Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How Narrative History Rescues the Past

Battle between Alexander and Darius, Pompeii, House of the Faun, via Wiki Commons
by Russell Lawson
Author of The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith's Voyage to New England

“Narrative History Rescues the Past.” You're not likely to see this headlining the latest news feed, though subtle truth rarely makes the news.

Moreover, narrative history is rarely sensational, rarely fantastic, and is (unfortunately) not imaginary, rather based on real people and real places; reality rarely captivates the way fantasy and the unreal do. Yet fiction is not likely to rescue the past.

Doubtless I appear to be writing nonsense: how can people living in the present, anticipating the future, rescue something that has disappeared, gone, never to be relived? The past can be remembered, recollected, but rescued? Hardly.

Stubbornly, perhaps, I maintain that the past can be rescued, and that narrative history wrought by narrative historians is precisely the means to do it; a good narrative historian is a rescuer of the past.

Take my latest book, The Sea Mark: Captain John Smith's Voyage to New England. There have been many books written on John Smith, of course, and movies made, and poems written, and caricatures drawn, and monuments dedicated to—and more. Why would he need to be rescued, if by that obscure, if pithy, word rescue I mean to bring to awareness, to make known, in the present?

No, that's not what I mean by rescue. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me define terms. First, what is meant by narrative history?

Narrative history is an account of sequence of events over time restricted to actual sources or implied events; it uses the historical imagination to re-create a particular episode (if consistent with sources); it uses quotes from writings as a replacement for dialogue; it does not manufacture or imagine a plot, rather the plot occurs as a matter of course based on what really happened; it re-creates scenes based on actual experiences; events and sources guide the imagination and storytelling (not vice-versa); and it relies on honesty: honest use of sources, honest presentation of past, honest evocation of human experience.

A narrative historian must write about a person or topic which they wish to re-live, re-create, re-experience. Sources must exist to allow for this mental exercise, as well as the penchant to understand human nature, which is gained by reflection into self. Added to this is a good imagination: to imagine the past, imagine what happened, imagine the people, then conform the imagination to the sources, to what really happened. Empathy unites, organizes, creates the whole portrait of the past: as the historian researches and imagines, visits places, he/she must feel, must sense the past, must empathize with those who once lived.

Empathy is the means by which the past can, as it were, be rescued. Empathy with another, even another long dead, requires a vicarious dialogue to be created in one's head. This dialogue with the past was perfected by a highly imaginative philosopher of the 14th century: Francesco Petrarca, who conversed by means of his pen and paper with past people, Cicero and Augustine: he asked them questions, and heard, in his mind, a response.

A dialogue with the past: this is how the historian rescues the past. This dialogue is a mixture of the subjective (feeling based on imagination) with the objective (reason based on sources); it is getting to know the past person: their habits, feelings, thoughts, interests, aims, emotions, accomplishments; it is dealing honestly with the past: the honest appraisal of person by not imposing one's own point of view, one's own preconceived notions, on the past, which is anachronistic.

To empathize with the past one must feel the past as well as feel the present. To understand the life of a past person, one must understand his/her own life. The historian's own life helps to write the story of the past: the historian's own feelings helps to understand past feelings; the historian's thoughts helps to understand past thoughts; the historian's experiences helps to understand past experiences.

In short, narrative history/biography is the story of two lives, one life explicitly told (the past person) and one life implicitly told (the historian or biographer). In studying these two lives, the life of the past person is rescued, comes alive in the present, to live again in the historian's mind and in the words put on paper.

Indeed, rescuing the past might be the means of rescuing the present.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

12 Tips for Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease

http://www.upne.com/1611687736.html
by Robert B. Santulli, MD, coauthor (with Kesstan Blandin, PhD) of The Emotional Journey of the Alzheimer's Family

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is certainly one of the most stressful challenges a person can undergo. For some, the degree of strain is so great that it can interfere with providing good care, and can lead to hastened placement of the individual in a facility. The stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be harmful to the care partner, as well. Taking good care of oneself must be the first job of anyone who is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. A care partner can only manage the many tasks and challenges involved if he or she is in good shape mentally and physically. With this is mind, here are a dozen pointers that care partners may find helpful. These tips, and others, are discussed in greater detail in the book I co-authored with Kesstan Blandin, The Emotional Journey of the Alzheimer’s Family.

1. Take Good Care of Your Own Well-being 
Care partners frequently neglect their own health needs while focusing on the needs of the person with the disease. Eating and sleeping well are critical. So is regular physical exercise. Have regular visits with your primary physician. A good primary care provider will be sensitive to how you are managing stress and will intervene when it appears necessary.

2. Get As Much Help As Possible 
You will feel much less stressed if you get as much help as possible with the job – other family, friends, paid assistants. Sometimes the greatest hurdle in achieving this goal is not the lack of availability or willingness of others to help, but the reluctance of the primary care partner – particularly a spouse – to acknowledge the need for assistance, and allow others to help.

3. Have Regular Periods of Respite 
Respite means not only that you have time when he you are not engaged in providing care, but also, time when you are relieved of the psychological burden of worrying about the person with the disease. In order for this to be possible, you need helpers who are trustworthy, and with whom the person with Alzheimer’s is reasonably comfortable. This can take some doing, but is well worth the effort.

4. Maintain a Social Life and Interests 
Separate from the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease You need to maintain you own sense of identity, independent from that of being a care partner, and continue to pursue those activities that have been important to you previously. This should include social contact with persons other than the individual with Alzheimer’s.

5. Learn as Much as Possible about the Disease 
Knowledge is critical in managing any chronic illness, but this is especially true in the case of Alzheimer’s disease. Learning about the behavioral challenges that are common in Alzheimer’s disease, and how to manage them, may be more valuable than any medication currently available for this.

6. Engage in a Comfortable, Open Dialogue about the Disease with the Person with Alzheimer’s 
While it may sometimes seem that talking about the disease with the person with Alzheimer’s will create additional stress, usually the opposite is the case. Family members – care partners and those with the disease alike – often report that they are much more comfortable once they have been able to talk openly about this previously - avoided “elephant in the room”. Of course, this must be done in a way that is not judgmental, and is sensitive to the self-esteem of the person with the disease.

7. Talk with Close Family and Friends About the Illness 
Perhaps you feel that discussing the situation with other family members or friends is unnecessary and perhaps even disloyal. While that sentiment is understandable, it is based on the false premise that Alzheimer’s is something about which one should feel ashamed, and that it should be hidden from others. It is important not to let old-fashioned notions about the illness interfere with you getting all the support you can from friends, family, and other confidantes. Doing so will help you be a better care partner, and that should be the goal that overrides almost anything else.

8. Attend a Support Group Regularly 
Support groups offer unique and powerful benefits, and many care partners indicate that their group has become a vital lifeline at a very difficult time in their lives. Even people who initially feel they don’t need to go to a support group find them extremely beneficial, once they start attending regularly. You are not alone in trying to cope with this.

9. Find Activities Your Loved One Will Enjoy—Especially Activities You Can Appreciate Together
A common challenge family care partners face is being able to identify activities that are appropriate, achievable, and enjoyable for the person with the illness. Take careful note of those abilities that have been preserved in the person with the disease, and focus on activities that make use of the capacities that remain. Finding the right activities and pursuing these depends on your motivation and creativity, more than anything else. Usually, the person with Alzheimer’s is no longer able to initiate this type of spontaneous activity. In addition to identifying suitable activities for the person with the disease, it is especially valuable to identify activities that the two of you can enjoy together. Try going for walks together. Not only is there benefit in the activity itself, but also, walking together promotes another crucially important activity: talking to each other.

10. Find and Celebrate the Positive Aspects of Providing Care 
While there are many difficult and stressful aspects of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it is not all negative; nearly every care partner can point to positive aspects of the undertaking. Being able to focus on the positives of any difficult task is good for your mental wellbeing, and that is especially true for this task.

11. Focus on What You Can Control, and Learn to Accept the Rest
People who have a very strong need to feel “in control” tend to have a very difficult time as care partners. But the nature of Alzheimer’s is that the disease is generally in control - not really your loved one, and certainly not you, unfortunately. Try to determine which aspects of the situation you are able to predict or control, and focus on those, while recognizing and accepting the many aspects of the situation that are not in your control. Things you can control are your own behavior and emotional reactions to the situation. This is where you should focus your efforts.

12. Know When You Have Reached Your Limits, and Act Accordingly 
There may come a point when you feel you are no longer able to continue the tasks of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s at home. It is neither shameful nor disloyal to recognize the point when a change needs to be made, and act accordingly. Making preparations for this ahead of time should not be viewed as a sign of weakness or disloyalty, but instead as a concession to reality, and as an act of love for the person with the illness.

A version of this post originally appeared on Psychology Today.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thirteen Stereotypes about Poets

by Gary Soto
excerpted from Why I Don't Write Children's Literature (March 2015)

It’s a disappointment that I’m not invited to parties more often because I possess an extensive social armor in the form of twelve suits, including a rare Paul Smith three-piece—rare in that there is only one other like it in the United States. To my mind, it’s very close to “bespoke,” meaning that a tailor, working from my slender measurements, made it just for me. I’m disappointed because I want to be present at a party where a midlevel techie—wine glass in his right hand, cracker in his left—asks, “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet,” I would answer, nibbling on my own cracker, sipping from my own drink. “Gee, this is a nice party. Look, there’s more food coming!”

And you live where? the techie might wonder, in his semi-vegan heart. But aloud he says, “Interesting. I read a short poem about black birds once. Didn’t understand it at all.” Cracker crumbs fall from his lower lip. His cell phone lights up and I disappear from his thoughts for seconds—no, for good. He turns away.

Still, I get to mingle with others at the party. I scan the scene and sip my wine. It’s good stuff—a blend of silliness, with just a touch of hilly ravine. Got to get a case of this, I remind myself.

In short, poets are misread. We’re like others in that we have hearts and lungs, money and then no money, and places to go—even if it’s by foot. If you call with an invitation to us older poets, on a landline, we will make every effort to come.


Poets Wear Berets
We are no longer partial to berets, though we’ve all seen them tilted smartly on heads, both male and female. Admittedly, they’re attractive head coverings, but only for the generation before 1960, and only if you were European with an owl-shaped face. Still, if a contemporary poet wears a beret it should be made of wool and smell of tobacco and worry—worry for the next poem and the next meal. When we do don hats, I’m afraid it’s the dumbed-down baseball-cap look—or a beanie, like that guy in U2. People assume that’s what poets look like—like the beanie guy. But no, that’s more like a rocker with a really expensive guitar.


Poets Are Silent and Reflective Types
If drinks are free for more than two hours—and if the party extends to another venue, offering more of the same—a poet can get really loud. He might collapse to his knees, roll onto his side, and keep talking, even while the brain has given up and the eyes resemble salmon eggs. The collapsed poet does not go quietly into the night. Though crumpled on the floor, his lips are still moving slightly.

“Bush,” the poet mumbles, “George Bush started it all . . . Rosebud, rosebud . . .”

Some smarty remarked that we poets come into the world not knowing a single word. After we have honed the ancient craft, however, we won’t shut up. But we also come into the world expecting a proper drink, right away. “Where’s mommy?” the newborn poet asks, then wails.


Poets Like Flowers
Sniffing them, we think of our future funerals, when an organ moans and the mourners, other poets in out-of-style ties, are keen to the aroma of vittles in the adjacent room. Flowers, of course, are beautiful in a vase, on half-price calendars, and when presented to us with the Nobel Prize for Literature. This big daddy of all awards most likely doesn’t happen, however, and we will have no occasion to shake hands with a real king and bow to his wife, the queen, thin as a tulip. But if it should occur, we would wear a red boutonniere, the color of the blood we spilled getting there.


Poets Vote Democrat
Yes, most darken those zeros in the voting booth in favor of Democrats. But a few vote Republican. Generally, these poets iron their jeans and then re-iron them, with sharp creases. Republican poets are always men.


Poets Don’t Work
We are apt to work hard—as long as we don’t have to bend over too much. We work for figures just north of minimum wage, correcting college papers that often begin, “In today’s society,” and teaching creative writing workshops where babyish students complain, “You just want us to write like you.” We appreciate work that ends about five o’clock and committee meetings that take no longer than the time in which to eat a sandwich. We like paychecks, but fret at all the deductions on the paystub. All those taxes never benefit poets.


Gary Soto, not unbalanced.
Unbalanced, Poets Must Hang onto Things When They Walk
Sylvia Plath put her head inside an oven—we know at least this much about her. Delmore Schwartz drank himself to death, and so did Dylan Thomas. Virginia Woolf, a prose writer with a poet’s sensibility, put rocks into her apron and walked into a cold river. In short, the public thinks that we’re unbalanced and steps back to give us room. But poets are well balanced. Consider how poets start off the day. We put on our socks first, then our pants, or maybe the other way around—pants first, then socks. We’re able to dress ourselves.


Poetry Slams Are for Everyone
Poets in a slam rhyme like this: “I was a’gonna fall / before the call / but big beautiful doll / hecka pale and tall / you feel me, y’all?” After some soft clapping from the audience, the poet swings his hair from his right shoulder to his left. Then he begins another: “Skinny but mad / fruitfully glad / mom and dad / like frowned at ‘Brad’ / but my words, sugar babe, ain’t that bad.” These slams start at about 7:00 p.m. and end when we turn about twenty-five.


Poets Drink Too Much Coffee
Like the regular Joes and Josephinas of the world, wesavor our morning brew. We drink two cups, get that sweet vibe going, then head to work on BART. In our office, we’re blasted by fluorescent light bulbs, but on our desk we have a potted plant to soothe our eyes.

“How’s it going?” a workmate asks.

“I stapled my tie to the desk—that’s how it’s going,” the poet answers. “You seen the scissors?”

We don’t sit in cafes jotting down ideas for poems that may or may not happen. Poets like their coffee with lots of cream and with sugar—two spoonfuls will sweeten the day.


Poets Listen to NPR
While driving a cheapo rental, poets may cruise the radio stations, halt briefly at NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and growl, “Oh, yeah, a station for the Volvo crowd.” When a reporter begins, in an urgent voice, “Today in Australia a kangaroo was found sitting among rocks at low tide,” poets snort, “Yeah, but what about me? I sat there and no one gave a shit.” Poets search for a station with loud music.


Poets Need Sensitivity Training 
A famous poet and his semi-famous friend commiserated over a prestigious prize that neither received. It instead had gone to a very famous poet.

“Get over it,” the famous poet scolded. “Bury the hatchet.”

“Good idea!” the semi-famous poet roared. “I’ll bury in it in his forehead.”


Poets Understand Dreams
We sleep in narrow or wide beds and we dream narrowly or widely. To our analysts, we report with mild urgency dreams such as this: “When I went into the bathroom I saw a polar bear drinking from the toilet. He raised his face with little drops of water dripping from his chops, and chased me down the hallway. We both ran in slow motion, but since he was more powerful he caught me and, well, gave me a bear hug.”

Analyst (tapping pencil against his leg—so Freudian): “Were there ice cubes involved?”


Poets Live on the Top Floor of the Ivory Tower
We live in houses with lots of windows, or apartments with some windows, or shared spaces with only one window, which we climb through when we’ve forgotten the key. We live in tents when the going is hard or with our parents when the going is really hard. No poet lives too richly. We don’t shine the silver or dust the chandelier or take tally of the Royal Copenhagen china. We seldom dwell in large houses with more than two bathrooms. When we do, it’s because our wife or husband or lover is the one with money. Even then, we feel a little embarrassed when we show our guests the view from the great room.


Poets Smell
Ghastly rumor! We shower and we wash our fleshy mitts. Some solitary days we contemplate the grime under our fingernails, grime that if analyzed in a lab would reveal pencil lead. We write poems that work and poems that don’t work. When we sweat, we provide the world with an unusual odor. “What’s that?” a curious business-type might ask, as he sniffs the confines of an elevator. Dogs howl at our sides as they recall from their canine past some primordial longing that involved the first Neanderthal poets. People hurry out of the elevator before the poet can say, “It’s me! I’ve just finished a poetry manuscript. The perfume is called ‘Essence of Limited Edition.’”




Why I Don't Write Children's Literature, by Gary Soto, is available from ForeEdge on March 3rd.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Are We Nearing the Final Chapter of the Marriage Equality Movement?

Newly married couples leaving City Hall in Seattle in 2012, by Dennis Bratland


It's a rare thing to publish a book whose ending hasn't been written.

Maybe rarer when that book, released last November, lands scores of soaring reviews, including a spot on Slate's list of the best of 2014.

We're talking about the definitive—and dramatically unfinished—history of the marriage equality movement. Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and the Pundits—and Won, written by Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, is the state-by-state chronicle of Solomon's tireless work on the front lines of the battle to ensure that all people have the right to marry anyone they choose.

Publishers Weekly calls the book "a manual for how to craft a successful political movement in the future."

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern says it's "the book that leaders of the movement deserve, and that latecomers to the movement need to read...[and it is] the only account of the gay rights battle yet written that will still be read in decades to come. It's the timeless story of a fierce and vital fight, fast-paced and marvelously detailed."

Writing for the Huffington Post, Julie Enszer is impressed with Solomon's "commitment to recognizing multiple people—activists, lobbyists, and just plain interested citizens—and their role in the struggle for marriage equality. In Solomon's hands, the story of marriage equality is multi-vocal, even cacophonous, with an array of people working with commitment to achieve the goal."

This is what Freedom to Marry's national map looks like today, after state after state began allowing same-sex marriages as a result of last June's overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act:



Tomorrow, Friday, January 9, 2015, may present new milestones in the path toward that ultimate goal. In New Orleans, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear cases out of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Also tomorrow the Supreme Court will meet to consider taking up one of five marriage cases that could lead to a nationwide freedom to marry by June. With every hope for justice for all, tomorrow will be a momentous day.

And with any luck, by June 2015, Marc Solomon—and the untold scores of activists and organizers who have fought this fight for so long—can close the book on the hard-won story of marriage equality.

In the New Year, Eat Healthy for Yourself, Your Community, and the Environment

By Lars Plougmann (Flickr: Austin downtown farmers' market), via Wikimedia Commons

by Lisa Chase, coauthor (with Vern Grubinger) of Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems

Ring in the New Year with a new twist on an old resolution. The most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight and eat healthier. In this era of global climate change, big box stores, and corporate agriculture, it’s time to expand on that resolution. Don’t just eat better for you. Eat better for your community and for the environment. You can do all three at the same time.

Here are 5 ways to eat healthier for yourself, your community, and the environment:

1. Eat your veggies.
Like Mom always said. She was right then and she’s not only right now -- she’s righteous. You can reduce your carbon footprint and your waistline with a diet high in organic vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and all sorts of good things that scientist have yet to figure out how to replicate in the lab.

http://www.upne.com/1611684216.html2. Buy local and organic when you can.
Be picky about your veggies. Pay attention to where they come from and how they are grown. Fresh produce tastes better and is better for you. Plus supporting local farms gives back to your community and the working landscape. Don’t stop at produce; choose eggs, milk, cheese, meat and other staples that can be produced locally.

3. Cook at home.
Proponents of home cooking argue that this lost art is a way to combat obesity, save money, and have full control over what you eat. Opponents say it’s not realistic and we should look to processed food that is healthier as the solution to America’s obesity epidemic. You get to decide for yourself with every bite you take. If you don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have time for it, buy prepared foods that are fresh and wholesome.

4. Go ahead and splurge.
Denying yourself can backfire and lead to binging. Enjoy those French fries and chocolates every now and then. Look for the Fair Trade and Food Justice Certified labels so you can support fair treatment for workers even while you indulge. When you eat out, choose restaurants in keeping with your values. (If you're in Vermont like me, visit www.DigInVT.com to find out where to eat meals made with fresh, local ingredients.)

5. Remember those less fortunate.
One in seven families in the U.S. doesn’t have enough to eat. Give to a food bank. Better yet, volunteer at a food shelf by bringing in gleanings from farm fields or helping in the kitchen. Then you can lend a hand creating wholesome meals that nourish your community, literally.

Celebrate the local bounty wherever you are, at home or while you’re traveling. Whether you’re buying carrots, corn, coffee, chocolate, or cheese, pay attention to where your food comes from and how it is produced.


To learn more about eating healthy for yourself, your community, and the environment, read Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems by Lisa Chase and Vern Grubinger. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: 35% off Select Books


Season's greetings from UPNE!

It's that wonderful time of year when we must remind ourselves that it is a time for giving. To give is the season's true meaning, we keep hearing.

And no one's denying that. Books, for instance, make excellent gifts to give. To friends and family...and to yourself. We think a book is one of the few things in life that's worth bending the rules of the season in order to get.

So in the conjoined spirit of giving and getting, we're thrilled to offer a 35% discount on the following selection of books published by UPNE and our imprint ForeEdge this year.

To receive the discount, click on the book image or title and use discount code E114EW when placing your order on UPNE.com. The discount will extend through the end of the day, December 31, 2014.

Share this post with friends and family! And happy reading!


Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—and Won, by Marc Solomon

A no-holds barred, from-the-trenches account of the campaign to win and protect the freedom to marry in America.

Selected by Slate as a Best Book of 2014, calling it "a timeless story of a fierce and vital fight, fast-paced and marvelously detailed."

Hardcover, $27.95 $18.20






Bernard Cornwell calls this book "by far the best account of Revere's life...beautifully written, exhaustively researched, judiciously fair.:

And be sure to brush up on the 7 reasons everyone hated Paul Revere.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50






Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech, by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark

An entertaining election-year (or any year!) guide to the language of the electeds, spin-meisters, and flacks of American politics.

Paperback, $19.95 $13.00





With ingenuity born of desperation, President Truman overcame the doubters (within his own party), the haters, and the infamously do-nothing Congress to recapture the presidency and, perhaps, save America.

The Wall Street Journal calls White's "a far more compelling account of just how Harry gave 'em hell—the campaign's war cry—than the gauzy version that has hardened into legend."

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50



Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram, by Charles W. Johnson

"Ice Ship is as splendidly composed a biography of the magnificent vessel Fram as it is a portrait of the courageous men who sailed her into the daunting Arctic," says bestselling novelist Howard Norman. "Through impeccable research and evocative prose, Charles Johnson brings the last true age of exploration fully alive."

Hardcover, $35.00 $22.75






Dirigible Dreams looks back on a bygone era of when the future of exploration, commercial travel, and warfare largely involved the prospect of wingless flight. Hiam celebrates the legendary figures of this promising technology and revisits many of its triumphs and, of course, its spectacular failures.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50






Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea, by James W. Graham

"Victura is more than Graham recounting the sailing experiences of the Kennedys. In this well-researched but warmly written book, Graham sometimes goes several pages describing an election, a Kennedy family intrigue, and then gracefully brings the story back to the sea, showing how, in the best and worst of times, the family pulled together around sailing."—Sailing magazine

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50


Before today's safety-minded structures of wood and plastic, America's playgrounds were full of tottering seesaws, dizzying merry-go-rounds, and towering slides. Once Upon a Playground is a visual tribute to these iconic structures, celebrating their place in our culture and the collective memories of generations.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50



The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds that Enhance Children's Development, by Susan G. Solomon

Poor design and wasted funding characterize today's American playgrounds. A range of factors have created uniform and unimaginative play structures, which fail to nurture the development of children or promote playgrounds as an active component in enlivening community space. The Science of Play is a clarion call to use playground design to deepen the American commitment to public space.

Hardcover, $40.00 $26.00





Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saving the American Playground From Itself

by Susan G. Solomon
author of The Science of Play: 
How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children's Development

The American playground today fails as a resource that could help kids mature or prepare for unidentified future ordeals.

Unlike the exciting playgrounds of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s typical playgrounds are maintenance-free caged areas that emphasize safety more than critical thinking, smart reasoning, hopeful investigations, or thrilling adventures. In the UK, they have a nickname for this standard structure: “KFC”: Kit for low, directional, unchallenging equipment; Fence for the ubiquitous enclosure that cordons off area for kids; Carpet for the expansive uninterrupted flat, squishy surface. Here in the US, we could also add “P”—for Parents who hover and direct how their children experience this limited scope of play.

In addition to the easy upkeep of these boring playgrounds, they’re often prohibitively expensive for schools or communities to purchase.

In my new book examining the link between playground design and child development, The Science of Play, I illustrate several ways to break away from this mold and to create places that allow children to explore, to take limited risks, and to make friends.

And my favorite examples of these solutions are those that use inexpensive or repurposed materials. Even someone’s “junk” can find its way onto the playground and be a revitalizing force!

Here are a few playgrounds—along with some actionable advice!—from around the world that break the playground mold and show how you can create enriching environments for not a lot of money:


1. Re-imagine the swing set.


How much does a sling swing cost? Maybe $50, including the chain. The design firm Carve, in the Netherlands, created an affordable swinging/climbing contraption by varying the height and position of the off-the-shelf swings.


2. Mine a construction site for reusable scraps.


Architects Haugen/Zohar in Trondheim, Norway, took advantage of local wood construction and secured pieces from a nearby building site to erect this conical Fire Hut. In the depths of winter, children enter the hut and surround the fire to chat and stay warm.


3. Use old tires for more than just ground cover.


This twelve-square-meter cube, called the "Cave," is built from preindustrial waste, recycled from the automotive and shoe industries, that would have been placed in a landfill or burned if it hadn't been repurposed. Architects Haugen/Zohar "carved" several exterior niches where children can place their found "treasures." And the interior, which has a secretive, almost spooky quality, allows kids to slither and slide through passages and to constructively get "lost."


4. Turn industrial waste back into an asset.


In Stavanger, Norway, an administrative hub of the booming oil industry, resourceful hometown architects Helen & Hard created an "otherworldly" landscape using an assortment of oil industry implements. This section of immovable balls has become a place to run and jump, do back flips and any number of crazy acrobatics.


5. Remember: one person's junk can be your playground.


Although so-called "adventure playgrounds" have a distinguished history in the UK, they've never gained a strong following in America. One exception is, of course, The Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, opened in the late 1970s. Composed of a wide assortment of materials, odds and ends, including disused telephone poles, tires, hammers and nails, old pianos and harps, the space encourages children to try many things they have not tried before. Kids have used a board and some logs to create a seesaw from scratch—even though a real fulcrum seesaw is hard to find on the average American playground!


6. Even schoolyards should reclaim waste for play.

video

Take a look at this video, an appeal to British industry to help stock the Play Pods that the Children's Scrapstore provides in England.


ALSO OF INTEREST:

Once Upon A Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975