Posts by author: Mick Greene
New York Street Games: Movie and feature in USA Weekend

Really looking forward to the premiere of the documentary “New York Street Games” on Thursday, May 20.  The clip is a straight run of great interviews and fantastic archival footage.

Check it out

Also, don’t miss this feature in this weekend’s USA Weekend highlighting the film, describing rules for the essential games, and citing Streetplay.com “more more information.”

The Big Snow 2010
| 02/11/2010 | 2:10 am | slice of life, winter | No comments

Seated warmly by the computer
Occasionally glancing through the window
At the blustering white wind
I almost missed the snow
But when we walked out
My hand dipped down for a scoop
Impressed by the perfect texture
I caressed and compressed my creation
Then threw the white ball into the tree
And remembered old storms
When schools were closed
And we spent our days in cold play

We walked to the park
Squinting through the windy glare
Hearing the muffled laughter of children
In their playful dance with the cold
Merged with the frost
And breaded in bits of ice
Small bundles of color sliding down the hill
Then scrambling up for another ride
Further down the older boys
Dodged billowing gusts
In slowmo fantasy football runs
Joyfully trampling their soft white field

With dusk approaching
We walked into the wind
Leaving winter memories
To return to our comforts
No one called us to dinner
Or made sure our coats and wet boots
Remained by the door
But the warmth embraced us
And as the storm blew through the night
We stayed indoors
Playing cards with the kids
Sharing cookies and hot tea

Contemplayting
| 01/03/2010 | 6:49 pm | value of play, videogames | 1 Comment

I’m pondering the state of things as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.  While I’ve been told that my crystal ball is a bit cracked, certain broad trends seem extremely clear. Politics will get increasingly bizarre, 3D movies are here to stay and more to the point of our blog, although we’ll continue to see an occasional news item about stickball and other “old time” games, there will be no resurgence of children’s participation in unsupervised, unstructured outdoor activities. In fact to the chagrin of any middle-ager recalling joyful memories of playing kick the can, the main form of entertainment at this point seems linked in to computer. Now while I believe good things can be said about Wii Fit and imaginative play inspired by video games, clearly, much has been lost.

Since starting my second career as a social worker about five years ago, my primary focus has been working with children who experience difficulties with social interactions.  Many of the kids are considered to be on the Asperger’s/Autism spectrum or diagnosed with ADHD. Most find computer based games quite enjoyable, few go outside much to play, or even engage in board games or other non-electronic indoor interactive activities. Being the “street play type of guy” that I am, I’ve looked for opportunities to engage the kids in outdoor activities, and when I’ve been able to include this as part of the therapeutic experience, I’ve noticed some interesting results. I’ll use one example to illustrate the point.

During one of my initial work placements, I counseled Jimmy (not his real name), a 10-year-old boy with ADHD, some learning difficulties, and significant behavioral issues, many of which were clearly compounded by two years involvement in the foster care system before being reunited with his family.  For the first couple of months when I saw Jimmy our focus was playing with Lego’s and other toys we had in the office, but when spring weather came I suggested we take a rubber ball outside and throw it around. We started with a simple game of catch. Jimmy clearly had not had much experience throwing and catching however he loved running and seemed to enjoy the physical release that accompanied the experience of chasing the balls. One day I showed him how to throw the ball against a wall and painted a chalk box as a target, which eventually led into our own stickball game.  On another occasion I demonstrated how to slap the ball against the wall and keep the activity going for a cooperative handball experience.

We were playing in a seldom used parking lot surrounded by a couple of concrete walls and our games reflected this environment.  In fact, we started to develop a competitive game unique to our specific situation, which we called “bonk-ball” because whenever the ball was thrown against the wall it echoed a bonking sound. Briefly, you got a point by simply throwing the ball against the wall and catching the return. Only the person who “served” was allowed to score points and you served until the other person caught the ball.  The field was simple, composed of three parking spots, the first next to a wall, the adjoining spot, a little further from the wall and the third spot further still.  We each had zones in which we were restricted and could move only within our own, Jimmy’s being the 2nd spot, mine the 3rd.  Given the fact that Jimmy’s zone was closer to the wall theoretically he should have been able to win every time. However this required him to maintain focus on the task at hand (throwing and catching the ball) and not let himself get distracted or try too many fancy tricks. Since keeping a focus was a difficult thing for Jimmy, I had many opportunities to get the ball.  Given my size and familiarity with throwing/catching, I could easily score and was thereby able to control the game, without him knowing.  I’d keep the score and competition at an ideal point in order to maintain his level of concentration.

We were only getting together once a week, so Jimmy’s play time was limited, however, I noticed a rapid improvement in his abilities to throw, catch and manage physical space.  As he improved, we added new rules and limitations, which kept the game competitive and made it more complex.  I began to insist that he announce the score before each throw, which meant he had to consistently add, subtract and use his short term memory – all things he needed to work on.   And again, the use of the skills meant that they too began to improve, at least in this environment.

Then of course, there was the bigger picture, the context that the game was played.  Aside from the physical and mental challenges involved, Jimmy was learning how how to play by the rules, negotiate new rules, reach agreement in ambiguous situations, and deal with both winning and losing.  That’s a pretty good group of handy life skills one needs to succeed in any society.

Jimmy’s family moved away, so I won’t be able to learn how things worked out for him. And truth be told, I’d probably never be able to actually determine the impact of our game – life’s way too complicated for that.  Still, I think how we created an experience that tested him, pushed his limits, and included come from behind victories, defeats and other moments of drama that he will always remember.  And that’s something I’d wish for all the kids.  For although our children have all kinds of devices providing entertainment and calling their attention, there seem to be many simple, glaring gaps that will not be filled in this brave new world.

Mick is still here!
| 12/04/2009 | 7:19 pm | site news | No comments

Ok, I’ve been watching from the sidelines at the stuff going on in the blog and thinking about this long piece I’d like to write about incorporating streetplay into my role as a therapist working with kids.  I figure the only way to get the article done is to put it out there and place my butt on the line.  So coming soon, some musings on how a rubber ball still fits into this world of video, electronics and structured activities.