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The case for creative play in a digital age

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By Dr. Perri Klass, NEW YORK TIMES

All the excesses of my own childhood are, of course, available on eBay, priced for the vintage market.

There are the accessories for the 1960s Thingmaker, from Mattel, with its metal molds to be poured full of plastigoop (I can smell it now) and cooked to a nice soft solid texture on the square little electrical stove, then lifted out of the mold with a pin and assembled into Creepy Crawlers or Creeple People.

I saw a vintage 1965 Thingmaker available for a mere $25, but full sets run to a couple of hundred dollars.

I don’t know if you’ll actually be able to find Chop Suey, a 1967 board game in which a bowl is filled with small plastic food items, and you have to pick them out with (wait for it) chopsticks as the bowl spins.

Culturally insensitive, perhaps, but very good for learning how to handle chopsticks; in the interests of defeating my brother in the contest for slippery little pieces of plastic, I developed reliable skills that have served me well.

Let’s not even talk about Barbie and her dream house. Most evocative of all for me, there on eBay are the 1960s vintage Easy-Bake Ovens, and as I look at the photo, a jingle starts to play insistently in my brain: “Be a Betty Crocker baker, make a Betty Crocker cake, in your Betty Crocker Easy-Bake oven!”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement on toys, advising parents of young children (from birth to school age) to go for high-quality “traditional” (that is, physical) toys rather than elaborate digital ones. It discusses the cognitive and developmental advantages of toys that give children scope for imagination and invention and, above all, toys that encourage play that brings parents and children together.

Dr. Aleeya Healey, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albany Medical College who was a co-author of the AAP statement, said that the most essential message for parents was the importance of relationships in the lives of young children.

“The less bells and whistles a toy comes with, the more it lends itself to creative play and imaginative play,” she said. “The more the toy can do on its own, the more distraction it lends itself to.”

As a parent and as a pediatrician, I love this idea; children need manipulative toys, blocks and puzzles that let them practice with their hands and their brains, they need props for imagination and for interaction, books that will be read aloud over and over, space and scope to invent stories and act them out.

The statement emphasises that toys don’t need to be expensive, any more than they need to be fancy. (Every toddler knows that the best toys are the cabinet full of pots and pans or the big cardboard box that something else came in.)

And yet, as they get older, children are as susceptible to marketing as I was, and they crave toys parents might regard as having dubious value like unicorns that poop glitter, Call of Duty Black Ops 4, or new outfits — known as skins — for their Fortnite avatars. Nowadays, however, the concern is not only marketing, but also increasingly sophisticated electronic toys, which substitute virtual interactions for the human interactions that are developmentally essential for children.

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine who was a co-author of the AAP statement, said that there is a great deal of overlap between screens and toys now, and “parents are getting all of these messages about how screens and tablets and mobile devices and laptops are the thing that’s going to help their children to learn and become advanced in their development.”

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In fact, he said, there is plenty of evidence that screens can cause problems if they interfere with parents and children playing together, and it’s that playing together that matters most, both while the children are young and as they grow. “Spending some time playing with your child or reading with your child builds the relationship,” he said. “It helps them as things get more complicated in later childhood and adolescence.”

As children get older, of course, they start to demand whatever bells and whistles are on offer. Those vintage Easy-Bake oven ads showed children — well, girls — producing spectacular spreads of layer cakes and cookies from the device, as Mother exclaimed in admiration. It was party time and the oven was the star.

“Parents want to please their children, and children have very strong wishes, some a result of messaging,” Mendelsohn said.

“I would recommend that parents strike a balance between trying to find toys that would make their child happy, but at the same time find toys that are going to be positive for the child” and might lead to parents and children spending time together.

When I was seduced by the Easy-Bake oven commercials, my mother said, of course, that any time I wanted to bake cookies, the family oven was at my disposal.

My parents said, of course, that the things I baked would not look like the pictures on TV. My father said, of course, that they were only trying to sell me something.

None of this mattered to me. I knew what it would take to change my life and get the party started, and it was the only thing I wanted, and ultimately, inevitably, when my 8th or 9th birthday came around, my parents bought me the Easy-Bake oven.

You mixed a little packet of cake mix and poured it into a little tin pan and then you waited for the “cake” — which was the size of a large cookie — to bake over a light bulb.

It took a while, as I recall, and when it was done … well, you know the story. You know the moral. My mother tried hard to simulate pleased surprise when the cakelets were displayed, but the oven was soon abandoned.

I know that someone is reading this with profoundly fond nostalgia, remembering the joy of baking with her own plastic oven, recalling happy doll parties and extravagant midnight feasts.

One person’s ill-advised toy is another’s golden childhood memory.

Sometimes the memories are preceded by the toy crushes and cravings that put certain toys at the top of children’s wish lists.

Yes, some of it is marketing, but even there, children respond idiosyncratically.

I wasn’t a particularly domestic child, heaven knows, and I never begged for anything else that could remotely have been considered a homemaking or cooking toy.

One of the universals of play has always been imitation and approximation. The imitation baking that was depicted on the TV ads was so attractive that it trumped the real thing: I wanted the pretend oven, even though the real one was on offer. But in fact I would have had more fun doing real cooking — under parental supervision — or serving elaborate imaginary feasts to imaginary royal visitors, or to dolls or stuffed animals.

“Imaginative play is where the magic happens,” Healey said.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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