"Book Review: Piggyback Rides and
Slippery Slides by Lynnae Allred "
Janille Shumway Stearmer
SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Summer 2009)
The opening quote, and I would say the overriding theme for this book, is by Urie Bronfenbrenner: “In order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last and always.” 
I think my favorite part of the whole quote is the “irrational emotional relationship” part. Isn’t that really the whole truth about what familial love, or parental love, should be? There is nothing rational about the emotions in families – they run the gamut of extremes and provide the basis and measure for the emotional foundation of every family member. I want someone to be crazy about me – doesn’t everyone? Doesn’t every child deserve such emotional devotion? Lynnae Allred presents a very strong argument that one of the most important things we as adults can do for children is to play with them, that in this manner we will help them develop all the most important life skills: social awareness, academic intelligence, appropriate behavior, empathy for others, physical development, and caring family relationships.
Allred’s book, whose subtitle is "How to Have Fun Raising First-Rate Children," is organized in a simple and straightforward manner – she outlines methods of play at bedtime, the outdoors, meal times, and in conjunction with work; she also makes a scientific case for the importance of play in general, and specifically for imaginative play, playing at home, with fathers, with teenagers, and grandparents. Such a book may seem unnecessary at first glance – really, who needs advice on how to have fun? But truly, given the over-scheduling of most adults and children these days, not to mention competing interests, crowded living spaces, and safety concerns, simply playing, with no ulterior motive, seems to be at the bottom of the barrel when deciding how to make use of our time. We want every moment to be constructive, to have purpose and meaning and tangible results. In her opening chapter, Allred states that “we are a generation of busy adults with busy children, yet in our effort to provide our children with experiences, education, and social skills, we have inadvertently eliminated the most powerful resource we have for helping our children develop into well-adjusted, responsible adults. We have eliminated ourselves.” 
It is notable that Allred’s main objective is to encourage parents, or other involved adults, to actively participate in play with children. Often times it seems that parents simply want to have activities that will occupy the children –in other words, keep them out of our hair so we can get things done. According to Allred, and supported by research cited in her book, adults must participate in play with children. Of course it is important for kids to have personal time to play on their own – but when an adult engages in play with a child, under the child’s terms, wonderful things are accomplished, memories are created, and families are strengthened.
My favorite chapter is chapter 4, titled “Playing with Your Food.” It immediately brought to mind the many times, last night in fact, where I told the kids to stop playing with their food. Was I wrong? You might be inclined to protest that dinner time is the time to teach manners and dining etiquette – because of course we don’t want people to wonder if our children were raised in a barnyard with all the animals anytime we take them out to a social function. No one will argue that etiquette is certainly an important subject to teach. Allred states, however, that “if we only see the dinner table as the location for re-fueling our stomachs and teaching table manners, we’ve missed half the attraction of the dinner table. Is it time to reinvent the dinner hour in your home? Can you make it a place where hearts and minds are nourished as well?” 
Research has shown that family meal time is an important part to maintaining a successful family unit and Allred provides suggestions for families to make mealtimes a priority again. To overcome scheduling conflicts for parents and children she suggests meals be pre-planned and ingredients purchased ahead of time so meal preparation involves a minimum of time. She also suggests some flexibility in expectations – is it easier to get everyone together for breakfast instead of dinner? Can mom, dad, and older kids take turns preparing meals if work and school schedules are demanding? The important thing is to have a meal together every day, not what the meal actually is or what is served.
Allred also suggests games that encourage conversation at the table or to just make the meal a more novel and fun experience. One example she provided reminded me of a dinner when I was a child – the menu was potluck Italian and the hostess provided a table and chairs, but no table wear. The table itself was covered with thick plastic (as, I assume, was the floor) and each dinner guest was served spaghetti, salad, and dessert – and a pair of plastic gloves. Certainly this type of meal is a major departure from teaching proper etiquette (although I’m sure “please” and “thank you” still applied) but doesn’t it sound like fun?
“Turning Work into Play” is the focus of Chapter 5 and provided me with several insights. We want our children to grow up productive members of society. We want them to learn to appreciate the value of hard work, earning money, and providing service. There is also a fine balance between making work, any kind of work, a drudgery rather than an opportunity for engaging in challenging activities that make us happy. Allred points out that young children really have the best clue about how work can be fun. Can you remember tasks that seemed like the funnest thing in the world to do and you wished you were allowed to do them? Picking strawberries from the garden, cleaning the windshield with a squeegee, dusting the bookshelves, cleaning out the dryer vent or raking up the leaves seemed to be the very best jobs to have in the world as a child. She states: “One of the first rules for turning work into play is to relax about the outcome and enjoy the journey more . . .[and] be more willing to learn from our children, who can show us that work can be accomplished almost as efficiently but with a lot less negative mental exertion if you are willing to exercise your imagination.” 
I suppose what I like best about this book is that Allred writes a great deal about her own family memories and experiences involving play and the process of reading her memories invoked some of my own, prodding me to create similar experiences with my own children. She also includes a small section at the end of each chapter for the reader to jot down just one fun idea to implement in their own family. This is a useful tool for busy families – implementing one change at a time to include more play in our lives increases our chances of actually successfully accomplishing our goal.
Lest you think that the book offers only the rosiest ideal of smiling families holding hands and playing together without any conflict, sacrifice, or discord, Allred is actually very matter of fact about the realities of family life. Of course every day is not going to be filled with super fun activities that will bring lasting joyful memories for generations to come – but conscious planning and implementation of even a few new ideas as our children grow can greatly improve the atmosphere in our homes and provide the secure and loving environment we all strive for.
Allred certainly isn’t imparting new or earth shattering ideas – we humans have been engaging in various types of fun and play for generations – her literary strength is invoking the reader’s own sweet, humorous, thrilling, or tender memories of playing with our families when we were little, and motivating us to go out and make memories of our own.
 Allred, Lynnae W. (2007), Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides: How to Have Fun Raising First-Rate Children, Springville: Cedar Fort, Inc., p. 1. [Back to manuscript]
 Ibid, p. 3. [Back to manuscript]
 Ibid, p. 22. [Back to manuscript]
 Ibid, p. 43. [Back to manuscript]
Full Citation for This Article: Stearmer, Janille Shumway (2009) "Book Review: Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides by Lynnae Allred," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmerPiggyback.html, accessed [give access date].
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