matters, there was also a troubling correlation between adverse childhood experiences and prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, unprotected sex, and poor diet. Combined, the results of the study painted a staggering portrait of the price our children are paying for growing up in unsafe environments, all the while adding fuel to the fire of some of society’s greatest challenges.    (http://kpjrfilms.co/paper-tigers/about-the-film/)

Adverse Childhood Experiences include eight experiences that impact future health and longevity of children. They fall into three categories: Abuse, Neglect and Household Dysfunction. The eight ACEs are physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and whether mental illness, the incarceration of a relative, domestic violence, substance abuse or divorce are present in the home environment. The more ACEs present, the worse the outcome.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that something can be done. Trauma informed therapy and emotionally responsive teaching are two interventions that can buld resiliency in children facing traumatic stress.

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel made up of policy makers and practitioners  who work tirelessly to address the inequities that perpetuate toxic environments for large numbers of our country’s children. The US rates number two in developed countries for  how many children live in poverty, second only to Romania. In my eyes that is nothing short of a crime. Poverty is the single highest variable coralated with ACEs.

We screened the movie for a standing room only audience at the Grace Church School in Cooper Square in lower Manhattan. Moderator Andrew Solomon, the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, led us in a lively discussion of the film, fielding questions from an audience of parents, teachers and community leaders.The event was sponsored by many schools and community organizations, including The First Presbyterian Church, Go Project, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, NIP Professional Association, Academy of St. Joseph, Prevent Child Abuse New York and the Corlears School. The room was filled with caring citizens who want to see change. Teachers spoke about their own trauma in working with troubled children in broken schools with no resources or administrative support.

Joy Farina Foskett, the organizer of this important event, reminded us all that ACEs cross all socioeconomic boundaries and exist in every culture. Some of the panelists themselves spoke to the ACE of divorce in their own families. We listed some valuable resources in the program: community organizations, websites and books. Included in the list are “Divorce is the Worst” and “Death is Stupid”, two great books by Anastasia Higginbotham, that help adults open up important conversations with children who may suffer alone through painful ACEs. Kathleen McCue’s “How to help Children Through a Parent’s serious Illness” is another great resource to assist parents and teachers.

Trauma informed, emotionally responsive teaching seems like a no brainer. It doesn’t cost more money, and it prevents costly medical care, incarceration and strengthens our country’s most valuable asset, our children. If it worked with teens who’d already been labeled as unreachable and no good, how much more could it do within early childhood settings? In Early Intervention?

We were all left with one question on our minds. Why isn’t every school in the country following in the footsteps of Lincoln Alternative High School? What are we waiting for?

imgres

 

 

Growing Play Work in the Czech Republic

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset

The red rooftops of Prague and the Malejovice countryside were a welcome sight this week as I rejoined the Kralovec family in their dream to grow Hospital Play Work in the Czech Republic .

As the Klicek Foundation enters their 25th year, they celebrate not only their anniversary but their entry into a new phase of their mission. In collaboration with Charles University and the Plzen School of Nursing, they are developing a college level program on Play Work, the first of its kind in their country. This is all in addition to the work they do in hospitals for ill children and their families, and the summer camp they run for these families each year. (Click on “summer camp for a beautiful view of the property where they live and work in Malejovice, filmed by Jiri Kralovec, Jiri’s son).

As part of this vision, they invited me to consult with them about curriculum and to teach two seminars on child centered play, a topic that Marketa Kralovec says is much needed in their culture.

“It is such a necessary but unheard of thing here, to follow the child’s lead in play,” she states with feeling.

And so we got down on the floor with play dough, Legos, army figurines and plastic monsters, demonstrating child centered play techniques and then practicing them together.  We also drew play maps, shared stories of our childhood memories of play, played hand games and blew lip whistles –  the hours passed quickly

The Caritas School of Social Services hosted our first seminar. The head of the school, Martin Bednar, welcomed us warmly, expressing his gratitude by presenting me with the book Destinies as hard as stone,  about a sculpture in the school courtyard – The Monument of Stories.  A wooden series of towers house stones from around the world on many small shelves.  Students bring stones from their internships to represent a story that affected them deeply in their learning.  The school gathers for each installment to hear and record the student’s narrative. It is an incredible tribute to the work of students and the people who’ve shaped their lives.

“We are like stones in a river. If alone, the water will wash us away. Together, however, we make up a dam.”

 

image

Our second  day of teaching took place in a medieval building overlooking Wenceslas Square in the heart of Prague. Throughout our seminar occasional strains of church bells and the hoofbeats of horse-drawn carriages drifted up to the windows from the cobblestones below. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ceiling of the room, which was crossed by beams of ancient wood and hand painted panels depicting whimsical animal scenes.

IMG_5471

IMG_5470

Our students in these two venues included  both undergraduates and working play workers. They showed great passion for the children and families in their care, and a willingness to ask tough questions and share painful memories and struggles. Throughout the students’ stories ran a common thread of the childhood desire for self expression, adventure and kind attention from adults. Child-centered practice definitely fits in with this ideal.   The participants truly brought all of themselves to the learning.  I couldn’t have enjoyed a more engaging and thoughtful group. Not to mention Jiri Kralovec, who was a tireless interpreter, translating my every word.

Please enjoy the photos below, and remember the Klicek Foundation during this holiday season. If you wish to make a donation to this humane and critical work, you can contact Jiri & Marketa, the founders, at klicek@klicek.org for more information.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

IMG_5386

Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset

Thanks to Jiri Kralovec Junior for capturing our seminars with his wonderful photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taming Tantrums

kck-sticker-box-FINAL-01

Parenting is never easy – it may just be the toughest job in the history of the world. As a mother of two young boys, and a pediatric social worker, Randi Goldfarb  has seen a lot of tantrums in and out of hospitals.

I found that tantrum behavior is universal, and no one knows what to do. Then as a parent, I couldn’t control my own child’s tantrum.

Tantrums_4kids

Randi put on her thinking cap, asking herself how do you help a child calm down  and keep calm? Then she put on her creativity cap and rolled up her sleeves. The result is the keep calm kit©. Continue reading

Retraining my Brain

IMG_5114

I had surgery last week to repair a tendon in my right wrist, which happens to be my dominant hand. With my hand wrapped up like a giant cocoon, I am learning a few lessons quickly.

  1. There are many daily tasks that we perform without much attention or awareness.
  2. My non-dominant left hand is slow and clumsy.
  3. I cannot multitask as I did before.
  4. I am slowing down to a methodical plod with each task.
  5. I am compensating by using my left hand a lot.
  6. This may not be such a bad thing.

“The non-dominant hand is actually linked to the non-dominant hemisphere in your brain – the one that isn’t exercised as often. There are studies that show that when you use your dominant hand, one hemisphere of the brain is active. When you use the non-dominant hand, both hemispheres are activated, which may result in thinking differently and becoming more creative.”http://www.goodfinancialcents.com/benefits-of-using-your-opposite-hand-grow-brain-cells-while-brushing-your-teeth/

Continue reading

Learning from Hospital Play Specialist Hideko Konagaya in Japan

IMG_4587

While teaching in Shizuoka, Japan, I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Hideko Konagaya, a hospital play specialist, at Shizuoka General Hospital.

Hideko hosted Maria Busqueta  (a child life specialist and psychologist from Mexico City) and me in her bright and cheery playroom. Professor Chika Matsudaira of Shizuoka University assisted us by translating so that we could all communicate.

When we entered the playroom, two preschoolers already sat at a small table busily making slime. The children and their mothers gave us permission to photograph them.

IMG_4584 IMG_4588

Now I have made slime in my play course, but never slime as lovely as this! Hideko had set out brightly colored water in several plastic cups. She provided the boys with small glass jars (recycled baby food jars) and chopsticks for stirring. One at a time, Hideko and the children added rice glue, orange or lime essential oil for fragrance, sodium borate, and  a magical touch of glitter. The mixture came together to create a wonderful substance that smelled amazing and was positively addictive – no one could put it down or stop playing. The boys stirred like mad, and then ran the slime through their fingers until it hardened enough to hold shape. They used cookie cutters and plastic tools to manipulate it. I broke a cardinal rule of mine and touched one of the boy’s slime without asking. I just couldn’t help myself! He was a very good sport. Continue reading

A Day with Hospital Play Specialist Kazue Goto in Japan

IMG_4403

One of the best parts of my trip to Japan was the fact that I  learned more than I taught. Yes, I traveled there as a child life professor to teach play techniques to hospital play specialists (HPS). But they had just as many wonderful techniques to share with me, and I cannot wait to incorporate them into my teaching repertoire here in the States.

On our first day in Tokyo, Kazue Goto hosted Maria Busqueta and me at the National Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities for a day of play with the inpatients on their orthopedic ward. She had prepared the children for our visit, and one by one, they approached us, shook our hands Western style, and introduced themselves by name. Kazue presented us with handmade name tags written in Japanese.

Photo on 8-12-15 at 5.34 PM

I taught the kids how to play the American game “Spot It!”, and Maria taught them how to play Mexican Lotteria. We all made volcanoes together, and then the fun REALLY began. Kazue taught us all how to make poop.

Yes, you heard it right — we all made poop out of bran cereal. The activity is designed to teach kids about their digestive systems. Many hospitalized children have issues with constipation or diarrhea, and this activity brings up helpful discussion about self care and gives children a chance to normalize something that can cause great pain and embarrassment. Continue reading

Play the Japanese Way

IMG_4451

Trepidation was the word of the day as I prepared to teach play techniques in Japan. How would I  cope with teaching in eight hour increments to students and professionals whose primary language was Japanese?  How would the participants respond to me? I barely ever lecture at Bank Street College, but here it would be the expected modality of teaching. I worried for my students who would have to listen to my English first before Chika Matsudaira, my hosting professor,  translated everything I said.

But I should know by now that everything works out in the end. Here are some highlights from the four groups we taught, some new to the profession, others in it for years. They included students, hospital play specialists, nurses, nursing administrators, nursery nurses (early education professionals working in hospitals), occupational and physical therapists and one child life specialist. In the span of 5 days, we taught a total of 91 people. The photos and video footage below include scenes from all 4 classes.

The first group in Shizuoka were new hospital play specialist (HPS) students who had travelled from all over the country, and the day began with a ceremony welcoming them to Shizuoka University. The university president and administrators attended, as did a local reporter. The students first appeared very serious and somber. Here is the before shot taken during the ceremony:

IMG_4449

But we all warmed up to each other pretty quickly. Here we are at the end of the second day.

IMG_4549

Thanks to the reporter, an article featuring our class appeared in the next day’s Shizuoka paper.

CIMG0145

We began with my theory of a “Play Needs Continuum”. It describes 9 ways to deepen play opportunities for children in hospitals. Chika had translated my power point into Japanese.  When we spoke of raising awareness about the value of play, students paired off to share play memories from childhood.

CIMG0021 CIMG0020

When we addressed the use of self as a distraction tool to use during medical procedures, we all shared songs  and hand games from our cultures (click on bold green to see videos). Maria Busquetta from Mexico got everyone singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Japanese, which impressed everyone very much. I taught them the invisible needle and thread trick.

When we needed to move our bodies to keep alert, Chika demonstrated “laughter therapy”. On most days, I started the day with the game “whoosh”, where the group passes an imaginary ball around a circle making sound effects as they go along. I had never tried this with more than 15 students, but it worked well even with the large group of 40 from Tokyo. Their improv skills with action and sound effects were great.

The students enjoyed making volcanoes (Kaduson, 1997), throwing wet toilet paper at a drawing of things which angered and frightened them (Kaduson, 1997), making oobleck and playing with shaving cream. Rolling up their sleeves to play helped them understand first hand the value of these techniques for hospitalized children.

IMG_4489

IMG_4495

IMG_4506

IMG_4522

The students traced one another on paper and dry erase board for the “Wonders of the World”  activity (Carman, 2004). This activity helps traumatized kids and teens find hope and connect with a vision of the future as they draw what they would like to see with their eyes, smell, hear, taste, do/make with their hands, and where their feet will take them.

IMG_4531 IMG_4540

CIMG0064 CIMG0062

CIMG0066

And last, but not least, we  demonstrated and practiced child-centered play techniques (Landreth 2012).

CIMG0024 IMG_4742 IMG_4748

The students were so willing and playful that the eight hours flew by each day. I have no doubt that children will be playing their hearts out throughout hospitals in Japan where these folks are training and working. Playing the Japanese way is a wonderful way to go.