Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children


series: CAREGIVER 101 by Steve Gross


Play is often this thing that doesn't get as much respect as it deserves. And so we sometimes think of play as a certain type of activities. So when we're drawing it's play. When we're running, it's play. When we're tossing a ball, it's play. But when we're doing certain other things, let's say we're doing our chores or putting away our clothes or brushing our teeth or taking a shower, we don't think of those things as play.

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I like to expand play as being anything that a child has, a sense of joy, freedom, connection and engagement. So that we're always kind of playing with kids. Even when kids are getting ready for school as a parent or they're getting up in the morning and brushing their teeth and having breakfast. How do we bring joy, connection, empowerment and playful energy to that. And so I think again with play, any activity for you playmakers out there thinking and saying, how do we make this activity joyful?

How do we make this activity socially connecting so the kids are interacting? How do we make it fun and engaging? And then how do we make it safe and empowering? And so with everything that you do, and I know the purpose of this is not the teach a million games, but you may know a bunch of games, then to look at that game and innovate a little bit, say I like this game, but for this group of kids, how can we make it more fun? How do we make it more connecting? How do we make it more empowering? How do we make it more engaging? And those kinds of things guide and allow us to innovate.

We use a term, we call it "Goodifying". So for kids that might be like, hey, you get a bunch of kindergarten kids and you think they're going to play a soccer game or a football game, depending on what you call the sport.

And they got a ball and goals and there's one ball and they're all running around and you go, I don't know, this isn't as much fun. How can we make it more fun, Hey, what if we added seven balls to the game and now kids are playing football or soccer game with seven balls going at the same time. And what if the adults, we played against the kids. So we brought some of our energy into that game. And what if while we were doing it, you know, we made sure we were really praising the kids and cheering for the kids and what if we didn't even keep score because the kids were getting too stressed out and too competitive about the score. Maybe we decided to not even keep score. Those are little things that you do when you look at an activity and say, how do we make it more "therapeutic"?

And by therapeutic it means, if kids are feeling a sense of joy, if they're feeling a sense of connection, if they feel safe and empowered and if they are engaged in that moment, that activity is therapeutic. Especially when kids are in environments where is not a whole lot of joy. There's not a whole lot of connection, there's not a whole lot of empowerment or engagement. And so I think as playmakers to simplify things in everything that we're doing with kids we're asking, is there joy here? And if not, what can we do to help promote a deeper sense of joy? Is there connection here? Is there a sense of safety and empowerment? And is there a sense of engagement? Those are four critical domains of an Oplasis.


Steve Gross

Steve Gross, M.S.W., is the founder and chief playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to spread the power of optimism to help kids heal. The foundation partners with leading childcare organizations to strengthen theircapacity to build healing,...

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life-changing relationships with the children in their care.

Steve’s teachings have been utilized across the country and throughout the world in response to the social and emotional needs of communities deeply impacted by poverty, violence and illness. Steve helps others discover their own sense of optimism so that they can inspire the people around them to focus on the good and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.


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