plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Reading other people’s blogs helps kickstart the creative and thinking process. Vicky recently posted a photo from her day out: ‘rules of play’. I’ve taken the liberty of copying and pasting that photo here (I trust you’re OK with that, Vicky?!) because it’s a springboard for some thinking.

Thinking about my play in the virtual play frame of Vicky’s blog, I had to add my own:

(i) No playing beyond existential boundaries;
(ii) No sharp poetry in play areas;
(iii) No backflips off speculative ledges;
(iv) No saying no;
(v) Play nicely with the other primates;
(vi) Respect the other children’s atoms;
(vii) Only breathe in the right places, oh and have fun.

Let me put some of those in context. I’ve visited a lot of schools and out of school club settings and there are often ‘rules’ up on the wall somewhere. I’m pretty sure that most of what I’ve seen are not the children’s own rules, and even if they did have something to do with devising them (a) how much of the rule-making process was truly in their control?; (b) how much of the rule-making could be attributed to what the children themselves were saying, rather than being a mouthpiece for what they, the children, thought the teachers, or setting staff, or their parents wanted to hear?; (c) what’s the point of rules anyway?

So, one at a time: do children who are being ‘consulted’ with actually have the free rein to express what they truly would like to see on such a litany as ‘the rules’? That is, how much of what a child says to be a ‘rule’ won’t make the final cut? One child says they really don’t like another child and would like to ignore them at all costs. Will that fit neatly into any given school or setting’s social agenda?

How much of the rule-making is actually the child saying what the adults want to hear? I’ve seen it time and time again, potentially, with ‘rules’, dog-eared and cellotaped to the wall for quite some time, or laminated: No fighting, no swearing, no running, say please and thank you, etc. A small part of me suspects the children are wise to the game and know that something more interesting is waiting for them just as soon as this ‘rule-making activity’ is over.

What is the point of rules? They’re only going to get broken, used as the ‘law of the local land’, that which must be adhered to, or else: contributing to defiance, ‘rule testing’, perceived aggression, ‘disrespect’, or the like. ‘Ah, but we must have rules in society’ is the standard defence. Why don’t we try asking other people, those imposed upon by rules they didn’t invent or subscribe to, what they want? That means ‘really ask, and listen, and do something about it.’ That means making agreements, not imposing on others.

I once visited a school with a large empty playground. At the far end, on one wall, was a list of rules as long as (proverbially and actually) my arm. At around Rule 7, I will always remember, came something along the lines of: Only play in the right places. I have no idea what this means. The children who were there that day paid no visual attention to the sign. They played where they could. What does the sign mean? What are the right places for play? It was all the more confusing, this sign, when looking out across and beyond the playground to a tall chain link fence that separated the school from the local grass and park area. Just on the other side of the fence, literally, some free range children were climbing a tall tree, snubbing their noses up at the children inside the fenced area (the children not being allowed to play on the fixed play equipment in the school playground area). Was the tree a ‘right place’ outside the fence, but if inside that fence would it have become ‘not a right place’? I’m not so naïve as to believe that poor old ‘health and safety’ wasn’t being evoked again, dragged backwards daily through the school halls to the ringing incantation of ‘none shall so much as graze their knees on school property’; however, that really is the problem, isn’t it?

(Being a magpie again: this time lifted from Arthur’s blog).
Other conundrums of my ‘rules’ sign-reading travels:

(i) Play nicely. Really, this confuses me terribly, and always has done. What is the message here? Close synonyms for ‘nice’ are: pleasant, polite, lovely, fine, good. Play pleasantly, politely, lovely, well? Play sedately, idyllically, to a good standard? Anyone?

(ii) Use your indoor voices. I wasn’t aware I had different voices for different places. OK, yes on this occasion I do get the euphemism for ‘whisper’ or ‘talk quietly’ or ‘don’t shout’, but (a) why not just say what you mean, if you really have to? – children aren’t stupid; (b) sometimes shouting is absolutely necessary, as in ‘Yes! I just played really nicely!’

(iii) Respect the toys/furniture. Again, one of those ‘don’t say what you mean’ situations: how about, ‘please try not to break stuff’? (There’s no harm in adults using the ‘p’ word too, by the way). Respect the toys/furniture? Why? They don’t respect me.

(iv) Share the toys with the other children. Why? (my five year old self says). I got it first; he wasn’t anywhere near me when I got it; he didn’t want it when I first got hold of it, now he wants it only because I’ve got it; also, he smells funny, et cetera, et cetera.

Imagine adults having to act in such conditions!

Scene: United Nations.

Peace broker: So, Ambassador of [insert country #1 of your choice], you’re laying claim to this piece of desert/sand pit? Why don’t you just play nicely with the other countries?

Ambassador #1: What?? Anyway, I got there first. I want it. He didn’t want it when I wasn’t in it.

Ambassador #2 of [insert second country of your choice]: Not true. Liar, liar.

Peace broker: Sshh. Please. Use your indoor voices.

Ambassador #1: But it’s really echoey in here. And anyway . . . not fair, not fair. He started it.

Ambassador #2: Did not, but I’m starting this . . .

Peace broker: Please, Ambassador, don’t whack the other Ambassador round the head with that peace treaty. You’ve got to respect the heavy document, you know?

Ambassador #2: Why? It’s just a bunch of pages.

Peace broker: Now, Ambassador. And you, Ambassador. Why don’t you just share the sand pit?

Ambassador #1: Why? I got there first.
Ambassador #2: I got there second.

Peace broker: I’ll knock your bloody heads together.

Ambassador #1: And he smells . . .

[End scene]

Perhaps that’s how it does work! Who knows?


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