AMANDA DEAN is a child life specialist on the bone marrow transplant floor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Child life specialists are pediatric health care professionals employed in hospitals and other settings to help children and families cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness, and disability. They provide information, support and guidance. They also use creative and expressive means, including play and other activities, to help children prepare for medical procedures, manage pain and discomfort, and cope with the physical and mental challenges of their health situations.
Amanda’s deep commitment to connect with children through joyful play made her a deserving finalist for the 2013 Jesse Howes Award. “What is incredible about Amanda is how she invests the time to be with patients who are constantly beset with medical personnel and others moving in and out of their rooms,” her co-worker explains. “She is invaluably warm, trustworthy, and present for them and for their families.” When she sees teenage girls whose treatment has prevented them from tending to their physical appearance, Amanda will paint finger and toenails to provide them with the touches it takes to make them feel good again about their own beauty. Knowing that her young patients may be unable to leave their rooms for long stretches of time, Amanda has taught herself a full range of board games, card games, and other creative ways to transform a hospital room into a fun place. Her Playmaker training has added many new games, activities and helpful breathing techniques that she uses with children as well. Like her fellow child life specialists, she knows well that a hospital setting, while seemingly at a far distance from play, is in fact a place where play’s many positive benefits are dearly needed.
For visiting parents and other family members, Amanda is always available and welcoming, and she stocks the common playroom that she oversees with art projects and classic children’s movies, while soothing, upbeat music plays in the background. She is quick to smile and ready to extend a helping hand. Whenever a patient passes a treatment milestone, such as a particular length of time following a transplant, Amanda prepares a celebration to make each child feel special. It’s time to make her feel special as well, as we celebrate here an exceptional Playmaker who affirms daily the healing powers of play.
Have a story to share about your work or the work of a special co-worker who exemplifies what it means to be a Playmaker? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
We got game! Check out our new Playmaker Quarterly Newsletter – packed with goodness!
This is the first in a series of stories spotlighting certified Life is good Playmakers. A number of those spotlighted were 2013 nominees for the Jesse Howes Award. The award commemorates the late founding Playmaker Jesse Howes and is given each year to a Playmaker who, like Jesse, shows, “A deep love for, and commitment to children, and an unquenchably playful spirit.
TRICIA ASHE is a longtime Playmaker, an inspiring example to her colleagues and friends, and co-winner of the 2013 Jesse Howes Award. “With her kind heart, warm smile, cheerful disposition, and grateful spirit, Tricia is truly one of the finest Playmakers. She makes each day a little brighter for the many children (and parents) she supports, comforts, and encourages at Boston Children’s Hospital,” wrote one of several co-workers who nominated her for the award.
Tricia is a child life specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Child life specialists are pediatric health care professionals employed in hospitals and other settings to help children and families cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness, and disability. They provide information, support and guidance. They also use creative and expressive means, including play and other activities, to help children prepare for medical procedures, manage pain and discomfort, and cope with the physical and mental challenges of their health situations.
Tricia not only helps heal and strengthen children, she is a servant leader and powerful role model for her co-workers. As one reflected, “For the eight years I have known and worked with Tricia, she has inspired me, encouraged me, and guided me. She is a mentor and an inspiration to the many she works with and a hero to the children she touches each day.” Another wrote that Tricia “exudes hope in the face of trauma, peace in stressful situations and joy in every task she takes on. She has a sense of calmness and centeredness. Tricia walks directly into challenges with the words, ‘How can I help?’ She has a definite light about her that children, families and staff are drawn to.”
Although she had been in the child life profession for some 20 years when she become a Playmaker, Tricia gained invaluable knowledge and skills that have made her an even more effective and influential child life specialist. “Through Playmaker training I was able to increase my awareness and appreciation of the effects of trauma on children and the value of play as a healing component,” she explains. “Playmakers also helped me develop greater self-awareness of who I am and what brings me joy and a sense of balance,” says Tricia. “One of the greatest gifts the Playmaker approach has given me is the practice of maintaining my own joy, mindfulness and calmness in the midst of chaos, be it in a treatment room or throughout my day. What a gift!”
Tricia credits the Playmakers with helping her maintain the inner joy that helps her combat compassion fatigue. As she explains it, “professional caregiving can come at a cost, and that cost is feeling depleted if we do not recognize the signs of imbalance and a loss of playfulness inside. Having the Playmaker community as a source of strength and support helps me through!”
Tricia exemplifies the Playmaker belief in the transformative power of loving, joyful relationships. In the case of Nourah, the seven-year-old pictured with Tricia, a simple smile provided the opening. From that point, a slow and steady trust built between Tricia and a girl traumatized by a painful medical condition and the strain of a language barrier. Tricia combined reassuring smiles with coping skills such as breathing through a dressing change or needle, bubble blowing, painting, and a joyful walk in the hospital’s garden. This steady, playful approach created connection and joy in a once fearful and isolated child.
Tricia’s commitment is deep and enduring. As one of her co-workers said in nominating her for the Jesse Howes Award, “With Tricia, as I am sure it was with Jesse, being a Playmaker is not just a title but a way of life.”
Have a story to share about your work or the work of a special co-worker who exemplifies what it means to be a Playmaker? Send it to email@example.com
I am writing from Haiti, but my heavy heart is back in New England. I have been thinking about you and all of those in our Playmaker community who are heading back to work this morning in the wake of Friday’s heartbreaking and incomprehensible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A number of you have contacted our team, wondering what Life is good Playmakers may be doing to help the Newtown community. I’d like to provide you with a brief update on our current involvement, as well as some thoughts as to how Playmakers may be involved in supporting the Newtown community in the future. I also want to leave you with some words about responding effectively to the children in your care as well as taking care of yourself through this emotionally difficult time.
First, it’s important to note that the Life is good Playmakers are not designed to be an emergency response program. This role is reserved for first responders (inculding police, medical, clergy, and crisis response teams). First responders lead the way during the “Safety and Stabilization” phase of response. This phase of response can last anywhere between 72 hours and several months. That being said, clinicians from Family and Children’s Aid in Danbury, CT (FCA) have been on the scene since Friday. For several years, FCA has been among our closest and most important partners. A great many members of the highly talented FCA team are certified Life is good Playmakers. They have been asked to play a key role in supporting both the short- and long-term mental health recovery of those impacted by the shooting. Their Playmaker knowledge, skills and tools will serve them well as they take on the huge challenge of helping children, teachers and families recover from something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. In addition, since Ant Toombs and I worked for many years in the acute trauma response field, we were able to connect our team at FCA with national experts in Critical Incident Response and Psychological First Aid. Our connections can be an important resource for those on the ground during the next couple of weeks. Also, in early January, Emily Saul and I will travel to Danbury to provide additional training to the core FCA team.
My strong belief is that our Playmakers at FCA will be deeply involved in the second phase of response too. We call this phase “Resource Identification & Coping
.” My belief is that this phase will last for many months and possibly for over a year. During this second phase, play-based interventions will play a key role in helping to augment the natural recovery of children and to re-establish a sense of safety, joy and community. Our core Playmaker team will be available to support our FCA Playmakers every step of the way. What I am describing is exactly how the Playmaker approach is designed to work. Our central Playmaker team supports local care providers who in turn play the central role in healing and strengthening the children in their own communities.
After an event of this magnitude, there is usually a strong urge for caring and compassionate people to want to jump in and help immediately. Although these intentions are an inspiring sign of human goodness, an onslaught of outside responders can actually hurt the overall recovery effort. My belief is that the need for help will be greatest several months from now. When the horror of this event has faded from the public’s everyday thinking, that is the time that the Newtown community will need greatest assistance. We will be paying close attention through our friends at FCA, ready to provide additional assistance as needed. Of course, we know our growing Playmaker community is creative, resourceful, and compassionate, so our team is all ears if you have other ideas and suggestions for ways we can support the Newtown community in the days and months ahead.
Your Well-Being — and Resources to Help You
I said that I have been thinking about you this weekend. Mostly, I have been thinking about your work — how important it is, and how challenging it can be. This week leading up to the holidays is likely to be especially challenging for you and the children in your care. I ask that you not only do what you always do — provide inspired, loving care for your children — but that you are very present to your feelings and responses to the Newtown tragedy as well as the responses of your children. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Playmaker team, to our community, and to your colleagues for personal support as well as advice on effectively responding to your children’s concerns and questions around the event. Speaking directly with other caring and thoughtful people is most helpful.
There are also a number of online resources available that offer quality guidance on talking about tragic events in the news with children. I recommend starting with the short, effective advice offered by 1) the Fred Rogers Company here
and 2) the National Association of School Psychologists here
. A third good source is The American School Counselor Association. It has a page of resources and links for parents, teachers and counselors in the aftermath of a shooting or other crisis here
Above all, take care of yourself as we approach the holidays. At a glance, our many rituals of light at this time of the year may seem cruelly ironic in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. But it may help to remember that these rituals and symbolic actions have been practiced by cultures and faith traditions of all types for millennia as vital reminders of the enduring presence of light in our lives, especially at this time of year when the days shorten and the dark nights lengthen. Let’s remember that even the most terrible acts of darkness in our world cannot extinguish the light that we carry within us.
Love and Peace,
“Teachers start off gung-ho and then they get bogged down by all the requirements they have to fill and all of the things they have to remember to complete,” says Terri Rivera, a Playmaker and 20-year preschool teacher at The Barnstable Early Learning Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “Before they know it, all of their dreams of changing lives get thrown out the window.” Terri knows that feeling all too well because three years ago she was “feeling burned out and stressed” in her work. That’s when she discovered the Life is good Playmakers and attended her first training. She returned home feeling excited and ready to bring more of her playful self into her classroom. “There was just this igniting within me after that training,” she said, “Like I could take off.”
Like a rocket, Terri has indeed taken off since then. She has been a huge advocate for the Playmakers, recruiting many of her co-workers and other child care professionals in the Cape Cod area to attend Playmaker trainings as well as attending additional trainings herself. Even after long days that required all her energy and focus to be the best she can be with children, she still made the long trek from Hyannis to Boston several evenings over the next few months to attend monthly Booster trainings in Boston. Boosters provide Playmakers opportunities to reconnect, share challenges and successes, as well as learn new activities and techniques to improve their work with children.
When Terri realized that the growing number of Playmakers she had recruited were not attending the Boston Boosters due to distance and busy work schedules, she decided to take the initiative to organize several local gatherings for members of her Cape Cod community to ensure that their commitment to transforming lives through playful, joyful, loving relationships would not waver. “My goal is to attract more and more people to the Playmaker movement,” she says. “There needs to be more laughter and more joyfulness in the classroom. I can’t imagine teachers working with children who don’t smile.”
Terri Rivera, left, and fellow award-winner Whitney Dubois with Director of Community Playmaking Ant Toombs and Director of Programming Emily Saul.
Terri’s inspiring example in the classroom and leadership outside the classroom were chief reasons why she was a co-winner of the 2012 Jesse Howes Award. The award commemorates the late founding Playmaker Jesse Howes and is given each year to a Playmaker who, like Jesse, shows, “A deep love for, and commitment to children, and an unquenchably playful spirit.”
Terri has seen the difference a joyful approach can make, especially for those, like “Anna,” whose childhoods are filled with difficulties. Anna arrived at Terri’s classroom as an overweight child who spoke Spanish and understood no English. She lived with her mother and father in a very small attic apartment. Anna’s days were filled with little play and no interactions with other children. Her transition to the classroom was difficult, and the language barrier contributed to her isolation. Fortunately, Terri speaks Spanish and was able to communicate with her, but since she could not communicate with the other children, the girl resorted to frequent pinching and hitting to gain the other children’s attention. Terri called upon her Playmaker training, drawing Anna in through a variety of group activities such as parachute play, “Newsball” and other games. As a result, Anna has become much more engaged with the other children and now loves to share and play with them. Terri believes the active classroom and the love Anna now has for active play have contributed to her needed weight loss. Her desire to connect and participate has spurred her English development as well, and she is now beginning to converse in English with the other children. Socially, Anna’s approach with the others is now more playful, joyful and cooperative.
Successes like this have made Terri a passionate advocate for the Playmaker movement. She remains convinced that the approach benefits not only children, but teachers as well. She has taken the Playmaker mantra to heart, recognizing that, “you can’t spread what you don’t have” and that “nurturing one’s own joy and playfulness is essential to becoming an effective teacher in the long run.” In addition to this, she has gained a deeper respect for the work she does. “I have felt so appreciated as a teacher since I started going to Playmaker trainings. I feel like I am doing something special in my life. A lot of teachers need to feel that too.” Thanks to Terri’s leadership, that’s just what many more do feel. It’s a ripple effect that is reaching a growing number of engaged, joyful and healthy children in the Cape Cod community.
“I am the most natural when I work with kids. I really feel like I can express myself to them. They don’t apologize for being who they are, and they don’t expect you to apologize for who you are either,” says Whitney Dubois, a Playmaker from Cambridge, MA, and co-winner of the 4th annual Jessie Howes award. While Whitney did not know the late Jessie Howes, she has heard so much about him and his dedication to helping children that it was “truly an honor to be recognized as someone who embodies his spirit and his vision.”
Whitney (center) accepting the Jesse Howes Award from Playmakers Ant Toombs and Emily Saul.
Whitney is a teacher at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Preschool in Cambridge, MA, and, like Jessie Howes, also displays an amazing, energetic dedication to the children in her care. Whitney first learned about Life is good Playmakers after a few of her co-workers attended a workshop and raved about the experience upon their return. “Because some of the teachers at my center had already been trained as Playmakers, we had begun to incorporate some of the Playmaker strategies into the classroom,” says Whitney. “But it was really an honor to receive training myself, learn new games and understand the deeper meaning of the Playmaker approach. I have nothing but positive things to say about the whole experience.”
Since attending her first Playmaker training, Whitney has been to several other trainings. One “huge eye opener” for her has been “realizing the importance of taking care of myself and my own playfulness.” Working with a roomful of preschoolers and dealing with challenging behaviors can be highly stressful. Learning to channel, rather than stifle, that early exuberance is key to managing her own stress and maximizing their learning experience. As Whitney says “I can step back and remind myself that they are just four years old. If they want to be noisy, it may not be ideal for me, but as long as they are having fun while being safe and productive, it’s okay.”
Whitney has implemented Powerplay, a once-a-week structured intervention using guided play activities for small groups of children who have experienced trauma. The results have been excellent. One boy in particular who began with explosive behaviors and a controlling manner with the other children has made great strides. After just a couple of weeks of Powerplay, he would say “Yes, it’s Wednesday! Wednesday is Powerplay day!” He learned to let other people in the group share their play ideas and then build on and follow their play leads – a big step in learning to relinquish some control, use his imagination constructively, and engage positively with others.
Whitney receives a super-sized hug from some of the children in her care.
Whitney claims that she has never felt such dramatic, immediate, and positive effects come from any other organization’s work. “If I could say one thing to the donors and fundraisers who make the trainings and play kits possible, I would say thank you. By giving and raising money for Playmakers, you are changing the lives of so many children and planting optimism in the hearts of people who never thought they could possess such a feeling.” Ever the learner, Whitney plans to return to school and get her Masters degree in teaching. But her love of children and the magic that can happen in the classroom guarantee that she will return more ready than ever to spread joy. After all, who wouldn’t return to a job where, on any given day, a child might just take a running leap into your arms to give you a super-sized hug?
Liz Cincotta, a child life specialist from Pittsburg, PA, recently participated in our two-day Child Life Playmaker Certification Training in Boston. A few days later, she sent the following reflection on her experience to our training staff. Her letter provides proof that play does not only benefit the children in the care of frontline child care professionals, but also the adult caregivers themselves, especially those who thought that parachutes and jump ropes belonged only in their past. Liz reminds us that becoming a Playmaker is not just something you should do for the children in your care, but also for yourself.
Liz Cincotta, Pittsburgh Playmaker
I believe that joy is not just a noun. It is a verb. The real act of joy takes place in the heart, the mind, the body, and the spirit. It is all encompassing. It is a choice you make not just today, but everyday. It isn’t something you get. It is something you do over and over again. And that choice is reflected in the way you treat others every day of your life. Nothing can compare to the satisfaction and energy an adult feels when engaged in joyful play.
When I arrived in Boston on Friday prior to the Playmaker Child Life training, I have to admit, I was a bit flustered. A bit overwhelmed. And perhaps a bit discouraged. I was looking for something novel, and when we began the first day with a game of beachball taps, I have to admit, it was a novel, awesome, rejuvenating moment. I will never forget feeling utterly filled with wonder and joy instantaneously. This weekend’s Playmakers-in-training were a powerful, compassionate, innovative, fresh, caring, thoughtful, spirited, happy, and easy-going (should I keep going?) group of unique individuals. We turned into an intimate family with whom we could experience joy, playfulness, and energy from this day on. And when adults find true joy, children find true bliss, true happiness, even if only for a fleeting moment. And when children find true joy, adults find true compassion.
I believe that our greatest responsibility is to give children roots and wings. We strive to give children these roots through our relationships and interactions. We strive to give children wings to learn, explore, and engage in their worlds with a sense of love, creativity, and safety. This weekend will allow us to bring these roots to our children, to ourselves, to our families, and to our friends, and we will watch these wings soar. During the time we spent together this weekend, we were able to see the strength of each other’s character; the warmth and the great ability that we all have to make others happy, to make others do joy – through the mind, the body, and the spirit. We built a new family this weekend as we shared our smiles, our laughter, and our stories. It gives me great pleasure to have been able to be a part of this weekend and to be a part of this new family. So, I would like to add to the pledge that we took at the end of the training. Here is to our past, for all that we have learned. Here is to our present, for all that we share. Here is to our future for all that we have to look forward to together. My wish for you is that together we can face whatever life hands us, and that we remember to respect one another and those with whom we interact as we return to our busy lives. It is my wish that everyday we know how important it is to communicate, honor, and love one another in order for us to foster joy and playfulness, not only in the children’s lives with whom we work, but also in our own lives through play, balance, relationships, and creativity. Because that is what best friends and family do. And that is why joy is a verb – it is something that you do.
Check out the below guest blog about Steve’s recent trip to Japan.
My name is Shuei Kozu and I am a licensed Social Worker in the Neurology department of Children’s Hospital in Boston. I recently traveled to Japan with Steve Gross, founder and Chief Playmaker of the Life is good Playmakers to assist in training and supporting Japanese medical and health professionals who are working heroically to help children in communities deeply scarred by the terrible events of March, 2011. I experienced first-hand the power and effectiveness of the Life is good Playmakers approach in Japan and hope to capture some of that in the brief reflection that follows.
Because of its location, Japan periodically suffers from damages caused by earthquakes and tsunami. For decades, residents of the Tohoku area had taken preventative measures that included building high embankments and participation in practice drills. Tragically, three large-scale disasters hit simultaneously in March 2011, a convergence of events that most considered only possible once in 1,000 years. First, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck. The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. And the tsunami led to a cataclysmic nuclear plant explosion. The death toll exceeded 25,000. A snapshot of children in two heavily affected areas, Miyagi and Iwate prefects, hints at the terrible loss. In Miyagi, 126 children lost both parents, while 94 children lost both parents in Iwate. The number of children who lost one parent is 960 in Miyagi and 481 in Iwate. While numbers convey one measure of the devastation, children’s suffering cannot be quantified. How can one measure the sorrow of losing parents, friends, teachers or beloved pets? The majority of these children have been placed with relatives who were, themselves, survivors of the disasters. Understandably, they were not ready, physically or psychologically, to care for these children. Nor have the normal structures and institutions been able to respond adequately: communities were destroyed and teachers and mental health professionals were overwhelmed.
Continued efforts are needed to empower local professionals, teachers and parents as they play key roles in children’s recovery from the disasters. The Life is good Playmakers have played an important part in those efforts. First, Playmaker staff worked with 18 Japanese medical and mental health professionals who visited Boston in December 2011. They experienced 2½ days of training, which solidified the team spirit within the group. They learned about the effects of trauma and the restorative power of playful engagement and loving relationships in the lives of children. They learned more as well – about themselves and how overwhelmed they have been. Doctors are aware of trauma’s impact on children and may be familiar with some of the benefits of play, but they rarely experience this impact on themselves and they rarely experience play. Not only were they able to bond with each other and heal through the experiences, they immediately saw the great value of working with children in Japan using the Playmaker model. They had met with other trauma experts on their trip to the US, but they found none provided both the conceptual framework and the practical tools as thoroughly and effectively as Playmakers. As a result, they began to talk about inviting Playmakers to Japan so other providers and children would benefit from the intervention.
Even before he left Boston, Dr. Homma, the leader of the delegation, began forming a plan to bring Playmakers to Japan. Back in Japan, he organized a task force that obtained funds and recruited children and adult providers. Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker, and I left for Japan on April 26. In four days, 69 children participated in “play day camp” and 60 adults (psychologists, social workers, daycare-, kindergarten- and grade school teachers) were trained. Each day brought new challenges and learning opportunities. For example, some children did not even want to come into the building and mingle with other children whom they did not know. We had to deal with a large number of children, a few with developmental delays, a few with abuse history, and many who experienced psychological trauma. All but one child eventually joined the group. A few girls who were wondering why Steve would not speak to them in Japanese ended up touching his head by the end of the day and flashing big smiles. And all the adult providers left with equally big smiles on their faces after experiencing the joy and healing power of the Playmaker approach. Since returning to the United States, I have been receiving e-mails from a number of them, describing how they have used the approach with their children and the benefits of such joyful activities as parachute play with the parachutes provided by the Playmakers.
It is impossible to describe what it was like spending a week with Steve Gross in Japan. While working, he was a true professional. Outside of work, he was “Curious George”. He ate everything he was served, took a public bath every day, and fell in love with the Japanese toilet design (the one Tom Brady installed in his mansion). His approach is respectful, and his interaction with people so genuine that all gravitate toward him. He exercises what he preaches: taking a playful approach to each day and living life to the fullest. I learned so much by working side by side with him. But I learned so much more by simply spending time with him. I know I am not the only one waiting for Steve and the Playmakers’ next trip to Japan.
-Shuei Kozu, LICSW
Great news has reached us that one of our very own Playmakers – Dwayne Nunez – has been awarded the 2012 Emerging Professional Award by Men Teach of New England! This award honors male teachers in the early education field in New England who are making valuable contributions in their classrooms and in their communities. Dwayne will receive his award this month at the annual conference of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children.
An early education teacher in Boston Public Schools (BPS) since 2008, Dwayne has made it his personal mission to create joyful, loving, empowering, and creative classrooms where children are nurtured to reach their full potential. Not only does he incorporate this approach into gross motor play activities with children in the classroom, in the gym, and outside on the playground, he also weaves it into his curriculum delivery as well. For example, Dwayne encourages his students to make up creative movements, such as a kick or arm-thrust into the air, to match syllables as they break down words during a phonological awareness exercise.
This infusion of physical movement and fun into the teaching of a critical literacy concept keeps the children actively engaged and improves their learning retention. It also leads to peals of laughter that spill out into the hallways of the Haynes Early Education Center of BPS.
Dwayne’s thoughtful, innovative methods have helped him build the kinds of transformative relationships with his students that help them thrive and succeed in school. Even his non-instructional choices have an effect.
One day a student of his told him that there were no important people in his community. When Dwayne asked him why he thought that, the little boy replied that important people wear ties and people in his neighborhood hardly ever wear ties. Dwayne, who was from this little boy’s neighborhood, came to school the next day in a tie. He’s worn one to school every day since. Recently, one boy student, wishing to emulate his favorite teacher, marched proudly into class wearing his own tie. In small and big ways, Dwayne is setting a powerful example.
Dwayne has been a tireless supporter of the Life is good Playmakers movement since 2006. He is a dependable volunteer at every Life is good Festival. And as a part-time trainer for the Playmakers, he has shared his wisdom with other teachers and providers, most recently leading sessions as part of our February certification training for the BPS’ Behavioral Health Services. It is great to see Dwayne’s many contributions recognized with this prestigious award.
Congratulations, Dwayne, and play on!
A letter from Washington DC Playmaker Cathy Morrison.
Thanks to the Playmakers, I have fallen in love all over again! This time last year, I found myself in quite a rut and stuck in the mud. Every morning, I would go into the classroom and greet the little ones who had been entrusted to my care with a weak, hurried smile wondering with dread how many crises I would have to deal with, how many tears I would have to wipe, how many more minutes I would have to keep up the happy face until dismissal. I’m not sure when or how my love for teaching started diminishing, but I could feel the fire burning low and after twenty years of teaching I was ready to walk away from what has been my life passion. Then one day as I was searching the internet for lesson plan ideas to inspire my students, I tripped upon a link for the Life is good Playmakers and that began my journey to be a Life is good Playmaker.
I signed up for training hoping to find a few ideas to get my class through the daily stress of the classroom. Play seemed like a good place to start. Over the years, my closet has become crammed full of all sorts of equipment, balls, jump ropes, dolls, trucks, and building blocks. At playtime I would pull these out and tell the kids to play for the allotted fifteen minutes. When I put them back in the closet, I would always make sure I kept the big bag holding the parachute carefully hidden. Why? The beautiful colorful parachute was the bane of my existence. Every time I pulled it out the students cheered, they LOVED the bright colors flowing in the air; but I had grown to hate it. To me the parachute meant chaos and tears. Someone would always get hurt or frustrated or have their feelings bruised and the wonderful flowing colors of the day that we imagined would end in a pool of tears with me feeling very tense and snapping at the students “if we can’t play nicely with the toys, we’ll have to put them away”. And with that I’d take the parachute and toss it back in the closet. Over time the parachute came out less and less until finally it was hidden and forgotten.
So you can imagine my dread when I walked into the first day of Playmakers training to see a HUGE parachute on the ground, all spread out with its beautiful primary colors gleaming. The one piece of equipment that had caused so much chaos in my classroom was inviting me to pick it up and engage with it. Thankfully over the course of the training, I began to see why the kids cheered and loved the parachute so much. It was indeed FUN and made you actively engage and interact with your friends in such a way that you immersed yourself into this colorful world. As I laughed and cheered while we played with it, I felt the spark of love for the parachute rekindling something deep down in me, re-lighting my passion for teaching and my trust in my gifts and talents to do it well. I knew then I wasn’t ready to give up on inspiring and teaching the little ones who were entrusted to me each day.
I now use the parachute every day. It’s part of our community. It’s the place where we reconnect as a classroom community. It’s where we say good morning to ourselves, our bodies, our friends and our world. It’s where we learn to take care of each other and keep each other safe as we wash our “smooshies” in the pot. It’s where we learn to use our voices to share what we want the parachute to become, whether a fruit bowl or a racetrack or a wave-maker. It’s home base and the place where we go when we’re not sure of ourselves during more active games. In fact, it’s home. Bringing back the parachute has reminded me that as teachers we are charged with guiding our students to do all these things – to reconnect, to take care of each other, to self-actualize and become advocates for ourselves and the ones we care about. All the things we do on the parachute are what living in a community is all about.
So yes, I have fallen in love all over again with the parachute, but more importantly, I have fallen in love again with teaching and with the passion to provide my students with a solid community where they can grow into wonderful, amazing confident adults who will always remember the value of PLAY!