Activating the Playful Side of the Brain

The younger generation is spending too much time filtering their lives through their logical, language-based left brains-thanks to such technological advances as tiny keyboards that follow them everywhere-and too little time nurturing their imagistic, feeling-centered right brains.

Current research is continually confirming the importance of balancing the two sides of the brain. By tapping into one's artistic, intuitive right brain, blocked energy is released, negative thoughts and emotions are transformed into positive, life-affirming responses, and both mental and physical health improves.

Many of today's children are living passive, programmed lives rather than engaged, interactive lives-observing from the sidelines via electronic devices, rather than taking the lead as creators and innovators.

With the huge build-up to the holidays winding down, a long, cold winter stretching out ahead, and finances tighter than ever for many families, now is actually the perfect opportunity for parents to help their youngsters unlock their creative energies and delve into the rich world of imagination.

Looking back to both my own childhood and our sons' early years, I realize that my happiest memories are of what I now realize were right-brain-activating activities. And they cost little or nothing-a terrific bonus in these tough economic times.

It's a given that kids should be encouraged as much as possible to bundle up and get outdoors for physical exercise and vitamin D straight from the source, but when the weather is just too awful to venture out, here are a few suggestions for hands-on, indoor play.

A Trunk Full of Fantasy

Adrien Broom of Lyme recalls the trunk in the attic filled with old clothes, hats, and shoes and spending hour after hour with her younger sister Margot, dressing up and acting out their own imagined fairy tales.

Today, Broom, 30, is still in touch with her imaginative inner child as a professional photographer who creates magical, mystical scenes featuring beautifully costumed women (Margot is a regular model) from another time and place.

If you don't have a trunk, fill a big box-the kids can transform it into their own special dress-up container using paint and markers-with "vintage" clothes from your own closet and contributions from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. You can also find great bargains at local Goodwill stores-and at the same time donate to a worthy cause and recycle.

Reading as an Interactive Activity

Even when kids are old enough to read on their own, it's an enjoyable and less solitary endeavor to read with an adult or sibling. One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting alongside my mother reading You Read to Me, I'll Read to You-wonderful, giggle-inducing poetry by John Ciardi, illustrated by Edward Gorey-a tradition I continued with my sons. The adult reads the poems in black and the child reads the poems in blue. I'm proud to say I still have every word memorized of the six-stanza poem "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast."

I was thrilled to discover that the book (I have my original copy, published in 1962) was reprinted in 1987 by Harper Collins and is available in paperback for $7.99.

Scavenger Hunts

When he was a student at Essex Elementary School, our son Aaron loved to create scavenger hunts for his younger brother Ryan. He would write elaborate clues and hide them all over the house, almost as excited as his brother when he found the "prize," which could be a matchbox car or an out-of-favor Ghostbuster. Ten years later, when we moved, we found forgotten clues under picture frames and sofa cushions.

Expressive Art

Always have supplies at the ready for kids to express themselves through visual arts. A big plastic container of paints, markers, colored pencils, pastels, paper, paste, glitter, ribbons, old buttons, etc., will provide endless hours of inexpensive, creative fun.

Sometimes less is more and leaving more up to the imagination fosters creative problem solving. It gives children the freedom to develop their own worlds of wonder that aren't driven by adult expectations, but rather through active, unstructured play and self-exploration-something even we grown-ups could use a lot more of in our lives.

Amy J. Barry lives and writes in Stony Creek. Email her at aimwrite@snet.net. Read more of her Parent's Eye View columns on www.zip06.com; select Parent's Eye View from the Living pull-down menu.

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