Playing?! Kids Stuff….

Play is a significant part of who we are as people. In fact, it is through play that humans are wired to learn. I love playing. I could play all day. I love games and songs and stories and dancing and make believe. Make believe is the best part of everything ever. But why is pretending to be a golden unicorn with ambitions to be the World Salsa Champion deemed as less then being a Doctor or a Engineer or a Fiscal Officer? I can see the significance of these roles in our society and I am not disputing their worth. They are in the hierarchy of professions though. They use our brains, in a way that we can quantify with money. Play is nothing in the face of medicine, technologies and finances. How have we got here? There are plenty of great thinkers who thought and still think today that play is an essential part of our make up. People at the top of the game in STEM subjects are saying that play is  important part of innovation and discovery. However even if I was the best person at pretending to be a golden unicorn with ambitions to be a World Salsa Champion and I mean the BEST, I still wouldn’t be taken serious because make believe and play? Well that’s just for kids!

golden_unicorn_by_yaizel

Basic Salsa, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

Kenneth R. Ginsberg writes on behalf of the American Academy of Paediatrics, outlining some of the ways that Play is important:-

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.”

(Kenneth R. Ginsberg, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182)

Most of us have a good understanding of the importance of play in our children’s lives. We look at the opportunities that we can present them with. We hear the generations above us groan about kids being kept indoors, playing endlessly at video games and watching rubbish on iPads while at the same time managing to do Dancing on Monday, Choir on Tuesday, Art on Wednesday, Spanish on Thursday, Football on a Friday night and then Mindful-tots on a Saturday morning. So our kids are either doing too much or not enough??

Ginsberg talks about both of these things in his article and tells us that Parents are being fed ‘carefully marketed messages’ that children need every chance to be their best through parents buying a variety of toys and materials and making sure their children go to a range of activitities. Parents are not only being told that this is good for their child, they are also being told that this is the definition of a good parent.

It’s hard though, to work out what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’. After all we are all new to it. We’ve not done it before. We’re sleep deprived. It seems to be working for others and don’t get me wrong some children do completely thrive in a bustling week. These classes are structured and adult led. There is normally no element of free play. The kind where kids play shop, or mermaids. Or have an afternoon tea party with their teddies or get to be the fastest footballer on the planet or the bravest explorer.

Free play that is child driven is essential to the development of negotiation skills and an opportunity for children to discover what they are interested in. For many adults, play is something done by those mini adults that walk around copying every gesture, phrase or grimace that we do. Play seems hard. We know all the rules. We have all the answers. We have pressures on our time to keep the ship running smoothly. We have an idea and we suggest it to our children and then what?

We all just have to be careful about why we are setting up activities for our children. What might we be missing out on by keeping everyone busy and on the move. Our children need it yes, but we, the parents need it too. We need time to learn about our children’s likes and dislikes, we need to learn how to socialise and share and negotiate. We need time to cool off and unwind. Our children need to see us do this so that they do it too. Finding our love and comfort in free play is as necessary for our children to witness, as our children doing it in the first place. Our kids won’t see the point in it if we don’t.

So playing? Playing is more than stuff for kids. We need to let our children play freely and get on board with them. Let them decide the rules. If you’re not sure what that entirely means, I want to take you back in time to the late 80s in the Goodman household. There we all are: Big sister (7), big brother (5) and I (3) in the fun loving hands of our favourite babysitter -Wendy. We are wearing a rainbow of shell suits. We’d just finished watching the Never Ending Story on BBC 2.

Big Sister: Let's play a game.
Big Brother: Yeah, let's play a game.
Me: I know a game.
Big Sister: Really?
Me: Yeah.
Big Brother: Bet you don't.
Me: I do.
Big Brother: No, you don't.
Me: Yes, I do.
Big Brother: No.
Me: Yes.
Big Sister: What is it then?
Me: Kangaroo
Big Sister: What's the rules?
Me: Whoever jumps the highest wins.

Big Brother and Big Sister exchange a look. 

Big Brother: Fine. I'll go first.

He jumps. Big Sister jumps. I climb on the sofa.

Big Sister: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CHEATER!!
Me: I never said that I couldn't jump off something.
Big Brother: Fine then, I will jump off this chair. And be higher then   you.
Me: NO.
Big Sister: What? Why not?
Me: THOSE AREN'T THE RULES.
Big Sister: What? Those are different rules for you then us.
Me: Yup.
Big Brother: Well that's not fair.
Me: (With as much 3 year old sass as I can muster) Well, its MY game. So it's MY rules.
Big Sister: Then I'm not playing.

Big Brother and Big Sister leave

kangaroos

As irritating as this must have been for my older siblings (they have never let me live this one down), that is what child led play would look like. Let your child invent new stories where there is the same line about a big fat pig running down your trousers in every other sentence. In fact, encourage it. Get them to tell you how things work. Enjoy them sticking 23 dinosaur stickers in exactly the same position, or pour out the glue so the paper disappears. This is them playing. Hang out with them and accept what they are offering. The world that will open up for you both will be a truly magical one. One where a golden unicorn gets to Salsa.

 

Felicity Goodman in a Voice Teacher, Playologist and Storyteller in Manchester, U.K. To find out more about her work please visit felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

 

Discussing Maternal Health.

A couple of nights ago, I watched Sally Phillips’ documentary – A World Without Downs (http://bbc.in/2cTj02D). It has been ticking over in my mind ever since. On social media it has triggered really interesting and highly emotive debates.

Francis Ryan wrote this article in response to the documentary http://bit.ly/2dBJdQJ, calling on us all to move away from black and white arguments and giving space for the grey. Ryan asks women to stop attacking one and other, “Both women and disabled people deserve better than simplistic judgments”.

I have had two children. They are both under three and I was offered the screening test. I wasn’t really sure what it would tell me. While I am 100% pro choice,  I felt that I would really struggle terminating a pregnancy. However, on reflection I can see that as Ryan points out, that this is black and white reasoning. If I got told that my child would always be in physical pain. It might stop me and make me think. If I got told that my child would be violent. I’m not sure. If I got told my child had a some learning difficulties, then I would not choose to terminate the pregnancy.

The big thing, I gleam from this, is that it is incredibly complex to argue about termination and I am not armed with enough information. So all I have is my opinion. And what’s that worth – well nothing or everything or something, depending on your relationship with me.

There are plenty of keyboard warriors out there who will tell you what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Becoming a mother myself, made me see how brutal the online community can be about parenting.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant, with my second daughter, I got diagnosed with Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). ICP stops biles flowing through your liver, as a result these biles build up in your body. The way it manifests is that you get itching on your hands and feet. It turns our that this isn’t entirely true. I had a very itchy stomach and back. I just assumed it was my skin being stretched that was making me uncomfortable. I had already been told that this baby was expected to be a big one (she was average) and that I had too much amniotic fluid (I didn’t in the end). So there I am itching away thinking ‘Oh my big baby, in my olympic size swimming pool of a uterus, is just stretching my skin to the point of near transparency’. I very casually said I had been feeling itchy to my midwife. I nearly didn’t say this. The midwife said it would probably come to nothing, but she ought to run a blood test. Something to do with my liver. It sounded mad. But what did I know! I am not a medical professional. I just was in awe that my liver could be so disgruntled by a baby. I put it down to the many mysteries of pregnancy.

The following morning, I was called by a midwife from the day care unit at the hospital where I was booked in. She said that the blood results weren’t quite right and that I should come in. I asked her when I should come and she told me as soon as possible. Luckily my parents were with us, looking after our eldest, so off we tripped husband and I, trying to stay calm. We knew nothing. We focused on the fact that we would be told if something was wrong and we would be told soon.

Hospitals are strange places. I come from a creative background. The places I work in tend be clear, open spaces. The people I work with are sensitive and responsive to each other. Its quite a tactile environment with a huge amount of peer support. So, to me, Hospitals are strange places. My contact with Hospitals was mainly to see dying relatives. I’m sure I’m not alone in this at all. Hospitals are scary and you hope that you never have to go to them. For yourself or for anyone else. You want to be in good health. When you are pregnant, there is a big rise in how much contact you have with the NHS. With my first pregnancy, all was fine – as expected. I didn’t think of myself as being ill when I went in to hospital.

I’m sure if Hospitals were my working environment, if I saw beds and machinery and uniforms and fluorescent lighting every day, then I would completely normalise it. However, it was normal. I wasn’t normal. Something wasn’t right. I sat in the waiting room, a big ball of nerves. Their was a couple across from us. The woman was silently crying and her partner was trying to comfort her. It was really tense. Another pregnant woman came in and she was on the phone. ‘Yeah, I’ve been here all night. I ran out of battery. They don’t really know what was wrong.’

The room felt close and suffocating despite the big windows behind us. A midwife came in and called my name. She walked us through to a room with two beds in it. Beds probably generous. I would say they were fairly hard rubbery planks. Perfect for a pregnant woman. Any way, as she walked us in she said “So you have obstetric cholestatis, we will hook you up for some monitoring and see how the baby is doing, I’ll be in the office watching the monitor. Let me get you a pillow to make it more comfortable.” She walked out of the room.

My husband and I looked at each other completely baffled. What was this obstetric cholestatis? We could barely say it. Give us a line of Shakespeare and we can crack that code but Obstetric what? When the midwife came back with a pillow, apologising for its thinness, we asked her what it was?

‘Oh Obstetric Cholestatis?’ She said. ‘Its when your liver isn’t quite working properly so you bile levels build up.’

‘Oh.’ I said.

She sat down on the bed by my feet. ‘I’m so sorry. I thought you had been told already that you had it. We are not entirely sure why women get Cholestatis. We think it may be something that occurs when there is a rise in Oestrogen and Progesterone levels in the body. It can be genetic. It disappears again once the baby is born.’

‘Oh.’ I said. It sounded medieval. Even older then that. Like something we would have studied in the history of medicine at school. It seemed mysterious, like another pregnancy thing that no one quite knows why – but Hey! Every pregnancy is different.’So why is the baby being monitored?’ I asked.

‘Well. We just want to make sure that the baby is doing O.K. Are you getting lots of movements?’

I nodded.

‘Then I am sure they are fine.’

‘Why wouldn’t they be fine?’ my husband asked.

‘There is a small risk of sudden stillbirth with this condition. Its a very small risk.’ She went on. I’m sure she said more things, but I had stopped listening. Did she just say stillbirth? This baby could die, suddenly because I was itchy and my liver wasn’t doing its job? There would be no warning. There would be no build up. The baby would just stop. Cease. Be no more. What? You want to monitor the baby to see if its still alive? Down in her underwater world, my daughter gave me a hefty kick in the ribs. Reminding me that she was still there. Still breathing and active.

The midwife wrapped the two bands, pink and blue around my expansive bump and hooked me up to the monitors. We heard her little heart thumping and thumping. She’s alive, she’s fine, she’s safe. But was she? My body was not responding well to her being there and it could kill her. Suddenly. How could my body let me down in this way? How could my body let her down in this way. I spent 36 weeks building her piece by piece, watching my body swell, felt that grind in my pelvis and my hips opened up, adjusting the way I walked as she grew, stopped eating the things I loved, I’d seen her heart beating on scans and I had had many due to worrying speedy growth. I’d made my piece with that. She was a strong, bigger baby who wriggled and wriggled around. I’d explained to my toddler that she would soon have a younger brother or sister. My toddler had felt her kick and move around in my stomach and now? Now all that could change. Just because I was itching?

Was I informed that itching could be a serious problem in pregnancy? No. Was I informed what the blood test was for? No, not exactly. Was I told what was wrong with me, clearly and concisely, without me asking? No. Was I told about the risk to my unborn baby’s health without me asking? No. So how could I make good informed decisions if I wasn’t informed. I had to fall back on my own initiative and understanding to get these answers. There is a lot of enigma surrounding maternal health and its unacceptable that women are not armed with the information about their own bodies. During pregnancy, we can access apps that tell us the size our babies are. But what about the science behind it all? What physiology is being shifted in our bodies? Why are we so uneducated in a process that women have done since time immemorial?

Phillips’ documentary might not have all the answers, or in fact any of them, but there is a lot of knowledge that could be shared with women, that is not. She has been criticised for being too emotionally led and too one sided to give the topic of screening for down syndrome a proper hearing. However, most people experience life emotionally. Historically, thats how we all learned about the important things in life, through the act of one person sharing a story with others. Admittedly, we have made huge advancements in Scientific research since the days that we would share information through the means of storytelling. However, we do not need to dismiss one method in lieu of the other. These things should be compatible.

These issues are very hard to discuss openly and non judgementally because we are not armed with the knowledge or the language to talk about maternal health or disability enough. We will never acquire this language if we never approach these subjects. We will never recognise that these issues need approaching, if we never give them the platform to be discussed. That is what Phillips has started. A discussion. And for that, I am grateful. Let’s hope it leads us to a shift in how we can talk about our experiences in a way to empower both ourselves and others.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Playologist and Story teller based in South Manchester. To learn more about her work, please visit http://www.felicitygoodman.co.uk or say hello on Twitter, @flickgoodman.

Girls -The Process

When I did P.E. in school it was a requirement that we all had to shower post exercise. I’m pretty sure that we were not the only group of school girls who had to do this. We were fortunate as we had individual cubicles in which to shower in with curtains for a privacy which is more then our male counterparts had! The deal was this:
If you were on your period you were excused from showering. A little ‘P’ was marked next to your name in the register. This is odd looking back, like our periods made us all witches where we would burn if water was thrown on us. Like our periods made us unwashable or informed in some way. (This belongs in a different blog I think.)
The Wizard Of Oz
If you were not on your period, you got down to your knickers and bra, pulled your bra straps off your shoulders and wrapped your towel around you. You would then walk into the shower. Splash some water on your upper body, walk out and then be ticked off as washing. We all did this. Without exception. We weren’t challenged to shower properly, even though it must have been really obvious to the female staff that checked us off. After we showered we dosed ourselves with Charlie Red or Impulse.
This was 15 plus years ago, before the internet had really made its mark on us all and certainly before the days of social media. Even then, we were ashamed of our bodies not wanting to reveal them to each other for fear of being found lacking.
Last week I shared this video in response to the Children’s society’s report that revealed that 1 in 3 girls aged between 10 and 14 felt worthless based on their appearance.

It triggered an anger in me that compelled me to write and deliver that piece within a day. How, for all the vast leaps that we have achieved in our culture, are we still sending a message to young girls that how they look is the defining thing about them.

I wanted to place images in the video that were linked to the words being spoken. I decided to type words into google images to use the results. Here are some of the things I discovered….

If you type in Girls you get this page….

girls-google-search

When you type lips:

lips

And so on…

eyes

Typing eyes

And so on…

hair
Typing Hair

And so on….

legs
Typing Legs
Sobering stuff. None of these images are less then what we would class as perfect. These legs are long, smooth, tanned and exact. They don’t represent that majority of the world’s legs, they represent a very particular group of women’s legs. The eyes have all got make up on, as natural as they are being made to look. The lips are also perfectly shaped, have lipstick on them and are mostly fairly seductive. The hair is all thick and voluminous. Its shiny and smooth. I have never seen hair like this on a real person in the flesh in front of me. What’s more concerning is that I didn’t add the prefix of ‘girl’s’ to legs, hair, eyes and lips. Yet all the images that came up are of young women. While I can’t gurantee the ethnicity of all of these models, I think it is fair to say they are predominantly white women.
It is images that are being broadcasted all the time to our young women and girls. When you look at these images they mostly seem like incredibly striking women and its easy to see why we would all like to look like them.
We need to make moves to fight these images and getting these girls more body positive. Schools and communities need to be taking responsibilities and tackling this issue head on. The message being sent out is that if their bodies fit into a certain criteria then they are more desirable. Girls are seeing this and hearing this. Along with the ‘perfect’ bodies that are being projected at them, no wonder their self esteem is worryingly low. Malala Yousafzai puts it well “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
We, as a society, are holding girls back by placing their value in how they look over what they can achieve.
So what can we do?
1. Compliment a girls character, not her appearance. What’s she good at? what’s she overcome recently? What has she been working on? What does she like to read? Take her to things. spend time learning about what she would like to do.
2. Get writing to you M.P asking for it to be compulsory to teach sex education, mental health and body image in every single school. www.writetothem.com is a great inline tool for finding your local MP and writing to them.
3. Limit time on the internet. I spoke to a teacher recently who said that the girls she taught were looking very tired. when she spoke to their parents, they would say ‘She’s up all night on her phone’. Make some rules about where and when to use the phone. Maybe the whole family can implement a system of putting all their phones on charge in the kitchen for the night? Not having devices out at the dinner table? Is your daughter old enough to be using social media? Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube and Instagram say users need to be over 13.  The problem is its pretty impossible for these companies to enforce these rules, and for a parent. We must understand however that when we arm our daughters with a phone or device we are giving them access to a world of information that we might not feel comfortable looking at.
4.Call people out for making jokes or insulting comments at the expense of someone’s appearance. We’ve all heard these off the cuff remarks about the way someone looks and felt the feeling that we should just laugh it off. However we are sending a message out that this behaviour is appropriate at best and at worst, funny.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk