April 11 2014

FRIDAY FUEL: A Playful Journey Begins with Baby Steps

Playmaker Community

FridayFeul

PLAYMAKER FUEL: STORIES THAT INSPIRE US
All of the stories featured here have been composed by members of the Playmaker Community working directly with children. They have been submitted as part of the process for Playmaker Certification, enabling Playmakers to reflect on what they’ve applied and to share their growing wisdom on what works. We call these stories “Fuel” because they fuel our inspiration and drive to make a daily difference in the lives of children.

A PLAYFUL JOURNEY BEGINS WITH BABY STEPS
One of the biggest things that I’ve taken away from the Playmaker trainings and philosophy is that ALL activities can be playful! I was a bit overwhelmed after the 2-day trainings. I am an occupational therapist in a school with preschool – 5th grade students. I’m used to working with one to two students at a time, but I wanted to challenge myself to do more whole-class movement activities with the preschool class. Some of our students have some intense behavior challenges, and I was a bit nervous to bring out something like a parachute! So…I didn’t do anything right away following the training with the wonderful bag of fun from the training. But, I did start simple. This made things so much more comfortable, manageable, and FUN for me! These are some of the baby steps I’ve taken so far…

After our playfulness plan, and our walk with another Playmaker at the training, I decided to set an intention for each day while waiting for my coffee to brew. Coffee is something that I never miss, so I thought it would be a perfect way to build in a new routine. This wasn’t always a “play” intention. I focused on something that I wanted to be more thoughtful about that day. Being more “in the moment”, saying only positive things (at times I have a negative work environment between teachers/staff at my school), complimenting 5 people, spending time with my own kids just “playing” on a day that I had a million things to do, and more. This has been somewhat successful. I am good for a while, then I may forget for the week. I think I’ll stick my Life is good sticker on my coffee container to help remind myself!

 

Breathing! I LOVE the breathing activities that the Playmakers taught me. I already did a lot of deep breathing with kids that I work with. Many of my students have sensory processing issues and have trouble calming their bodies. The breathing activities that Playmakers demonstrated were fantastic! The visuals really make it much more manageable for kids… and adults! The bubble wand/flower, hug, and balloon breathing are my favorites. I incorporate the breathing with a program of Self Regulation that I use as an OT called the Alert Program. It teaches kids that their bodies are like a car engine. Sometimes they run on high (active, hyper, excited), sometime on low (sleepy, sluggish, slow), sometimes just right (ready to learn, awake, aware). I teach the kids ways to recognize their “engine level” and to learn activities that help to increase or decrease their “engine levels” so they are ready to learn. The breathing methods have become a great part of those lessons. I have not only observed the teachers and assistants adding these activities into the kids’ day, but I’ve also seen one of the kids independently smell flowers and blow bubbles during circle time (which is a tough time for him). Love it!

 

I recently participated with Lisa Pease and 5 other Playmakers at the Spaulding Youth Center for a New Hampshire Foster Care and Adoption Celebration. We led families in parachute games and crazy ball fun with the “Tower of Power.” It was fun to do parachute shakes, up and under, and washing machine with a GIANT parachute. I was sore the next day from all of the lifting and pulling! It was great to see other playmakers in action. I think we all learned a little that day and had fun too. It was remarkable to see how such a simple set up, like the Tower of Power, could lead to SO many activities with balls, and it was nice to hear other parents say, “I could do this at home.” One parent talked about using a laundry basket and creating a game at home with her kids. I love the idea that you don’t have to have a lot of equipment or fancy things to play a variety of great games. The fun isn’t in the equipment, or even the game, but in the approach. Bingo!

I just finished up my 2nd coaching call with Emily Margolis. She was a great person to talk to about what’s working, what’s challenging, and just to get feedback. She has so many good ideas to add to the things I’m already doing. I am grateful for all of your support. Playmakers really has brought nothing but more joy into my life. The fever is spreading through our district with more and more teachers going to trainings and using the Playmaker approach in the classrooms. I’ve enjoyed all of the NH Community Boosters and had the chance to make it down to Boston on a couple of occasions. I even had the opportunity to bring my nephew to “Dinner with a Patriot” at Gillette Stadium! Wow! I’m looking forward to many more trainings, joyages, and FUN.

Proud to call myself a Playmaker!
Amy Niezrecki

FridayFuel_PlayfulJourney

This photo was taken at the NH Foster Care Day. “Through a Playmaker’s Eyes” 

April 3 2014

NOW PLAYING: Yvonne Steadman

Playmaker Community

YvonneSteadman

YVONNE STEADMAN is a remarkable teacher and Playmaker who works at Ellis Mendell Elementary in Roxbury, a neighborhood in Boston, MA. A co-worker describes Yvonne as “caring, kind, enthusiastic and playful. Knowing the challenges so many of her students face coming from unstable households, she makes it a point when her students arrive at school each day to create an environment of stability, fun and unconditional love. She does this by establishing daily routines, using transitioning music, and playing a variety of games.”

Yvonne is also known for her masterful classroom management skills. Her co-workers have seen her quietly redirect students or explain to them the consequences of their actions in clear and respectful ways, then welcome them back to the group. She believes that students should have fun and express their joy.  She also helps them become independent learners, both academically and socially. For example, students often work quietly in groups at their tables and know that if questions arise, they should first ask a friend within their group before seeking answers from their teacher.

Yvonne was born in Jamaica, and her childhood was difficult. She lost her mother at an early age and was separated from her siblings. Yet she was able to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude. She never focuses on what she didn’t have as a child. Instead, she recalls the importance of the love and structure she had in her younger years. She received her United States citizenship while teaching at the ELC. Because of the bonds of love and family she creates, her class arranged to meet her at the courthouse to join in her celebration. The judge who swore her in was so impressed by this show of support that she allowed pictures to be taken, something rarely done.

Yvonne is a proud Jamaican-American and a truly gifted, caring Playmaker. As her nominator wrote, “Yvonne is a joyous “Playmaker” because she enthusiastically makes sure that her students are safe, connected and empowered every day!”

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 info@ligplaymakers.org

 

March 28 2014

FRIDAY FUEL: Toilet Paper Fun

Playmaker Community

FridayFeul

PLAYMAKER FUEL: STORIES THAT INSPIRE US
All of the stories featured here have been composed by members of the Playmaker Community working directly with children. They have been submitted as part of the process for Playmaker Certification, enabling Playmakers to reflect on what they’ve applied and to share their growing wisdom on what works. We call these stories “Fuel” because they fuel our inspiration and drive to make a daily difference in the lives of children.

TOILET PAPER FUN
Melissa Lambert is a Clinical Manager at The Village for Families and Children. She has been a Life is good Playmaker since 2009.

Melissa Lambert 1 copyI am accompanying this story with a photo recently taken when I was running a Life is good Playmakers group for our Survivors unit in the Extended Day Treatment Program (EDT). At the Village for Families and Children, we have five groups divided by age and development. Survivors consist of mostly nine and ten year-old children, most of whom live in the inner city. The children attend EDT five days per week for three hours per day for a duration of six months. Each week we run at least one LIG Playmaker session for one or more of our groups. One particular child, Sean (not his real name), was enrolled in EDT for about two months before this photo was taken and had been struggling significantly with feelings of depression and anxiety. Sean is living in poverty and his mother is also battling depression and not always emotionally available for her child. The week prior to running this play group, the child’s cat had been beaten to death by people in his surrounding neighborhood and it was an extremely traumatic loss for him.

During this time, Sean lost interest in any group activities and would isolate himself in the corner of the room. There was a period of three days when he walked out of the building multiple times in an effort to walk home. Each time I followed him out of the building to make sure he remained safe. On the day of Multi-Family Group, his mother was unable to attend, and when nobody was looking, Sean walked out of the building towards the main road. I noticed him walking and ran towards him, but he continued to walk closer to the traffic stream. I had to use a therapeutic hold to keep him safe from the oncoming traffic.  After several days of providing support to this child, he became angry towards me for all that he was trying to cope with. In the past, the Life is good Playmakers group was always an occasion that increased his energy and got him actively engaged in the group. However, now he lacked the motivation to even want to try and join the group in its activities.

Things changed after I collaborated with two Child Development Specialists on creating a plan that would allow the group to have control over the staff by initiating a toilet paper contest. The kids worked in groups of three and chose the staff that they wanted to be covered in toilet paper. Sean immediately wanted to wrap me up. It was the first time in a week he got out of his seat to participate in the group. He began to smile after spinning me in a roll. From that moment on, he joined in on a game of “Cool Breeze Blows” followed by “Squirrels and Nuts.” Currently, Sean continues to have some ups and downs, but since that day his participation in the group has increased.

It was invaluable to witness how Sean’s level of safety and connection with staff and peers increased through a simple game. Life is good Playmakers has significantly impacted our therapeutic program for children, families and staff as evidenced by the connections we have built with these children and breakthroughs with children like Sean. Despite all of the crisis situations we see, the moments of joy and smiles from the children make it all worth it.

Play on!
Melissa

March 4 2014

NOW PLAYING: AMANDA DEAN, CHILD LIFE SPECIALIST OF BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

Playmaker Community

AMANDA DEAN

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 info@ligplaymakers.org

 

 

January 24 2014

We got game!

Playmaker Community

PM_Melissa_1386788929396_2035_ver1.0
We got game! Check out our new Playmaker Quarterly Newsletter – packed with goodness!

http://content.lifeisgood.com/playmakers/inthenews/quarterlyenews/winter2014
August 28 2013

NOW PLAYING: TRICIA ASHE OF BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

Playmaker Community

Patricia Ashe and Norah Children's Hospital

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 info@ligplaymakers.org

December 17 2012

Responding to the Newtown Tragedy

Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker Steve Gross
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.

Current Assistance
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.
Future Assistance
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,

Steve Gross

Chief Playmaker
October 23 2012

Cape Cod Playmaker Spreading Ripples of Joy

Playmaker Community

“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.

August 7 2012

Super-Sized Hugs Keep Playmakers Energized

Lillian Yaqub

“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?

July 19 2012

Roots and Wings

Lillian Yaqub

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.

Congratulations, Playmakers.