Remember the Parachute Game we used to play in gym class? With the huge, brightly colored parachute we would all shake, and someone would get underneath, or on top, or both? After more than 20 years, we saw a parachute again recently – and this time the parachute had dogs on top!
On August 29, 2015, the Planet Dog Foundation (PDF), our non-profit foundation that provides funding to train service and therapy dogs, teamed up with the Life is Good Kids Foundation to train a new cadre of frontline professionals working with children. The LIGKF offers the Playmakers Curriculum, designed to help childcare professionals tap into the power of optimism and joy and build healing, life-changing relationships with children in their care.
NEADS: Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans trains some of their dogs for partnerships with teachers, therapists, and those who perform religious ministry that work with students who have mental or physical disabilities. Classroom dogs provide a way for special education teachers to enhance their bond with the children, and service dogs for therapy are an effective therapeutic partner for physical and occupational therapists looking for a way to motivate children to use their body in ways that capitalize on the dog’s presence for increased engagement.
The Planet Dog Foundation facilitated the connection of these two revolutionary approaches to working with children, by funding Playmakers 101: Foundations of Playmaking for 10 NEADS-trained Service Dog handlers working with at-risk kids. The customized training was designed to cultivate the wisdom, joy and inspiration in the participants, and use their service dogs in new and inspiring ways in their respective facilities. The training emphasized active engagement, joyfulness, social connection, and internal control in an experiential learning setting to help seasoned professional explore new ways to incorporate joy and play in their daily work.
Playmaker trainers used that same sense of play in the day’s curriculum, beginning with that bright and bold parachute. A variety of parachute exercises brought this group of 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings right back to the grammar school gymnasium, leaving us all giggling, and eager to crawl underneath and feel the breeze generated by the waving hands of our colleagues. Accompanied by patient pups enjoying the games, teachers, clergy, nurses, and therapists were reminded that play allows us to let our guard down, joy allows us to overcome fear, and games allow us to see a familiar scenario through new eyes.
And what better advocate for joyful play than a dog? As these pros go back to their respective schools, and hospitals, and group homes, they will apply their newfound skills, infusing their day to day work with play and harnessing the power of their 4-legged partners to unlock the joy in the kids they serve.