LET THE CHILDREN PLAY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The title of an article I read in the Washington Post on September 16, 2018, by Katherine Marsh, sets out its primary argument pretty clearly. “ We’ve so over-scheduled our kids that doctors are now prescribing playtime.” The article is subtitled “We idiotically insist that all of their activities be purposeful and structured.”

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To give some perspective, an American who lived in Brussels for three years, contrasts her child’s school experience in Belgium and America. In the Brussels school, the kids had 50 minutes of recess every day plus a 20-minute mid-morning break. This time was unstructured, free play with minimal teacher supervision. In the Washington, D.C. school, the kids had just 20 minutes of recess. And some American schools only provide fifteen minutes.

By the time the kids get their coats on and get outside, there is almost no time left for relaxed, creative play.

The American Academy of Pediatricians seem so concerned about over structured kids, they released a report emphasizing the developmental importance of free, unsupervised play for kids. It stresses that growth and discovery are more likely to occur in kids when they are not being micro-managed.

The Academy went so far as to suggest that doctors write ‘prescriptions’ for playtime when they see young children during regular checkups.

American parents seem to think that every moment of a child’s life needs to be purposeful and educational. The reason for this may be that parents feel very competitive about their children because of anxiety over their offspring’s economic prospects when they grow up. American parents will apparently brag about their kindergarten child’s reading prowess but be unconcerned that the same child has no clue how to play with other kids, or by herself.

Of course, everyone wants their children to grow up to be motivated, purposeful, successful adults. But parents seem to have lost sight of the fact that to reach that goal, children need to play and imagine and invent activities on their own. That in itself helps kids grow and develop the skills and traits we want them to have. Not everything a child does has to directly lead to future skills or benefits.

“True play is freedom from purpose,” says Katherine Marsh. And this downtime is an important part of every child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

DEMOCRACY STARTS ON THE PLAYGROUND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never thought that parenting practices could have a direct effect on the health and functionality of our democracy, yet that was the thesis of an article in the Sunday New York Times on Sept. 1, 2018.

The article, by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, is called “How to Play Our Way To A Better Democracy” – subtitled ‘If we want saner politics, we need to start building better foundations from the playground up’.

The article postulates that democracy requires work and the kind of people who can work well together. “Democracy is hard. It demands teamwork, compromise, respect for rules and a willingness to engage with other opinionated, vociferous individuals. It also demands practice. The best place to get that practice may be out on the playground.”

In 1831, Alexis De Tocqueville was impressed with Americans’ talent for democracy. He felt that the secret to our success was “… our ability to solve problems collectively and cooperatively.” He praised our mastery of the “art of association”, which was crucial, he believed, for a self-governing people.

In recent years, we seem to have lost that ability to work together across party lines. We have lost the ability to cooperate with anyone who doesn’t share our core views and opinions.

There is apparently a biological, evolutionary aspect to our need to play as children. Playing helps develop our ability — as adults — to cooperate and compromise. “… Mammals enter the world with unfinished nervous systems and they require play – lots of it – to finish the job. The young human brain ‘expects’ the child to engage in thousands of hours of play, including thousands of falls, scrapes, conflicts, insults, alliances, betrayals, status competitions and even (within limits) acts of exclusion, in order to develop its full capacities.”

The type of play required for this beneficial brain development is referred to as ‘free play’. It’s defined as unsupervised activities, chosen by the kids and done for its own sake, not to achieve some goal. For example, guitar lessons and soccer practice do not count as free play.

On the other hand, a pickup soccer game with no adults present would be considered free play. Without the adults, the kids have to practice their social skills and take risks.

Starting in the 1980’s and 1990’s, children in America became increasingly more supervised during their downtime. Children became more scheduled, with an increasing amount of organized after-school classes and activities. Children’s play moved indoors and involved computers, but often no other children.

Even schools have reinforced this trend. They have reduced recess and free play time and are giving more homework to be done after school, from an early age.

Kids have two main areas of difficulty if they are deprived of free play and adequate interactions with their peers.

First, they are less resilient. This can be seen in the increased incidences of anxiety and depression in college kids. Second, they are less able to negotiate and deal with conflict management. Instead, kids learn to go to an adult to settle disputes instead of working things out on their own.

Liberal democracies rely on conversation and negotiation to resolve conflicts. But overprotected, play-deprived people tend to appeal to higher authorities to apply coercion to their opponent. Coercion is the enemy of self-governing democracies. The increase in litigation, inside and outside of the government, is a symptom of this.

If this thesis is correct, our high hopes for the younger generations may be misplaced. These young adults may actually be less capable of maintaining democracy than the baby boom generation has. And right now, we’re not doing too well on that front.

Let’s hope the pendulum swings back to allowing kids more free play time. Even if it’s not going to directly help our society as a whole, it will be healthier for future generations of kids.

RAGTAG DAILY PROMPT # 68: SUMMERTIME PLAY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP # 68: PLAY


It’s hot. It’s humid.

It’s summer and the only thing to do is get wet, stay wet, and wait for the cooler weather to come!

Ready! 
Set! 
Jump! 
WET!

PERILS OF THE DUKE

Duke had entranced Bonnie. She and Duke had a whole play relationship where they pretended to fight. Lots of snarling and growling and yipping and yapping and barking. Duke would get the show started by offering Bonnie his favorite toy of the moment. She would grab it and he would bark. Then she would bark twice, and they were off and running. Jumping and twisting and tossing toys in the air.

With all the noise, you might have thought one of them might get hurt, but no one got hurt. Not even close. When they got tired, one or both would fall over unconscious. Remarkably like toddlers at play.

Bonnie will still play. A little bit. But, for whatever reason, the romance ended yesterday at around two in the afternoon. A little play, but after that, she’s not interested. Last night, for the first time since they met, she didn’t want to play. He barked. She ignored him.

He brought her every toy he could find and offered it too her. She put her little nose up in the air and ignored his pleas.

He sat in front of us, looked at Garry … and whined. Duke has never whined. All the toys were in a pile, but no one was willing to play with him. Garry looked him with sympathy.

“Been there, buddy,” he said. “That’s just the way it happens sometimes. You’ll get used to it.”

Duke whined again. Garry ruffled his ears. He settled down on the sofa between us and went to sleep. Although he got Bonnie to play a little bit this morning, after that, she wanted to do what she usually does, which is watch the world through the window. She started it, but all the dogs like to put their chins on their paws and watch the road from the window. Even Duke does it now.

Duke wanted to run with toys. Bark. Chase things. Grab toys and fling them across the room … which somehow always makes it land on my keyboard … sometimes doing some pretty weird stuff to whatever I was trying to do. Bonnie wasn’t having any.

But Gibbs was ready to party … and suddenly, there was rocking and rolling and toys in the wind. Gibbs is a lot stronger than Bonnie … and although he is short-legged, he outweighs Duke by at least five-pounds, all of which is muscle. They had a very good battle going on until they both fell asleep in the pile of toys. It turned out to be a much better day for Duke than he expected. We were glad he still had a playmate.

The Scotties are taking turns entertaining the Duke, who is at peace with the world. We are at peace with our crew of canines. If only the rest of the world could be content with a pile of stuffed toys and lots of fake growling.

HUMANS HAVE RIGHTS, TOO

I read an article a while back which announced with solemnity and more than a few pie charts, that dogs — our dogs, your dogs, pet dogs — don’t like being hugged. Not merely do they not like being hugged and display measurable levels of stress when hugged, but they really totally hate being kissed and nuzzled.

The article suggest a pat on the head … and a treat … would be much more appreciated. But, not by Garry or me.

Garry, Bonnie and Gibbs – A moment of zen

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I know they don’t like being hugged. It’s obvious. They stiffen and put their ears back when we hug them. They also don’t like it when I grab their tail and refuse to let it go. That’s what all the growling and head butting is about. You can almost hear them sigh, wondering when you’ll be through with this nonsense and get on to the important stuff, namely distributing cookies.

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I told Garry about the study. He said: “Tough. They’ll just have to cope. Because I like it.” My thoughts exactly.

Our dogs are disrespectful. Messy. Flagrantly disobedient. They are masters and mistresses of selective hearing. Do I believe for a single moment when we tell them to go out and they stand there, in front of the doggy door, ignoring us, it’s because they don’t understand what we want from them, or cannot hear us? I’m supposed to think if I stand in the doorway calling them, that they can’t hear me? Or don’t know I want them to come in? Of course they hear me. They know. They’re just playing us.

From the other side of the yard, they can hear the click when we remove the cover of the biscuit container. Their hearing is fine. It’s a power play.

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Since they persist in disrespecting us, they will have to deal with our periodic compulsion to give them hugs, nuzzling, and the occasional (“Yuck! Stop that you stupid human!”) kiss on their big black noses. It’s a small price to pay for unlimited sofa lounging, high-quality treats, and silly humans getting down on the floor to play with them.

We put up with them? They will have to put up with us, too. That’s our deal.

It’s the Human-Canine Covenant. We’ve got their paw prints on file.

ANNOYING THE DOGS – THE HUMAN-CANINE COVENANT

I read an article the other day. It announced (with great solemnity and employing many big words and more than a few pie charts) that dogs — our dogs, your dogs, pet dogs — don’t like being hugged. Not merely do they not like being hugged and display measurable levels of stress when hugged, but they really totally hate being kissed and nuzzled.

72-Cartoon-Bonnie-with-Gar-020316_06

The article suggest a pat on the head … and a treat … would be much more appreciated.

Not by Garry or me.

I know they don’t like being hugged. It’s obvious. They stiffen and put their ears back when we hug them. They also don’t like it when I grab their tail and refuse to let it go. That’s what all the growling and head butting is about. You can almost hear them sigh, wondering when you’ll be through with this nonsense and get on to the important stuff, namely distributing cookies.

I told Garry about the study. He said: “Tough. They’ll just have to cope. Because I like it.”

My thoughts exactly.

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Our dogs are disrespectful. Messy. Flagrantly disobedient. They are masters and mistresses of selective hearing. Do I believe for a single moment when we tell them to go out and they stand there, in front of the doggy door, ignoring us, that it’s because they (a) don’t understand what we want from them, or (b) cannot hear us? That if I stand in the doorway calling them to come in that they can’t hear me or figure out that I want them to come inside? Of COURSE they hear me. They know. They’re just playing us.

If they can hear the click when we remove the top of the biscuit container from the other end of the yard, they hear us just fine. It’s a power play.

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Since they persist in disrespecting us, they will have to deal with our periodic compulsion to give them hugs, nuzzling, and the occasional (“Yuck! Stop that you stupid human!”) kiss on their big moist noses. It’s the price they pay for sofa lounging, high-quality treats and silly humans getting down on the floor to play with them.

We put up with them? They will have to put up with us, too. That’s our deal.

It’s a Human v Canine Covenant. I’ve got their paw prints on file.

THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

ATTEND THE TALE, by Rich Paschall

Benjamin Barker is wrongly accused of a crime and sent away from England to a prison in Australia. His beautiful wife is taken by the judge to be his own and his daughter is adopted by the same judge.  Mrs. Lovett makes meat pies and her shop has fallen on hard times.  Anthony, a sailor, picks up Sweeney Todd, who is adrift at sea. All of this is just for openers.

Todd returns to Fleet Street and his former home, where he encounters Mrs. Lovett.  The sailor comes across the beautiful Joanna, daughter of Todd (Barker), locked in her house by the evil judge.  Of course, Anthony falls in love with her beauty as seen from the window and with her voice.  The Beadle does the judge’s dirty work, which includes keeping people away from his ward.

Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd

There are two versions of the musical thriller available on DVD.  One is the Tony and Emmy award-winning stage production with  original lead performers.  The 1979 Broadway smash of the gruesome tale was recorded for television in 1982, starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett and George Hearn as Sweeney Todd. Hearn had replaced Len Cariou in the original stage production.  Lansbury won a Tony award for her portrayal while Hearn picked up an Emmy.

As experienced theater performers, these two knew how to fill the house with their dynamic interpretations of Lovett and Todd.  They had to be both evil and somewhat sympathetic.  Todd is out for revenge and Lovett is doing her own conniving as well.  Some of the nature of her evil is immediately apparent.  She not only has designs for Mr. Todd, she also sees a way to improve the sale of her meat pies by getting some fresh meat.  If that needs further explanation, I will let you see one of these productions.

Sweeney-original cast

The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.  The composer of many Broadway shows has mixed a variety of styles here to score big, not just with awards, but with a long running show.  It is proof that a gruesome tale can mix drama and comedy, love and evil, revenge and murder with music and come out a winner.  It is this show that intrigued a young Tim Burton, who would bring us the movie version 25 years later.

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In 2007 the film of the Sondheim musical was put together by a director who knew how to bring such a dark setting to life.  Featuring most of the Sondheim score and original script, Burton was able to use film to bring more variety to the settings and more blood to the tale.  The gruesome revenge tale was certainly now more…uh, gruesome.

The most obvious surprise served up by the director was the casting.  Johnny Depp is present as the Demon Barber. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett.  It certainly was easier to have some sympathy for the situations of these characters when they are portrayed by the well-known and well liked stars.  The immediate question, however, was could they sing their parts.

Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in Harry Potter) is the evil judge.  Timothy Spall, who also appeared in many of the Harry Potter films, is the Beadle.  Sacha Baron Cohen is Adolfo Pirelli, the rival barber and con artist from early in the story.  His young assistant, Tobias Ragg, is played by a small man with a tenor voice in the theater production, but is played by 14-year-old Ed Sanders in the film.  This is an important change as it more accurately fits the character.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Gone from the movie is the Greek chorus offering warnings to the audience and an admonition to:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
His skin was pale and his eye was odd.
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again.

It is a cautionary tale for which you are being advised, but the Burton film saw no need for The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.  The song works well as a theater device and is used throughout the play.  With the movie being able to give you a stronger visual, you should not need the warnings of the chorus.

Also gone is the song “Kiss Me.”  You never see in the movie version that the lovers Anthony and Johanna have actually met, while they spend enough time together in the play to do a musical number.  Gone too is the “Wigmaker Sequence.”  The explanation from Todd to Anthony on how he will rescue Johanna is almost completely missing.

These omissions along with shorten versions of songs leave the movie at 116 minutes while the television production of the play did not cut anything and runs 139 minutes.  The play does add in an “Intermission” so you can go to the refrigerator or wherever.

While it is no surprise to say that the crew of Broadway veterans delivered on their songs, you may wonder about the movie cast.  Sondheim himself retained a right of refusal on casting choices for the main parts.

Sweeney-todd-twisted-characters

Though he feared a rock interpretation by Depp, he was pleased with the audition singing of the mega star.  Helena Bonham Carter sent a dozen audition tapes to Sondheim.  As she was Tim Burton’s partner at the time, they wanted no hint of nepotism.

Cohen also auditioned extensively and is said to have sung just about everything from Fiddler on the Roof.  Alan Rickman, a stage and screen veteran, delivers on the singing of the judge.  The duet of “Pretty Women” with Depp rivals anything you may have seen on stage.  Having teenager Ed Sanders sing the Toby part adds the poignancy the stage version may miss.

Depp claims never to have sung publicly before, yet he delivers as a brooding, vengeful Todd.  Although Bonham Carter picked up awards for Mrs. Lovett, I find her song performance without life.  I guess it would naturally suffer against a comparison with Lansbury.

Both productions have features to recommend.  Purists of theater productions will opt for the Lansbury/Hearn portrayals.  Those in favor of better effects and star power will enjoy the movie.  In either case, be sure to “attend the tale.”