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Let the Children Play, It’s Good for Them!

Children at play

Walk into any preschool and you’ll find toddling superheroes battling imaginary monsters. We take it for granted that young children play and, especially, pretend. Why do they spend so much time in fantasy worlds?

People have suspected that play helps children learn, but until recently there was little research that showed this or explained why it might be true. In my lab at the University of California at Berkeley, we’ve been trying to explain how very young children can learn so much so quickly, and we’ve developed a new scientific approach to children’s learning. Click for more.

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator


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Last Toy of 2014

This is the last toy I have made for Christmas of 2014. Its for under little Timothy’s Christmas tree. Made of solid American Walnut it should last thru his grand children. As I was using my fingers doing the final sanding I realized this is the best horse I have ever made. Mostly that means I took extra time in sanding, but this horse is really the product of a long evolution of my skills and design sense. There is satisfaction in continual growth in the quality of my toys. If quality ever slips, what’s the point? Then I will get a grown-up job. Little Timothy may not realize the care I gave his new horse; but let time pass and perhaps he will as he watches his children rock away. That thought brings me satisfaction today and hopefully later to a not-so-little Timothy.

Horse walnutHorse headStamped Signature

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Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago

leadEven at times when discrimination was much more common, catalogs contained more neutral appeals than advertisements today. Elizabeth Sweet – The Atlantic Magazine

When it comes to buying gifts for children, everything is color-coded: Rigid boundaries segregate brawny blue action figures from pretty pink princesses, and most assume that this is how it’s always been. But in fact, the princess role that’s ubiquitous in girls’ toys today was exceedingly rare prior to the 1990s—and the marketing of toys is more gendered now than even 50 years ago, when gender discrimination and sexism were the norm. More

“the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”, usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890)

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I try to remember the trees.

Trees pictured rocks national lakeshore

House of Wood / Conversations with Trees

from the book – The Attentive Heart

by Stephanie Kaza 1993

I have woken up at the end of a long week of tiredness, I am too tired to go anywhere. Too tired to seek out a tree for comfort. Too tired to walk in the forest on the mountain. Too full of sadness and tenderness that speaks through me as I teach about how we are living with the environment, how we are dying with the environment. It is a difficult work to be present with the state of the world. The more I pay attention to the economic and political forces driving environmental deterioration, the less certain I am that anything I do will stop it. My heart aches for the thoughtless deaths of so many trees. Sometimes I long for a break from the destruction and grief.

Here in my home I find some comfort in the beauty and simplicity of this house. I am grateful to be surrounded by wood and the memory of trees. Wood walls and ceilings, a beautiful oak floor, paned glass and wood windows, kitchen cupboards crafted of wood. From all sides I am embraced by wood. The presence of trees soothes my eyes and soul. The natural warm brown color is restful. It is just what it is, nothing extra. No decorations, no wallpaper, no paint, no layers of anything masking the wood. The simplicity is refreshing. I appreciate the unevenness and random variation of the wood.

All these trees – the oaks in the floor, the firs and redwoods in the walls, the cedar in the yarn chest – are trees of the Pacific forest, trees of my homeland. But here in the house they are quiet and alone, no longer dancing in the wind or singing with the birds. It feels a bit like a tree cemetery – in elegant form, of course. It is hard to think of the wood as dead. It doesn’t feel like I live in a house of death. The grain of the wood is too alive. Its memory is too vivid, etched from the experience of lifetimes. I feel the histories of individual trees; they resonate in each beam and board.

One thing is wrong though – the straightness. All of the wood has been cut into straight forms. Trees, however, are not entirely straight, especially the hardwoods. It is convenient to live in this straightness. It makes walking and organizing things easier. It works well with gravity and the desire of the inner ear for balance. But I miss the graceful curves of the living tree. I miss the tangle of branches, the intimate spaces between the twigs and the fingers of each limb. Planed surfaces in a house have all the intimacy ironed out of them. They have been flattened, standardized, regulated, cut to conform to the human design. In the process the trees’ own naturally beautiful shapes have been altered beyond recognition.

So this is the pain of it: in leaving its life-form behind, the wood has become an object for human use. Object – where is the heart in that? An object is something to carry around, to count, to purchase, to collect. It is something separate. The process of objectification begins with the first cut toward straightness. After the tress are felled the conspiracy of object continues in the timber sales report, lumberyard accounts, and architectural plans. The carpenters perhaps cradled the wood in their hands as they built this house, but did they remember the once-living trees? I wonder who among the many people who deal with wood as product have walked in the forest of these trees and listened to their voices. When the memory of tree has vanished and the connection is broken, the wood becomes corpse, or not even corpse, but something that appears to have never been alive.

I try to remember the trees.


I’m sure I heard about chlorophyll and photosynthesis when I was in school, but I don’t believe they ever struck me as having any more importance than, say, the Declaration of Independence–or geometry. No one ever impressed upon me…the astonishing priority held by the green plants of the third planet: priority number one….Take away all governments and armies, take away all businesses and industries…electricity, clothes, medicine and police…and most of us would survive. But take away the plants and we would all die.

Malcolm Wells – Gentle Architecture – 1981

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Riding cranes, freshly oiled, awaiting casters

These Riding Cranes are destined to be under trimmed fir trees soon. They are complete except for their casters that allow mobility over rough “construction” sites.

 Riding Crane Group 1Riding Crane Group 2

They were friends, as only a craftsman can be, with timber and iron.

The grain of the wood told secrets to them.

George Sturt – The Wheelwright’s Shop

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Our ‘Mommy’ problem

One Mom I know says HEATHER HAVRILESKY has some interesting points in her recent Times piece. What do you think?

09MOMMYCOVER-master675Credit Anna Kövecses

WHEN I hear someone telling an expectant mother that having a baby will turn her into a new person, I can’t help but imagine a pathologically optimistic weather forecaster brightly warning that an oncoming tornado is about to give a town “an extreme makeover.” Becoming a mother doesn’t change you so much as violently refurbish you, even though you’re still the same underneath it all.

That can be hard to remember when teachers, coaches, pediatricians and strangers alike suddenly stop addressing you by your name, or even “ma’am” or “lady,” and start calling you “Mom.” You’ll feel like a new person, all right — a new person you don’t necessarily know or recognize.

Motherhood is no longer viewed as simply a relationship with your children, a role you play at home and at school, or even a hallowed institution. Motherhood has been elevated — or perhaps demoted — to the realm of lifestyle, an all-encompassing identity with demands and expectations that eclipse everything else in a woman’s life.

“Bunch of mommies cutting loose, huh?”

Some female friends and I were having a drink at a bar recently when a male stranger hailed us with this line… More

As it stands, motherhood is a sort of wilderness through which each woman hacks her way, part martyr, part pioneer; a turn of events from which some women derive feelings of heroism, while others experience a sense of exile from the world they knew.
Rachel Cusk

Motherhood has completely changed me. It’s just about like the most completely humbling experience that I’ve ever had. I think that it puts you in your place because it really forces you to address the issues that you claim to believe in and if you can’t stand up to those principles when you’re raising a child, forget it.
Diane Keaton

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The play deficit – Children today are cossetted and pressured in equal measure.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 9.36.08 AM

Without the freedom to play they will never grow up.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my friends and I had two educations. We had school (which was not the big deal it is today), and we also had what I call a hunter-gather education. We played in mixed-age neighbourhood groups almost every day after school, often until dark. We played all weekend and all summer long. We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us. What I learnt in my hunter-gatherer education has been far more valuable to my adult life than what I learnt in school, and I think others in my age group would say the same if they took time to think about it. Click for more.
(Peter Gray is a psychologist and research professor at Boston College. He writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of Free to Learn (2013)

I sometimes tire of folks claiming everything was better in their youth or in the good ole days. But I thrived in a childhood like Peter’s, and I think he is on to something. It may have been better for children then. What do you think? John

““The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder ”

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