The Freedom to Play

When my grandson was about a year old, I introduced him to an Alexis to see what his reaction would be.  I don’t know why I was surprised when he took to her right away.  He sat her on his push toys and pushed Alexis around the room, picking her up when she fell and promptly seating her back to continue the ride.  He would study her face and poke at her eyes and then he moved on to the next toddler thing to do.  So, I decided I should dress this Alexis in more appropriate “boy wear” and braided her hair so she would be read for tough love.

My grandson, now about 2 ½ years old, moved away last year as my daughter received a great job offer in Virginia.  She keeps me up to date and we Skype so I can still talk to my grandson.  This week my daughter sent me this picture. She said that my grandson, Gunnar, pulled Alexis out of the bottom of his toy box and took careful effort to sit her up to watch him play with his cars.  I’d like to think Alexis reminds him of his grandma, but most of all I love the story because it reflects a world where parents are more open to gender-neutral play.  My grandson also plays with a 12” action figure, but neither are anything more than just Gunnar having the freedom to play and explore.

In a Psychology Today post on their website, Peter Gray Ph.D. wrote, “Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty. Play is not always accompanied by smiles and laughter, nor are smiles and laughter always signs of play; but play is always accompanied by a feeling of “Yes, this is what I want to do right now.” Players are free agents, not pawns in someone else’s game.”[1]

Bravo Dr. Gray!  Here’s to the freedom to play and a wish that you may…Play more.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200811/the-value-play-i-the-definition-play-gives-insights

Play More…Play is for grown ups too.

playmore-logoPlay More is a series of posts presenting the value of play.  Play, for both children and adults, is as essential to health as are eating well, exercising and diet. Integrating play into the family unit, increases emotional bonds, a sense of well being, and is an element of successful navigation in an ever growing complex world.

This post is based on, “The Healing Potential of Adults at Play”, by Dottie Ward-Wimmer https://www.psychceu.com/Schaefer/intro.pdf retrieved 2/16/2017

When at play, both our analytical and creative mind interacts in a symbiotic, relaxed nature that increases the flow of creativity and elicits a feeling of a relaxed state.  In this relaxed state of being our body is able to better support the biological needs such as breathing, digestion, and heart functions.  Play allows the “unwinding” of stress that attacks the immune system.  There are several books about increasing outdoor activities and getting involved in a sport and although this is strongly supported, not many talk about the health aspects of simple play.  No competition (not even with yourself), no rules, just simple play as found in coloring, tinkering, toy cars, action figures or dolls.

Dottie writes, “Play can increase our self esteem.  It invites access to states of well-being and calm as well as stillness and joy.  When released in play, we often have an increased capacity for empathy and intimacy.”  She goes on to support the premise for adult play therapy stating that it releases stress, increases confidence, and connects adults to the joy projected on the things loved in childhood.  “Play is a natural and enduring behavior in adults.  It has healing powers for the mind and spirit that we are only beginning to appreciate and learn to use.”

Take the time to Play More.  You have earned it; your mind and body need it.

Why a full open smile?

RoleModel

Why not a closed mouth or partly open beauty smile like the rest of the doll community?

Because Alexis was not designed to be a doll.  Alexis was created to be a friend and a positive impact in the worlds of all who behold her.

Every inch of Alexis was designed with purpose…not beauty, although beauty was achieved, but instead the goal was emotional, psychological, and intellectual.  Via E is a quest to provide amazing fun that builds strong minds.  In a world where fun has moved to the “naughty side” of human behavior, Alexis’ charter counters the trend with a focus on learning and understanding others.  Caring and compassion are nice words but to build these attributes one must be involved in understanding and seeking out information about the people around them.  Right here in the United States we have several different cultures with their own unique roots to other lands and thinking.  The same is true in Europe, South America…everywhere.  To love we also need to understand.

Alexis is a revolution.  She stands to shake up the world of dolls.  The goal is to teach loving of differences vs. loving of our own image.  Self confidence comes from within the mind not the mirror like commercialism would like us to believe. A true smile spreads happiness.  I too love beauty smiles, but instead of inspiring beauty Alexis’ desire is to spread joy and understanding.  So when you look at that broad smile (science calls it a Duchenne smile) know that it was designed for you with all my love and caring so that we may together lay a foundation down that can support a purposeful, fulfilling and happy life.

Below are several articles and a YouTube video on the health benefits of a Duchenne smile (Alexis’ smile.)  I send this post off with hopes that you will allow many, many smiles into your world and then return twice as many. 🙂

 

Psycological Sicence

Some researchers now believe that genuine smiles are not transient sparks of emotion but rather clear windows into a person’s core disposition.

We now know that genuine smiles may indeed reflect a “sweet soul.” The intensity of a true grin can predict marital happiness, personal well-being, and even longevity

The neural data revealed that Duchenne smiles produced greater activity in the brain’s left anterior temporal region, an area with clear connections to positive affect.

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2010/december-10/the-psychological-study-of-smiling.html

 

Psychology Today

Your smile is a powerful tool. Most people think that we smile because we feel happy, but it can go the other way as well: we feel happy because we smile.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201207/smile-powerful-tool

 

Science How Stuff Works

Evidence That Smiling Causes Happiness.
Most other studies on the topic note the cause-and-effect relationship without having a definitive explanation for it. The reason why Dr. Zajonc’s research is so significant in the field is because he proposes a detailed, physiology-based explanation for the cause-and-effect relationship. According to his hypothesis, the facial changes involved in smiling have direct effects on certain brain activities associated with happiness.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/smiling-happy1.htm

There’s Magic In Your Smile–How Smiling Affects Your Brain

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/smiling-happy1.htm

 

Forbes

The Untapped Power Of Smiling
Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and we have a subconscious innate drive to smile when we see one. This occurs even among strangers when we have no intention to connect or affiliate with the other person. Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us interpret how genuine a smile is, so that we can understand the real emotional state of the smiler.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2011/03/22/the-untapped-power-of-smiling/

 

Positive Psychology News

Emotional Contagion

This process is also known as emotional contagion[4]. That is, emotions are contagious. Feeling good is infectious, and so is feeling crummy. With this in mind, what change do you want trigger in the world?

Health Benefits of Smiling

<img src=”http://positivepsychologynews.com/ppnd_wp/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/emiliya.jpg” align=”right” alt=”Emiliya” />

Therefore, when you smile at someone else, they smile and you are causing physiological changes within their bodies. Frequent smiling has many therapeutic and health benefits [5], particularly when the smile is a Duchenne smile [6].

According to Dr. Mark Stibich, smiling:

  1. Boosts the immune system
  2. Increases positive affect
  3. Reduces stress
  4. Lowers blood pressure
  5. Enhances other people’s perception of you

Duchenne Smiles

Duchenne smiles are known as authentic smiles because they consistently co-occur with positive emotions [7]. Duchenne smiles are marked by wrinkles in the eyes that resemble crows feet and are associated with feeling excitement, amusement, interest, happiness and joy [8]. (See image on the right in which the top image is neutral, middle picture is non-genuine/mouth only, and the bottom picture is Duchenne/eyes and mouth engaged).

http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/emiliya-zhivotovskaya/200809271036

 

3 Great Apps to Help Children with Emotional or Social Issues

http://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/3-great-apps-for-children/

TED

Ron Gutman reviews a raft of studies about smiling, and reveals some surprising results. Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live — and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being? Prepare to flex a few facial muscles as you learn more about this evolutionarily contagious behavior. Check out this short Youtube video of his TED conference presentation.

 

Via E White Paper

Via_E_LogoChildren Learn What They Play
A clinical look at how the play environment impacts value development.

(This paper contains research material on the development of the brain and memory.  The first half is explaining the science and the second is discussing the impact on child development.)

“O.K. now sit still while I buckle your seat belt.  I love you and want to keep you safe.”  Sally only four years old says kindly to her doll-friend.  Bang! Bang! Bang!  Startled, Sally’s locks of curly amber colored hair whip around as she quickly looks over her right shoulder.  With his child’s Home Depot hammer in hand and tool belt swung on his slender hips like a modern day home improvement warrior, Sam looks up at his father and says, “Dad can I help you?  I can do it, see…look at me!”

Each of us has stories and memories of our children at play.  It warms our hearts and makes us smile.  But what is play?  We define it as fun, free time where imaginations and energy move in a flurry of laughter and social bonding. Though this definition holds true, let’s look beyond the surface and into the working of your child’s mind. The claim to be proven is: playtime is actually the rehearsal of who your child(ren) will ultimately become.

The Science
The study of the brain as anatomy combined with the mind through psychology and fields of linguistics, information science, and philosophy has evolved into today’s cognitive science.  The now famous Dr. Spock of our parents has been joined by legions of professionals to unwrap motivations and the why of what we do.  When I teach adult professionals business skills or the masses fitness moves, I always start with the fundamentals and build out from this point.  I suppose this passion for the development of skills is what drives me to research and write about what fundamentals are being programmed into our children while at “play.”

Let’s start with the basics of Cognitive Science (I’ll try to make this as interesting as possible!)  The first principle has been pondered since before the days of Plato and Socrates.  Nativism—how our brains are wired at birth and how the environment either nurtures or distorts it by withholding nurturance such as food, shelter, warmth, touch, affection, attention, values and so on.  The mind of an infant is amazing. Studies show that  in as early as four months old a baby can detect statistical patterns in sound.  At six months they have developed the ability to tell helpful people apart from the non helpful.  During this early stage our children are developing their “neuronal workspace”—kind of like a desktop on your computer–each program arranged in a space where it can later be utilized.

Unity is a principle of Cognitive Science that states the mind and the body are interconnected.  Meaning, a change in one will create a change in the other.  Think of your own experiences if you wish to challenge this tenant.  When you are feeling sad or depressed, what are the physical characteristics played out in your body?  Feeling achy, low energy, sleepy…etc?  On the other hand when you exercise and eat well there is an increase in optimism, confidence and energy.  Yes, our children’s sense of wellbeing is directly dependant on our understanding of the mind-body connection.

Remember that mental desktop or neuronal workspace mentioned above?  What good would the building of fundamentals do if you could not build or connect them into higher skills?  The principle of Connectivity states our ability to connect new with prior learning is the essence of growth and development.  It is this principle along with the principle of Interconnectivity that forms the basis of the theory that “play time” is in fact the rehearsal of who our children will become—what values, attitudes, problem solving skills and temperaments they ultimately carrying with them throughout life.

The last principle of Cognitive Science is Control.  The degree in which we feel in control of our situation directly impacts health and performance.  With less perceived control there is a correlated reduction in health and performance, with greater perceived control the reverse is true.  I highlight the word perceived because this is a critical element in the statements made.  We often associate a negative feeling toward the word control.  Wars of men, children and parents have been waged over who has the right to be in control.  Since this article is about children and parenting, I’ll address the issue in this context.  We are gifted our children by God to guide and bring them up to be healthy, value-centered people who contribute to society—not to control them.

Responsibility cannot be taught without the understanding that our children control their own behavior. So, in parenting we must utilize various tools to help guide our children while creating an environment where making the right choices yield the greatest reward.  Reward being defined not by “things” but by experiencing positive results.  When a child remains in “control,” it helps to build a healthy mind.

Parenting Application
Now that we have the fundamentals down let us talk about how we can make all this come together for the good of our children.  I mention rehearsal above so let me define it in the relevance of this topic.  Rehearsal is the act of repeating behaviors, assimilating environmental conditions such that it forms a lasting biological connection in the brain from which the child will draw to facilitate higher level cognitive behaviors throughout their lifetime.  It does not require a Ph.D. to recognize, as the famous poem writes, Children Learn What They Live.

My mother had this poem hanging life-sized when I was a young girl.  I remember many times stopping and looking at the child-friendly wall hanging and reading it over and over again.  I would pick out the lines from the poem that represented how I wanted to be when I grew up.  I bet you, to this day, my mother does not know how this wall hanging encouraged the values she sought to instill in me.  I point this out because it is not one thing that we do with our children, it is a million little things that we do knowingly and unknowingly that build the foundations of who our children are going to grow up to be.

It is said that peer group influence is greatest between the ages of 8 and 25 years old.  Think about this—we have fewer than eight years before the values we have taught our children are challenged by groups we often know very little about!  Even our best attempts to get to know our children’s friends and their moms, teachers and other influencers will fall short in the end.  Thus we must utilize every moment to help build the foundations for which our children’s independent decisions will ultimately be made.  Dr. Dobson writes in his book, “Bringing Up Girls,” of the estrogen driven need for girls to love, be social and to bond.  This virtue becomes a weakness when waged against a society where girls are encouraged to be women before their time.  In the absence of guidance even girls of well balanced families can get lost in today’s society of lust and power.

Helping children find their center, or sense of self will be the greatest tool you can provide.  A strong sense of self becomes the shield from which conflicting values will be fended off.  If a girl believes herself to be compassionate, she will act with compassion.  If a girl believes her value is only found in the beauty of her flesh, she will become sexual.  It is this simple.  Parents can build their girl’s sense of self by rehearsing the values that will define who she will become.

Dolls.  Why do I love dolls? When I look into the eyes of a beautiful doll my hear melts.  In this moment I’m not thinking of my MBA studies, building a business, paying bills…my mind has teleported me to a world of simplicity, caring, creativity and warmth.  Amazing, the power of memories!  In one moment that simple toy does what medical science cannot prescribe.  The funny thing is any doll will do.  My childhood dolls were long ago donated to needy girls by my father—little did he know he was committing a cardinal sin!  My point is the doll is a key to unlock emotion and memories from the past.  In order for this to be true the memories must become a permanent biological record developed through many days and experiences with my doll-friends.

When I was a child we did not have computer games so my sisters and I spent hours creating different things to do with our dolls.  Today’s world is a technological wonder where our children are experiencing computerized toys from birth–even hand-wound swings for infants are now computerized chairs that gyrate slowly in multiple directions.  Yes, computerization is here to stay and is crowding out traditional value shaping toys of the past.  Toy industry statistics tell us that the time girls spend with dolls is shrinking—five short years was the last estimate.  I’m not saying that computerized toys cannot enhance learning, but I am claiming that the time girls spend simply loving, caring, creatively developing their own stories are a set of experiences that are fundamental to the development of life skills.

Learning is defined as the establishment of new neural networks composed of synaptic connection and their associated chemotaxic patterns according to Pierce Howard, Ph.D. in his book titled, “The Owner’s Manual for the Brain.”  What this means is there is a biological process that takes place in the brain when we learn a new task or create a new memory.  Memory has three stages:  Immediate memory holds data for two seconds or less.  Short-term also known as working memory will diminish over time if it is not reinforced.  Long-term memory involves a cellular change that becomes permanent.  Once it is created it cannot be erased.

Research has determined that it takes five to six hours rehearsing a new motor skill for the brain to create permanent storage of the new skill.  The process of creating non-motor memories still requires much more research before it can be quantified.   However, the repetitive nature of building a motor skill memory underscores the impact of rehearsing in regards to building neuro networks.  These networks later form the foundations of how we analyze and make decisions.

A good example of this concept is Mind Mapping—words, ideas, tasks or other items such as sensory data of all four senses are linked and arranged around a central key idea.  In other words, our children are constantly building associations through their everyday interaction with their world.  Our parenting efforts can help children build the library from which they will draw their conclusions—from which they will judge right or wrong.

The toys that children play with are tools just like a piano is a tool to create music.  They learn “notes” of behavior and then compile these notes into play scenarios.  Each time they rehearse these scenarios the behavior is strengthened until it becomes a habit or mental recording.  You and the world as observed around them become the inspiration or “building” material for their memories and subsequent behavior patterns.  Thus the reason why parent should guide play time and provide toys (tools) that nurture and grow.

Why Via E
Via E has developed a support structure for parents and girls such that they are exposed to wholesome values.  We create rewards systems to encourage reading, writing, creativity, social awareness and academic excellence.  Learning is best when learning is fun, so we integrate Dollfriends® such that they become more than just a form to dress every now and then but a tool to rehearse values of compassion, love, caring and social interaction.  Each time a girl picks up a Dollfriend® she is rehearsing wholesome values.  As girls grow, learning grows and she becomes more interested in creating and building–learning how to sew and designing clothing, write and publish books, develop musical talents, photography, etc.—only her imagination and ingenuity will stop her.

Via E is not a company; it is an effort.  It is an active effort to utilize all its resources to make today as fun as it can be while always holding to the principals of learning and building healthy, capable young minds.

 

Resources for this article:

One of the books I read when researching this topic, “Mind in the Making—The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” written by Ellen Galinsky and published by HaperCollins discusses the building blocks of early learning and gives parents wonderful ideas of how to create a rich environment to facilitate a well-balanced mind.

Also recommended is “Bringing up Girls” by Dr. James Dobson and published by Tyndale House.

For those of you with a mind for science, I recommend, “The Owner’s Manual for the Brain” by Pierce Howard, Ph.D. and published by Bard Press.

More information on Mental Maps can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map

A similar approach using a Radial Tree can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radial_tree

Alexis Letter to Friends — June

Image

June2014

Every Day is Father’s Day!

I have a wonderful Father’s Day story for you this year!  Since Via E is about healthy and educational play for girls, it seems that my eyes can’t help but glimpse precious girl moments everywhere I go. One Saturday, I arrived with my husband and son to a local school yard where we meet with a running coach who is helping my son compete in one of the toughest football leagues in California.  As we approached the track, I saw a set of pig-tails streaming behind a girl who could not be more than seven years old.   She was running that track as if she was a mini Olympian.  As she came around the track, my eyes found a proud father who was apparently coaching her.  It was priceless to see them together.

photo 3Another week went by and this time as I passed the big shade tree that often sheltered parents during the training sessions my son participates in, there were four little girls talking and giggling under the tree.  I thought to myself…I wish I had some coloring books for them to help keep them busy while they wait for their brothers to finish training.  But much to my surprise all four of them got up and chased each other onto the track.  Joining them were three proud Papas!

On your mark, get set…go!  And they were off!  Brooklyn, Sadie, Regan, and Maya raced around the track.  photo 1Maya and Sadie led the group as they added their footsteps to the kaleidoscope of footprints made with each pass.  I couldn’t help but to participate by secretly cheering each of them around the track.  I finally rose from the camping chair that my husband sat out for me to ensure my comfort during my son’s two hour training session and walked over to the circle of fathers to ask if I could tell their story.  At first I think they thought I was a bit crazy, but after reviewing our blog they agreed to let me share this father’s day story to you.  The best part is that this story keeps writing new adventures every day…you can see the evidence of this when observing the way each girl looks at her father.photo 2

Here’s to fathers everywhere and all of their wonderful times being the best dad ever.

Happy Father’s Day!

Scholar-Ship Craft for Girls and Boys

Scholar_Ship Craft

What you’ll need

  • Half-gallon carton
  • Heavy duty large straw
  • Tape
  • Cereal box
  • Glue stick
  • Paper
  • Your A Papers from school
  • Crayons or Markers to color your design

My Scholar Ship is a modified version of a boat craft I found online at: http://spoonful.com/crafts/love-boat .

How to make it

  1. Love Boat - Step 1Start with a clean carton. Cut off the plastic spout or tape the cardboard spout shut.
  2. For the bow, cut a 3¾- by 10-inch strip from a cereal box, fold it in half, and tape it in place as shown.
  3. Use tape and a glue stick to cover the carton with paper. Cut a mail slot in the ship’s top to store all your A papers from school.
  4. Use a glue stick to add stripes to the sides  (Be sure to color a design on them first.)
  5. Poke a small hole the deck and insert the straw.  Now tape your best A paper to it making a sail for the boat.

Be creative and have fun!

Don’t forget to send me a picture! Email it to Alexis@Via-E.com Or Post your picture on My Friends’ Stuff Art Board on Pintrest. (You first have to follow the board before I can add you to make your own posts)

A Real-Girl Alexis to Love

AlexisRealGirlPlease allow me to tell you about a real-girl Alexis who could use our love.  This story was sent to me by one of our Via E family members.  It is a story of a 9 year old girl who had to have a tumor removed from her head.  The operation was successful but it had a side affect of causing a chemically induced obesity. Now this real-girl Alexis has become isolated, schooled at home, no friends, as the doctors search for methods to reverse this side affect. Without help, this condition will end her short life. We may not be able to solve all the world’s problems or save all the children who need help but perhaps we can start with one Alexis who has had her world turn upside down.  If the family will accept it, I will send an Alexis Dollfriend to show our love.  Additionally I’m listing their funding page for those who feel moved to help the family to meet the medical expenses.  At this point we have 3,583 Facebook friends.  If each of us could find one dollar to send, we could end up with a donation of $3,583.00 to help.  What I love so much about the effort of Via E are the friends–family that it has created.  As we grow as a family our love can make a positive impact near to us and far. Here are a few links to learn more about this need:

Article about Alexis: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/health/surgeons-cincinnati-hospital-stop-gastric-bypass-alexis-shapiro-12-due-enlarged-liver

Hope and Love for Alexis Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hope-and-love-for-Alexis/608447129202849

The Donation Page: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/alexisshapiro/mystory

Thank you for helping through caring, donations or prayers for this family.

From my heart to yours,

Ellen