Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Mother's day is a time to celebrate all of the joyful energy that occurs between a mother and their child. That energy changes over time creating new learning opportunities for both. The brain of the new mom has fascinating structural changes according to Scientific American; A New Mom's Changing Brain .

"Using MRI, Kim and her colleagues at Yale University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor produced detailed maps of the brains of 19 new mothers a few weeks after they gave birth. At around the same time, the researchers asked mothers to select words from a list of positive descriptors such as “beautiful,” “perfect” and “special” to describe how they felt about their babies and about their experience of parenting.
When the scientists mapped the mothers’ brains again about three months later, some areas had grown, including the hypothalamus, amygdala and substantia nigra—regions that animal studies suggest are involved with caring for, learning about and forming positive feelings toward newborns. The planning and decision-making part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, also grew. In addition, mothers who initially chose more of the positive words to describe their feelings about their babies showed more brain growth. The investigators do not yet know what causes what—if brain growth leads to more positive feelings, or vice versa—but the results indicate for the first time a connection between mothers’ subjective feelings and physical changes in the brain. Kim says they are planning more studies to investigate the phenomenon, including one that will look for similar changes in fathers."
This article helped me reflect on my own experiences as a mom. Most of the time I loved being a mother to four amazing kids. I remember rocking my infants and looking with wonder at these tiny miracles of life. However, there were also times when I wondered if I was going to survive the stressful challenges of balancing work and family. How could I possibly provide each of them what they needed from me. Often I struggled with trying to figure out exactly what they needed. Those days are a distant memory and yet I know that I learned so much from my experience as a mother.

Now I relish being a grandparent to 11 incredible grandchildren (with one more coming anytime). I able observe the feelings of joy and wonderment of being a parent through the eyes of my grown children and their wonderful spouses. It is a blessing to be a grandmother. I wonder if they will ever do a study on how the brain of a grandparent changes.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Play: Not just for kids

Last week, I had the opportunity to teach at an institute workshop for teachers in a k-12 district. One of the activities that I have developed is a Humor Styles Inventory. The purpose of doing this is to stimulate thinking about how our sense of humor impacts our communication style.

One of the questions is "How do you play?", and it gets the same puzzled inquiry each time. There seems to be a common belief that play is only for children. Yet play is critical for both children and adults according to Stuart Brown who wrote the book, " Play". In his TEDx video Play Is More Than Fun. he provides the rationale for play. It is not just joyful and energizing, it is integral to human development and intelligence. He has found that with enough play, the brain works better. Without play, life is a grinding and mechanical process organized around survival according to Brown.

Most early childhood educators realize the critical importance of play for young children. Children learn through play. Of all of the species, humans engage in the longest period of developmental play: and that length of play contributes to our level of intelligence. The research is quite clear about the importance of play for children. This is explored by Joan Almon in The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood Education. I have written in the past about concerns on the current focus in education on assessment and accountability as undermining the importance of this research on play. This issue extends to the lack of play and fun in the adult world.

The opposite of play is not work--it is depression according to Brown. And stress and depression are saturating our world today. As usual at this workshop, I saw a lot of puzzled looks and fielded several questions asking what I meant by by the question about how they "play".

What did you enjoy as a child? Include these activities in your life again. Do a skip or jump, ride a bike, fly a kite, shoot marbles, play hopscotch, use the hula hoop. Try new games, and purposefully add unexpected fun into your life. Constantly seek to be with those who are full of joyful energy and avoid the humordoomers -those folks who can suck the energy right out of you.

One lady who lived to be 100 said the reason that she lived that long is that that she jumped every day. I encourage you to jump for joy and increase the play in your life. How do you play? Let me know!