I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the lively and playful Grass Stain Guru, Bethe Almeras. Bethe is a passionate advocate of nature and play. She believes that it is essential for both adults and children to reunite with their roots and let their bodies and imaginations run wild.
Kim: So, you are the Grass Stain Guru! What are you goals as such? What influenced you to take on such a wonderful, much needed role?
Bethe: My goal really is to be a public voice for play and especially outdoor, unplugged play. I want to raise awareness and be a change agent for parents, caregivers, educators and communities – and whoever else I can reach!
Ultimately it's about behavior change. How do we get parents to make the decision not over-structure their kids? To kick them out of the house and let them play outdoors with a level of freedom that is lacking in today's childhood? How do we get school districts to reinstate recess and let communities use play spaces during out of school time? How do we get communities to create walking-friendly (play-friendly!) spaces where children and families can engage in play, utilize their parks and trails, and connect again?
Laying that ground work about the importance of outdoor play and making people take notice that it is missing and there are consequences if we don't bring it back. It reaches every sector – public health, education, transportation, life satisfaction, etc. Clearly I could go on and on.
As far as what influenced me to start The Grass Stain Guru, that would be frustration and sadness, mainly. I take a look at childhood today, society today, and I do not like much of what I see. Kids not being allowed to be kids; they are stressed-out, plugged-in almost all the time, over-tested and way over-scheduled. On the flipside, I see what happens to these kids as they grow up. Young adults with insufficient coping skills, with the ability to connect with masses of people online, but lacking the capacity to connect one-on-one or intimately. I see anti-depressants and anxiety medications being prescribed to preschoolers. I see parents being taxi-drivers as they shuttle children from one adult-led program to another, and summer camps hiring concierges to deal with demanding parents who want to coddle their children from afar.
And truly, I could talk about this for ages. Anyway, I decided I had a voice and there was certainly room in the space. I have been working in education and outreach for almost twenty years, so I thought it was time to use my voice and not speak through the lens of one of my employers.
Kim: "I also believe that childhood was meant to be messy. Muddy. Slimy. Silly. And most of all, joyful. Steeped in awe and wonder, childhood should be spent outdoors as much as possible, and should rely on imagination and whimsy as much as it does on rules and regulations." I absolutely adore this and I had to share! Why do you think it's so important for children to grow up with lots of playtime, close to their inner "wild thing"?
Bethe: Look, childhood is a brief period, and we need to let them squeeze every minute out of it that is possible. They have their whole lives to be adults, so we need to stop pushing them to be mini-adults. Children learn through doing – play is how they explore their world, learn how to assess risk, try things out, and get to know themselves. It's also how we can learn about them if we bother to get out of the way and let them do it. My motto is let kids be kids. And the lifeblood of childhood is play.
Kim: If you wanted one message to reach every single adult in the world, what would it be? What about every single child?
Bethe: ONE?! Yikes. I guess for adults it would be not to beat the joy out of life. Don't get so caught up in making money and pursuing goals and doing the "daily grind" that you forget to put life into living.
For kids, well…one is harder. I think if anything it would be fall on your face and don't be afraid to take risks. You can get back up again, I promise. I actually wrote a post I would love to share on this very topic: 10 Wishes for Today's Kids.
Kim: What are three playful achievements or landmarks you've made as the Grass Stain Guru?
Bethe: Hmmm, well I have been all over the country and even to other countries to share my Pro Play Outdoors Platform, so that's one! I have been the ring leader of the #playoutdoors movement for years on Twitter and have made connections and playful friends all over the globe. There are so many voices out there and we are all stronger when we share information and support each other's work. I LOVE the community I am a part of.
And lastly I think that just creating and launching The Grass Stain Guru is a landmark for me. I was able to make a space for my voice and help be part of a movement to restore childhood. After years of working for others (which I still do, of course), having my own voice and having that voice embraced is an amazing feeling.
Kim: On your blog, you've said that "children are born to play." I completely agree, of course! What are some tips you have for parents and children to get back to their playful roots?
Bethe: Here are a few ideas or tips:
UNPLUG. Put down the cell phone, etc.
Get barefoot. Life is just better when you kick your shoes off and let your hair down. It's so freeing.
Lighten up. Give yourself a perspective check – are you overthinking a lot or making life a lot more complicated than it needs to be? And why? As I like to say, Busy is not the new black.
LAUGH MORE AND LAUGH AT YOURSELF. Seriously.
Teach your kids some of the games you used to play as a kid.
Start a family game night! Plan some day trips – get out and explore all the green spaces your community has to offer. Let the kids plan.
Buy less stuff. Focus on fun time together vs. stuff. Even toys! How many are really needed and what kind? I am a big believer that toys should be 90% kid and 10% toy. If the toy does all the work or drives the play vs. the child's imagination, who's having the fun? In my book, simple is always better.
Let yourself be a dork and let your kids see it. Dance. Sing into a hairbrush. Break out a hula hoop and don't be afraid to get muddy, messy, and not look mall-ready.
Kim: You're very much a creative and playful soul, so how about a poem about the wonders of play?
Cool mud between toes,
Skinned knees and elbows.
Play's crowning glories earned.
Today's rocket ship,
tomorrow's castle and slide.
Genius unleashed through cardboard.
Rosy cheeks and grass stains.
Unbridle joy and warmth.
Childhood without spoil or limits.
Running, spinning, laughing.
Inside voices long forgotten.
Mother Nature's satisfied smile.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart