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Taking It Home, Session 10: Joy in Nature: Animal Play

In "World of Wonder," a Tapestry of Faith program

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. — e.e. cummings, 20th-century

IN TODAY'S SESSION... we played! We learned that, through play, animals, including humans, learn new skills, get exercise, relieve stress, and form social bonds. We learned that laughter and joy are very healthy for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Considering our interdependence in the web of life, we added images of playful otters to our World of Wonder mural.

EXPLORE THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Talk about... what makes you laugh heartily and how you feel during and after such laughter. Tell each other your favorite jokes and share funny stories. Pay attention to and discuss the way you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually after laughing together. You may enjoying watching this short (3 minute) BBC video together; it shows animals at play and demonstrates how they learn from it. Discuss whether you believe animals feel joy.

EXTEND THE TOPIC TOGETHER. Try...

A Family Adventure. Visit a zoo, aquarium, farm, or other site that keeps animals. Specifically watch for animals that are playing. Notice with your child how they play. Do they play with each other? Do they use objects as toys? Is it hard to tell the difference between playing and fighting? Do the animals appear to experience happiness? Ask the animal keepers or museum docents about any programs they have in place for animal enrichment, to provide an environment that is stimulating for the animals. Ask how opportunities for play are part of their animal enrichment program.

Ask the people responsible for the animals' daily care whether they think animals experience joy when they are playing.

Family Discovery. Go for nature walks and pause often to observe any living beings you encounter. Look for insects, birds, and mammals. Talk with your child about what you see them doing. Are they gathering food? Creating shelter? Fighting or threatening one another? Playing? Hiding from you? What behaviors do you notice that help you tell the difference? Select an animal that interests your child and research it together in books and online. Find out how this animal plays and how playing is beneficial for it.

A Family Game. Set aside a family games night and have each person select a favorite game for everyone to play—one that usually includes lots of laughter. Do a quick "body check" before and after each game, noticing your pulse and heart rate, any tension in your body, and your mood. Talk about what changed after playing together. If any game isn't fun or is especially competitive, notice how your body changes in that circumstance. Pay special attention to what actions or interactions raise your energy and create joy in your heart and spirit.

A Family Ritual. Try laughter yoga together as a family. Notice what happens in your bodies when you laugh, even when the laughter is fake. Once you are familiar with a few laughter yoga exercises, create a ritual of laughing together. This could be a great start to a day, a way to shift energy or moods, or a way to refocus attention. Videos of laughter yoga can be found here or here.

For more information contact web@uua.org.

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Last updated on Friday, May 17, 2013.

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