Every once in a while something comes along in the playground industry that not only changes the game, but makes us all proud to be a part of such a wonderful endeavor – helping children and families increase overall health and happiness through active behavior. Behavior that, hopefully, they will carry through into adulthood and pass on to their children so that we can reverse the obesity trend, be well adjusted people, and live long and happy lives. M. Paul Friedberg’s invention of the linked playground in the 1960s was such a benchmark. While new slides, climbers, and ways to play come and go, these true innovations are what change the way we think about and act during play.
Today at the California Park and Recreation Society, I was witness to one such game changer. If you’ve ever heard noted psychologist and play scholar Dr. Stuart Brown, you are probably familiar with the seven types of play.
Body play and movement encompasses activities that create awareness of how the body works and moves. Running, skipping, hopping are great examples. When people think of play, this is often the first type of play that comes to mind.
Object play involves bringing “things” into the play adventure. Playing with toys, rolling pinecones down a playground slide, and throwing a ball are different types of object play.
Social play simply means play with other people. Whether playing chase games, Simon Says, or simply sharing stories with friends, social play is an important type of play that helps children develop the ability to form relationships, share, and make friends.
Imaginative play occurs when children invent stories from their imagination and act them out. Imaginative play can be engaged in alone or with others. Examples include playing king of the castle, hot lava, or pirate adventure games.
Narrative play is when you or your child reads a story to one another.
Creative play happens when children find new or different ways to play; for instance, using art materials to create a backdrop for play, or making musical instruments out of found objects.
Attunement play is when people make a connection through the act of play; for instance, a mother and child exchanging smiles or communicating/making a meaningful connection on a deep level without words.
Attunement play is fascinating. To learn more about why it is so important, check out Dr. Brown’s Ted Talk on the subject. In addition to body, object, social, imaginative/pretend, storytelling, and transformative/creative play, attunement play is not only important, it is also at the core of good parenting. Attunement, whether at play or not, is both parent and child being aware of and responsive to one another. It's an important form of communication, and one where words are not necessary. It’s engagement. It’s “reading” each other, and how well a parent can read their child depends greatly upon an understanding of how humans communicate without words.
Attunement has everything to do with ability in non-verbal communication. To quote Dr. Brown, if you watch a parent and a baby when they make eye contact, and truly “see” each other, they are in one of the deepest forms of communication and understanding. Their right brains are attuned, and they feel pure joy in each other. Attunement doesn't stop with babies; in fact a lot of our communication with our children and with each other is a form of non-verbal attunement.
It is important to know your child can literally sense your interest and sincerity in them. According to Dr. Brown, the first bonds formed by parents and children have a lifelong impact that continues through adulthood. The child feels cared for, loved, secure, attached. They learn their parent is dependable. This attunement creates a strong foundation for which that child can explore the world. The emotional attachment that grows between a parent and child is the first interactive relationship of life, and it depends upon nonverbal communication. The experience sets the stage on how to relate to other people throughout life, because it established the foundation for all verbal and nonverbal communication in future relationships.
According to Dr. Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and Dr. Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., “Individuals who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional communications during their infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits their ability to build or maintain successful relationships.” Attachment and attunement – the relationship between children and their primary caregivers – is a key component in ensuring a child grows up “well adjusted” as well as:
- shaping the success or failure of future intimate relationships
- the ability to maintain emotional balance
- the ability to enjoy being themselves and to find satisfaction in being with others
- the ability to rebound from disappointment, discouragement, and misfortune
So research points out the importance of attunement and its ability to help us to build and maintain our relationships to others. A connection, a wink, a smile, a grimace, a wave, making eye contact and through it, exchanging emotion – it’s not something we think about, it just something we do. Do you do it when you play with your children? Think about the classic playground staple, the swing. There are many well-documented studies on how the act of swinging builds confidence, balance, coordination, vestibular connections, core strength, and a number of other skills. But what about attunement? What if there was an opportunity on the swing to facilitate attunement and expression between parents and children?
Traditionally, when a parent pushes a child in a swing, they stand behind them, with no face to face contact, or any way to experience the fun the child is having. It's a shared experience, and yet separated by the inability for parent/caregiver to see the pure joy that their propulsion of the swing is affecting their child. Enter the Expression Swing. If you don't understand it at first sight, all it takes is for a caregiver and child to sit in the respective seats, facing each other, and begin to swing. The patented face-to-face design features a bucket seat for children under five and a comfortable adult swing seat that allows a parent and child (or a grandparent and grandchild) to face each other, swing together, interact with each other, and to experience one another’s facial expressions while at play. You can check out a video of it here.
Watching people’s reactions today to this innovative, new way to swing was inspiring. One woman walking by, deep in conversation with a colleague, simply stopped in her tracks, ceased talking, and watched with her mouth open in amazement. A young park professional, at the show with her young son, asked shyly if she could try it out. She was so moved by the experience she shared with her child that she actually wiped a tear away as she left. I cannot wait to see what effect this innovation has on generations of families as they experience a new way to play together. I can speak from experiences this week that, so far, it’s a truly wonderful thing to behold.