‘Yet how could a man who had seen a rose as a coalescence of pure energy be expected to take his mortgage seriously?’
Ernest Scott (1973), The Start (Introduction to): Doing Your Own Being (Baba Ram Dass, formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert).
Yesterday evening I attended a briefing on the new EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage), which is expected to be delivered in settings from September 1, 2012. The EYFS still affects playworkers. It’s a legal requirement, a statutory framework, which must be implemented in settings that accept younger school age children. I write this text so far in a deliberately dry manner.
Some way through, we (being mostly made up of out of school setting staff) were directed towards page 23 of the statutory framework, as produced by the Department for Education – still dry, yes, but hold on . . .
Page 23, section 3.50 ‘Providers must have and implement a behaviour management policy and procedures. A named practitioner should be responsible for behaviour management in every setting.’
Just about here, the Ernest Scott quote I offer you at the start of this post came rising up in me. (Substitute ‘a rose’ with ‘play’ and read again?) I’d read the quote many years ago, and it’s stuck with me, but I couldn’t remember who wrote it or the exact context. It didn’t matter at the time. I did some digging around today (because an itch needs scratching) and found it buried in the introduction to a 1970 paper, a transcription of a talk, delivered in Topeka, Kansas by Dr. Richard Alpert, also known as Baba Ram Dass – a name given to him by a yoga teacher, presumably whilst on the self-discovery trail, in India. Alpert was one of the pioneers of LSD experimentation, along with Timothy Leary at Harvard.
EYFS to LSD. This post isn’t really about either. This is not a post condoning drug use, nor is it a post about the education of young children in the UK. This is a post about . . . well, let me put it this way:
In the canteen, the children are having lunch and my colleague is controlling things, subtly but too much for my liking. I feel uncomfortable with how she works, a small but significant repression of the children. When she goes on a break, almost straight away, I notice a slight rise in the children’s volume and a looser feel. Indy throws a wet paper towel in the air, slowly, en route to the bin.
Jody comes to club on a Monday for the first time. She seems determined to be ‘on top’. In the hall, she makes sure that her younger friends, Shaun and Riley, can play football as Vincent and the other older boys are buzzing around the space with pedal cars. Vincent gets in the way and Jody’s straight over, so Vincent backs off. He isn’t wary of anyone at club apart from her. Jody looks at me, as if she’s checking: maybe I’d have a go at her? But no. I just shrug. Inside, I’m amused by the dynamics. Jody and I seem to have an understanding that’s not ever been directly said in words.
I had decided to keep out of the space today so that I could observe from a little distance. I wanted to know if my presence was affecting the way the children interacted with each other and the team. I stayed in the kitchen. Whilst I wasn’t directly in the children’s space, I was able to communicate with them through the hatch. What happened wasn’t intended.
As children start bringing their plates up, as per the dictat of the leftover regime, I say thank you to every one of them. Soraya brings her plate up and puts her arms on the worktop and starts talking with me. She says that she likes the food, so I ask her: how much? I put my hands out by a short distance and ask: this much? Then I put them wider apart and say: this much? Then wider again. Soraya says: more, and that she likes the food further than I can put my hands out. She stays there at the hatch and we’re just chatting around. At some point, someone says behind her that she needs to sit down. Soraya turns around and says, sharply: ‘I’m having a conversation!’
Eddy is anxious again. He’s kicking off at the other children and the space is too small for him really. He needs out, I think. I think a lot of things all at once. The quickest route out is through the kitchen. No children in the kitchen. Right. Out the back, in the garden space, he’s red in the face and throwing things around. He pokes around and I really don’t know what will happen next at this point. It’s ‘think on my feet’ time. He’s shown before that he’s strong, and strong-willed. Eddy is poking around near the fire bowl. He finds big lumps of leftover charcoal pieces. I see the big roll of card that’s been sitting outside for a few days, under the eaves. I roll it out. Eddy’s still fretful and pacing, so we start throwing the charcoal down onto the rolled out card. The pieces smash. Eddy likes this. We smash more and he starts laughing. He gets his hands good and black and smears them over my t-shirt. We start more ‘art’ by drawing, or by drawing with the soles of our shoes, scrawling the charcoal along. Eddy’s not angry now. He just needed something, not some blanket ‘do this and this, now.’
Play, dear Ofsted, dear Department for Education, is more than dry words: much, much more. Play is astounding, beautiful, sublime, frightful . . . ineffable. Yet we try to describe. We try to see. We try. Play is not of the ‘Square World’ (thank you, Ernest Scott).
‘At all times, [there are] three separate humanities. The first contains those who live within the five senses and never suspect that further senses exist. The second contains those who suspect ‘something’ but for whom the ‘something’ remains a theory, a myth, an unease in the blood, plausible or implausible but never confirmed. The third contains those who know, not as theory but as experience.’ (Scott)
The ill-considered policy is an un-planed wedge at the base of the door of perception.