The Skill of Play

MA Blogger: Brenda Bernstorf

Play is any activity in which there is room for spontaneous invention and/or change.

Dr. Edward M. Hallowell in The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness

Dr. Hallowell says the opposite of play is not work it is doing what you are told to do. Rote memorization is the opposite of play but thinking up a mnemonic device to remember a series of items can be playful. He also says that play can be governed by rules. He uses the example of playing the piano – he says you follow a score but some people have the ability to play without a score. However, they do abide by theoretical rules of music in chord progressions or our ears would perceive difficulties.  But if you have every played a board game such as Monopoly – there are rules – even if you change the rules – there are still rules that everyone abides by.

When I was very young, one Christmas I received a doll called “Chatty Cathy.” I was fascinated by this doll. You could pull a string and she would talk to you. My brother was also fascinated by this doll – but he wanted to see how it worked. He proceeded to take it apart. She never talked again. I was disappointed. I’m sure my parents were not. The interesting thing is that my brother’s play of discovery was indicative of who he would become because he can fix anything now. He absolutely understands mechanical things.

Dr. Hallowell sees play as a time of learning the skill of play. This skill leads to the creative use of time no matter where you are or what you are doing. Play is closely related to what Csikszentmihalyi called flow. When children play they usually become absorbed into the activity which is an indication of reaching the total focus of flow. Hallowell says the more chances we have to reach flow the happier we are and play is the childhood equivalent of flow. Csikszentmihalyi says that children need to engage in active, mental leisure work in order to learn flow.


For more information see:

Hallowell, E. M. (2002). The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy. Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY.

I’m Thankful…

I’m thankful for extended family and the joy and fun we have had together through the years – even with all of our differences in interests.

I’m thankful for friends – friends that have been part of my life a very long time and friends recently met. You bring freshness and insight to my life.

I’m grateful that you all have been part of my life.

What are you thankful for?

I’m Thankful…

I’m thankful for my children and grandchildren. It has been a wonderful experience to watch my own children grow and change through the years and my grandchildren bring such innocent joy to my life.

I hope for each of you have a joyous Thanksgiving!

I’m Thankful…

I’m thankful for the people I work with – they are honestly terrific! They make work an enjoyable experience. I’m grateful that I have work that I love, where I can use my strengths to help people and the organization. I’m also grateful to have this week off!

What are you thankful for?

I’m Thankful…

I’m thankful for parents who always wanted the best for me but didn’t give me everything I wanted. Instead they taught me about hard work and how to go after my dreams.  Their achievements and accomplishments inspired me and made me want to live a purposeful life.

What are you thankful for?

Quotations to Ponder

“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”
Craig Claiborne

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
 M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating



Nourish the Spirit?

MA Blogger: Brenda Bernstorf

“I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ouselves is a way of honoring our own created-ness and fragility.”

Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

rockwell_wantPreparing food is hard work. When my children were young the first question I was asked when I got home from work was, “What’s for dinner?” It was hard to face that every day! Some days, I planned ahead and could get ingredients in the crockpot before I left for work. Other days it was anyone’s guess. Some days meals were nutritious and filling and other days, just filling. Days when we had evening activities were particularly challenging to provide quick meals.

I think what I love about the quote above is the statement, “feeding people is a way of loving them.” Life happens. Good intentions of optimal nutrition get set aside for expedience at times. Answering the question, “what’s for dinner?” is always a challenge – but having a plan – any plan shows that you care about this basic need.

I have a nephew who loves to eat at my house – at least when I’m cooking. I do little in the way of prepared foods and he grew up on prepared foods. He values the quality difference. However, he never went hungry and his mom always had a plan for dinner.

I love the Norman Rockwell picture here. It displays the joy, excitement…nourishing the spirit…of loved ones around the table.

Adventures in Cooking

MA Blogger: Brenda Bernstorf

I remember the first time I tried to duplicate a recipe. There was a bakery in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that made the best lemon cookies I had ever eaten – and I’m not really a fan of lemon cookies. Occasionally, someone would bring these to work and several of us determined that we would experiment until we could get as close to this recipe as possible.

So one December as I was preparing to begin holiday baking my daughter and I set out to conquer this recipe. We may have made six or eight batches of lemon cookies before we were satisfied. I now have a recipe that comes close to how I remember those cookies.

Several years ago I bought a wok and several cookbooks on Chinese cooking. Primarily I wanted to learn to stir fry. I have pulled both the wok and the cookbooks out periodically to try again. Recently, I found a cookbook with simple stir-fry instructions in steps: choose your protein; choose your vegetables (any combination); choose your sauce and I now have an effective and tastier stir-fry.

The six or eight batches of cookies were good and they were enjoyed but it took practice and tweaking to get the recipe where I wanted it to be.  All of the stir fry dinners I had made in the past were eaten and enjoyed but this new method achieve the results I wanted. Practice and adapting and being willing to work have achieved a better result.

Have a cooking adventure!


Cooking anyone?

MA Blogger: Brenda Bernstorf

Do you cook? Do you know how to cook? I’m not talking about five-star restaurant quality food – I’m talking good home cooking that you can serve your family and friends.

I always felt that I learned the best of southern cooking from my dad’s mother who lived with us and cooked during the week. My teacher mother cooked on the weekends and I learned her northeastern style and more adventurous regional cooking from her. Not everyone had grandmothers and mothers that cooked but the result is that I rarely use prepared food or box mixes.

I enjoyed the Netflix series based upon Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The chapter titles include: Why Cook, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. I’ve also enjoyed books like Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food, and Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. They have all helped me understand why I choose the methods to cook that I choose.

Cooking is a practical life skill. If you are going to cook – why not cook something good? I love that our Montessori toddler teachers engage their students in making muffins and oatmeal and then the children eat these for morning snacks.

Cooking may seem mysterious but truly it is a skill that is developed. Start by following simple recipes and if that fails ask someone to help you learn basic skills. Visit YouTube,, any number of food blogs, and explore the videos offered all over the internet. Bake bread – you will love the smell and taste! Learn to stir-fry! Experiment. Be adventurous!

Cook and teach your children too!