I like air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, and TV and my couch all of the time. And I like it sometimes when I can enjoy all of these things and have my kid occupied and happy with the TV, or with his toy keyboard or train track. I even let him ride his tricycle in the house, so he can get activity, and also where I can watch him and stay in the house. With my air conditioning, my TV, and my couch. I am well aware, though, that this isn’t always a good thing, because we aren’t doing things TOGETHER, and some of the best memories that I have had with my son, and shoot, that I have had period, happened outside, be it at the playground, or playing in our backyard in the sand table, or as in my running days, putting feet to pavement and seeing what it do in nature. When my son asks to play outside, which is often, I know that I should be doing more to make that happen for both of us.
So, I have this friend from Facebook, Marni Penning Coleman, who has actually become a friend although we have never met as far as I know. We DO know a bunch of the same people, and have one very good friend in common, and got to know each other in this Facebook group for parents in our area who are part of the local theatre scene. Last summer, Marni asked people if they would be in a test group to read, with their kid, this book that her sister had written, and that Marni illustrated. Add free things and a cool way to do stuff with my kid to the list of things that I like: I said yes. It turns out that the book was the second in a series of interactive books written by, Marni’s sister, Rebecca P. Cohen, called PJ’s Backyard Adventures, about a little boy named PJ who discovers amazing things when he plays outside. The book we read, Play at a Paris Playground, follows PJ as he takes his imagination global. Both books are bunches of crazy crazy fun: You can read the story about the things that PJ finds as he explores, PLUS you can color the pages, PLUS there is a cut-out of PJ that you can play with. Here’s us playing with it (note that our test copy was a printout. The actual book is a paperback. All awesome) …
Cool, huh? But wait! There’s more! It ALSO turns out that the PJ series is just a part of a whole movement that Rebecca has started called Be Outside and Grow, that encourages folks to get out of their homes and into nature. Again, I need more of this in my life. I got to talk to Rebecca about how getting out is a good thing. And here is some of that conversation…
How did the whole Be Outside and Grow idea start?
Be Outside and Grow is the belief that time outside is good for us. A few years ago, I realized I wasn’t living every day the way I wanted; I was always rushing to spend time inside
. Time outside was limited to weekends and rare vacations. As I began to spend more time outside with my children, my family grew closer, we had more fun, and I learned more about myself. Being outside with my kids reduced my stress and allowed me to engage in their sense of curiosity and wonder. I wanted to help more families experience the benefits of fitting in outdoor play into every day. My first book, 15 Minutes Outside
is about that journey to get outside with my kids every day and includes low to no-cost ideas for every day of the year. The book is a helpful resource for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers. With my new children’s book series, PJ’s Backyard Adventures,
I want to continue to encourage outdoor play in children at a time they are also learning to read. The main character, PJ, is the essence of every child: curious and full of wonder. Children really relate to him, especially in that he loves to wear his pajamas, boots, and fireman’s hat! It’s the type of engaging early reader series I wish I had for my children.
Why can you connect with your kids more outside than you can by staying in the house?
Something magical happens without four walls around you. Each person literally has more space to be themselves. Inside, my two children would bicker constantly. Outside, they were best of friends. Studies have shown that unstructured outdoor playtime reduces aggression and improves cooperation. Everyone has fifteen minutes to step outside – its doable – usually the fun can last an hour or more depending on your schedule or result in child-led creative play where you can sneak off to tackle the next item on your to do list feeling reinvigorated and grateful for having created a precious moment together.
Did the PJ books grow out of the Be Outside and Grow movement, or vice-versa?
PJ’s Backyard Adventures
is my version of 15 Minutes Outside
for kids, and connects children around the world through outdoor play. Children naturally engage in imaginative outdoor play, but there are many activities competing for their attention. Having needed an early reader series that would engage my family – not just picture books that my children couldn’t read or sight word books that felt like a chore – I created what I thought would have excited my children to read a book. Children can relate to PJ, who uses his imagination in his backyard to travel the world. In each book, PJ travels to a real place outside that kids and parents would love. The latest PJ’s Backyard Adventures
: Play at a Paris Playground
, is about the playground in The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. There are eight ways that children can engage with each book, from coloring to finding a hidden Dolch sight word on every page. I’ve read the books to over 500 children ages 2-8 in North America, Europe, and China, and the excitement with PJ is the same. Every type of learner finds something in the book that holds their interest and prompts further curiosity and play, from the seven continents to decorating their own pj’s, hat, and boots and cutting out PJ from the back to take with them on their own outdoor adventures.
Did you know from the beginning that you wanted your sister to do the illustrations?
I had the idea for PJ’s Backyard Adventures for several years before I persisted in finding a publisher and an illustrator. I had a goal to publish the series by the time my nephews were old enough to read it, and time was running out! In my head, I knew exactly what PJ looked like, and I asked my sister Marni Penning Coleman if she would bring PJ to life. A talented actress and graphic designer by trade, Marni drew an entire Winnie the Pooh mural the night before her son’s first birthday. She always liked to draw, but thought her drawings were too “cartoony” – which ended up being perfect for children’s illustrations.
Aren’t sisters the best? (I write with mine so this one is rhetorical. HA!)
With whom else can you have insanely productive one-hour weekly video Skype meetings in your pajamas? And when family life takes over, no one understands better than sisters. I’m enormously impressed with Marni’s ability to illustrate books with a toddler hanging on her most of the time!
What cool stories have you heard from your readers about their adventures?
Most of the coolest stories are about discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary just beyond our doorstep or noticing the nature around us at any moment. Positive reviews and kind personal notes keeps me going. A mom recently wrote to me that she didn’t realize how much time her children really wanted to spend time with her, and they would ask her for fifteen minutes outside together every day. Kids meet PJ and they immediately want to cut him out and take him outside. He is a playmate who understands them in every way. I have wanted every child to find something in PJ’s Backyard Adventures that excites them, and I am in awe of seeing this dream come true.