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

Archive for October, 2012

Children’s play is not about you

A message to adult readers: children’s play is not about you. Really. Children’s play is their play. Playworkers are unique amongst adults who work with children: true playworkers are focused on play — not on educational outcomes (as teachers will be), on preparation or foundation for future years (as early years workers will be), on law and order and fitting in with rules and regulations (as, say, police community support officers will be). Playworkers work with the child’s agenda, not with the adult’s agenda.

There are so many adults, for one reason or another, who can’t or won’t get this though. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told that children ‘have to respect the rules, because I have to’; that children ‘should conform to society, because we all have to’; that children should ‘play the way I want them to, because I don’t like noise or mess or anything I think is too risky for them.’ Adults — it’s not about you.

So, I reply to them with a question: Why can’t children choose to do what they want to do? There’s usually a direct and quick response, along the lines of, ‘Well, then there’d be anarchy, wouldn’t there? We can’t have that.’ This shows me two things: (i) that the adult in question doesn’t understand what ‘anarchy’ is really about (but that’s another story); (ii) the adult in question is a product of the system that this country, the UK, is unfortunately churning out, i.e. you must conform to the way things are.

So, children’s self-expressions, making noise, making mess, rough and tumbling, engaging in risky play, etc, are becoming more and more frowned upon: regarded as ‘abnormal’, ‘anti-social’, ‘undesirable’ because these behaviours don’t fit with the dominant adult desire to have things their own way — the adult need to control. Why do adults control? Perhaps adults feel controlled themselves, powerless themselves, and need to control and have power over others to balance things up.

Children, and by extension their play, are easy targets. However, children’s play should not be treated with such contempt. I imagine a bunch of adults standing around, each with a handful of marbles — one adult grabs the marbles of another and announces, ‘Now, that’s mine.’ I imagine a bunch of adults standing around, each with a handful of children’s play . . .

Children’s play is not about you. It’s not about what you want. Children’s play belongs to the children.

What do adults want from children’s play? What are the adult agendas? They want children to learn information; to learn how to do things; to learn how to be (or how the adults want them to be) with other people; to run around so they don’t get fat; to not try things out because they think they, the adults, have a better way of doing it; to not slip or fall or hurt themselves in any way. On the face of it, most of these things have a place in care or education environments. This isn’t to suggest that playworkers don’t ‘care’: of course they do. Playworkers care greatly. Perhaps that’s why we get so worked up about these sorts of conversations. Playworkers care about the play of children (and, of course, the children themselves), and play is more important than I can say in just a few lines.

As a playworker, I’ve observed children’s play for many years, and I’ve learnt a great deal. I can only be an absolute authority on my own play though. When I played, as a child, I didn’t go into that play — consciously — in order to learn factual information, or how to make something, or how to share, or how not to be obese, or how to prove that adults were right, or how to carry out personal risk assessments. I might have got a lot of information out of my play as a result of playing, but why did I play? Why did I go into my play?

I played in the woods because they were interesting and dark and wet and close and sunlit and just down the road.

I played on top of the old bungalow because there was an overgrown garden full of somebody else’s eggs and brown sauce and flour, and so I used them to trash the place.

I played on my bike, going round and round the block, just because I wanted to make it to a hundred circuits.

I played by putting snails in empty drinks cans and putting them in the middle of the road, then sitting under the bridge to watch, because I was curious.

I played in the stream by the lake, scooping along in the shallows, because I liked the feel of the water on me and the breeze in my hair.

I played football up against someone else’s house because that was where I found myself when I decided that I needed to play football; because the wall was a good sized wall; because there was a bit of a slope that bounced the ball back at me at unexpected angles.

I played by ‘selling’ comics to other children on my front door step because I had comics and because the hallway made a good shop and because other children were interested in my comics.

I played football with other children because I liked football.

I played by standing at the end of the street with the children from that end, and we talked about our dreams because I was fascinated that other children had had the same dreams as me (or, they said they did!)

I played by sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag because the sleeping bag was slippery and because the stairs made you go fast.

I played on top of the living room table because that was the best way, at the time, to get from one part of the room to another without touching the floor.

I played with my sister and brother by communicating through the central heating grills, each of us in different rooms, because I thought this was a good way to communicate, and because I imagined this to be our own secret way of communicating: a way that the adults couldn’t hear!

I played by standing on the edge of the parapet above the garage, maybe a twenty feet drop to the road, because this was a drop that needed looking down on from the edge . . .

In my play, I wasn’t thinking about conquering my fears, or developing my confidence or self-esteem, about sharing with others, about learning how to pedal or how to kick a ball coming at me at unexpected angles. I wasn’t thinking about my fine or gross motor skills, about my cognitive awareness, or the developmental outcomes of any kind. I wasn’t thinking about the feelings of other people inside the houses around me, or about the feelings of the other children I played with: if they didn’t like me that day, or if they didn’t like what I was doing, they told me; so, I went off and played on my own. That’s life.

My play was my play. It wasn’t the construct of adults: it wasn’t adult-directed, or shaped, or suggested to me. It wasn’t about the adults.

Children’s play, my fellow adults, is not — or should not be — about you. If it is, it isn’t children’s play.


A school, modified play, and the danger of leaves

Whilst talking with a school LSA (learning support assistant) — and also mother — recently, I stopped her in mid-flow and said, ‘Hold on — let me get my dictaphone. This is interesting stuff!’ This is interesting stuff: this rant, this perspective on play from inside the school playground! It reads to me as what can happen when an LSA’s school colleagues over-react. It’s also pleasing for me to see some playwork thinking taking place on the school playground.

This interview is written up as it came out, swearing and all, because there’s nothing like a good ‘give it all you’ve got’ when you’re really worked up about something! I recorded more than is transcribed here, but I stopped typing at a point where, I trust, this LSA’s thinking process is made clear enough. She is, for reasons that will become apparent, made anonymous, and she gives her permission to publish here.
My day, oh dear here we go. Crispy lovely sensory tactile fucking leaves! But do you know what? You know what? You’re not allowed to fucking touch them! I work in a primary school. We’ve got about 140, 150 children in this school. They’ve got one concrete playground, and one quiet area. Quiet, outdoor area, where it’s a nice soft playground texture environment, where — in theory — you should be able to hurtle at each other and land safely, but no, they’ve named it the fucking quiet area . . .

Do I put ‘fucking’ all over the place?

Yes, you can fuck away because I’m really fucking annoyed. The fucking quiet area, where, if you’re deemed to be noisy, aggressive, energetic, happy — you have to get out of said quiet area and hurtle around the concrete area.

Today I was unfortunate to sit in on a staff meeting where we air our concerns, and one of the concerns was ‘playground time’. Hmm.

Playground time?

Playground time. Now the staff have brought it up that, actually, they deemed the leaves to be ‘dangerous’, and ‘what are we going to do about the leaves at play time?’ So I listened for a while, and the ideas were being bandied around that, actually, the children, how dare they, were touching the leaves. Touching, I say! [Laughs] How dare they touch the leaves. So I listened for a bit longer. The main crux of the problem seems to be that the children have discovered that this wonderful environment of wind has now given them an opportunity to play, and these adults who are supposed to be caring for them are coming along saying: ‘Don’t touch the leaves; how dare you play with them.’

All the 150 children have is a bag of balls between them, maybe five or six balls. Probably about twenty children, usually the older boys, charge around the majority of the concrete playground playing football. The other children then have to walk round the edges or play ‘quiet games’; they’re not allowed to have toys from home, because they might get damaged; they’re allowed a ball — they can play a game.

What annoys me is the ‘quiet area’ is adjacent to the younger children’s (‘Reception’ age) area — is separated by just a small see-through, lovely pencil fence, which is all colourful and lovely . . . so, when they’re outside in their ‘class time’ (this is Reception children, we’re talking four to four and a half year olds, starting age at the school), they’re allowed to play in the sand pit, encouraged to play in the sand pit, to dig — in lesson time — this is in the normal curriculum part of the day, ‘free play’, this is to build up their experiences of learning to play with things, sharing, working alongside someone, you know, and we stand there with clipboards and say, ‘Yes, little Johnny can play with little Johnnyette; yes he can stack bricks on top of each other’, and we’re observing how much he can do and what boxes we can tick. Outside there’s water to play with, a big tank of water; there’s a big sand pit they can charge around in (if, of course, they’re wearing their welly boots) — Hmm not allowed in without your welly boots. Or bare feet. No, no, no! That could be a risk: there could be something sharp in there. Must wear their welly boots. They have a garden area, like a raised bed; they can dig away, they put their little dinosaurs in, they can plant things, they can dig things, they can make towers out of stones, they can do really, really lovely stuff in mud. They could actually make mud pies, because they could take a bit of water from there . . . they’ve got chalk, they’re allowed to scribble on the floor, they can do all these things . . . in lesson time.

Then the bell goes and it’s, ‘Now, children off you go and play . . . but DO NOT TOUCH THE LEAVES’ [laughs]. They’re not allowed to play with any leaves, they’re not allowed to pick up sticks, they’re not allowed to make rock piles, they’re not allowed to do anything. They have an area, which is a lovely soft surface, which would absorb bumps and scrapes if they knocked into each other, but they’re not allowed to run in this area because it is the ‘quiet area’! They’re encouraged to charge around the concrete hard surface, the bigger surface. In theory, there’s more space for them to run around, and 150 children do not want to be quiet in the quiet area — you might get two or three wanting to just sit and chill, which is fine, that’s where they sit. So you could have a couple of children following ‘the rules’ and being quiet, whereas the majority of the school, anything up to 140 children, are charging around the concrete area because they don’t want to sit and be quiet . . .

Today I had a meeting and it was brought up, ‘What are we going to do about these leaves?’ And after a while I said, ‘What do you mean what are we going to do about these leaves?’ There was my head teacher, the SENCO (special educational needs co-ordinator), the lunchtime supervisor, which I am on a Friday, but not the rest of the week, and the other LSAs, the other teaching assistants. It was brought up that ‘What are the children going to do? These leaves are becoming bothersome!’ I don’t understand the problem. It was mentioned that the children were building them up into towers [in the ‘quiet area’] and then, dare I say it, running into said tower, knocking leaves flying!

Now, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen an accident regarding a flying leaf! [Laughs]. I can understand it if these leaves were piled up on top of rocks, or wood chips, or anything that’s slightly harder than a leaf . . . but there was nothing there. So, these children are now told, ‘Actually, you’re not allowed to stack and kick; you’re not allowed to make piles.’ I actually observed the other day that this child had made a lovely little design out of leaves, just sat there quite quietly, quite ‘nicely’, and made a little picture out of leaves, and for some reason that wasn’t frowned upon! But it’s not encouraged either — no-one came along and said it was wonderful and beautiful, apart from myself: I seem to be in the minority. So all these children want to do is play with leaves.

Incidentally, today the only incident that happened at dinner time . . . I allowed, I turned a blind eye, I didn’t stop them from playing with leaves – so all these children, on my watch, were hurtling around throwing leaves, kicking leaves, rolling in leaves, scrunching leaves in their fingers, making patterns, lining them up on top of the wooden bench area and selling them to each other; I saw a little shop go on, a little leaf shop . . . the only incident that happened, when I was distracted by allowing the leaf play, was that these two lads had a ‘domestic’ over whose game of football it was, they got into a bit of argy-bargy and then accidental heads started to occur! And it was accidental. Nevertheless, a mass nose-bleed occurred for the next ten minutes, where I was then taken off and had to do a bit of ‘paramedic work’ with the child. When I came back out, lots of glum children mooching around . . . I was literally out for the last minutes of ‘play’ [time] and found that the supervisor of the day had decided, indeed, that leaves were too dangerous to play with, and we must stop immediately playing with these leaves, and we must come away from these wet dangerous leaves!

At the moment, the head teacher is helping out in the playground. So, when he came out today, I was, like, ‘What’s going on here? Why’s everyone out of the quiet area?’ And his response was, interestingly, ‘They were playing with the leaves, and it was getting dangerous.’ The adults had removed the children from the quiet area, and the leaves, because it was becoming dangerous.

So, annoyingly, this quiet area is literally the other side of the fence to where the Reception children are — these four year olds who, for two hours in the morning, are allowed to dig and play and muck around with everything, and when the whistle blows for ‘play time’, they have to go the other side of the fence and not touch anything!

So also, at the meeting, I was told, ‘Of course, you have a kit.’ A kit. Remind me of my kit. Go back a couple of years, where we had an inset day, where we had to make ‘games’, an activity kit — namely: these are the rules of a parachute game; these are the rules of Bulldog; these are the rules of various other playground games that children have developed over the years, but we specifically had to write down the rules, take a picture of them, laminate it. It then became a little pack.

And I’m, like, I don’t understand that concept because it’s not about me wanting . . . they get that in PE. That’s what PE’s for, isn’t it? That’s encouraging team playing, and games of that . . . if a parachute’s available, which incidentally it’s not because it’s not play time equipment, therefore this pack’s a bit of an oddity in itself . . .

So, you’ve got a kit . . .?

We’ve got a kit. With laminates . . .

To show you how to play games, but you can’t have the stuff . . .?

No, the stuff is in the shed . . .

Which the children can’t have for themselves because it needs to be supervised by someone?

Exactly. And if we said, ‘Oh, we’ll get the parachute out’, do you know what, we can’t because we have to put it in the quiet area and then there’s leaves on the floor and they’re dangerous! So, we’ve got this ‘kit’, to encourage play, and OK, let’s assume that there’s no leaves, no dangerous great big spiky leaves on the floor, or anything anyone’s going to injure themselves on, and the adult — namely me — gets the parachute out . . . that wouldn’t be enough for the school. The school wants me to encourage a game within this: that they must put the ball in, they must tip it, they must . . .

What’s the reason for that?

Because ‘that’s what they need to know’; they need to know games, so they’ve got an idea of play!

Why do they need to know games?

Because the school can’t perceive that the children have a notion of making their own bloody game up! The school think the children are incapable of having an idea of what they want to play.

When you say ‘the school’, is this the head teacher, the whole teaching staff, the TAs, the governors, the parents, or all of the above?

I think they’re not brave enough to let the children make the decision that they can play for themselves, and the head is ultimately responsible for the school, and he’s actively encouraging us, the adults, to supervise play activities . . . yeh, I’m quite happy to watch these dangerous leaves being flicked around, and I can monitor the sharp edges, and suchlike, but I’m damn well not going to get a parachute out and tell the children that, during the thirty minutes of their play time, I’m going to tell them what game they’re going to play. Yeh, if they sat wrapping each other up and choking each other, it’s probably not a good idea because it’s my head on the block . . . but, if they want to go ‘This parachute will make a really good boat,’ and sit on it — cool! Let’s go for it. If they want to change the bloody game, let them change the bloody game!

You need to be a playworker!

I’m just, so, getting itchy about being there and doing this . . . those children, during the course of the day — because we’re the same dinner staff as we are academic staff — so, we’re going ‘You must sit down and do your maths, you must do your English, you’re going to follow my direction . . .’ and at play time, they’re like little robots because they come out and they think, ‘Oh, we’re not allowed to do that because she’s watching; oh, we’re not allowed to do that because they’re watching us . . .’ And they’re, like, they expect you to say ‘no’. They hear ‘no’ all the time, they’re just expecting it. So, you know, I just want to turn it on its head; I just want to find . . .

Friday, I’m the supervisor, I’m in charge . . . take the power to my head! I’ve got loads of, like, dressing up . . . the only thing I can think of taking in which isn’t going to get me into too much trouble, and to break it to the head teacher gently that there are opportunities out there . . . I’m going to take all my dressing up clothes in a big old bag, and put the bag in the ‘quiet area’, and just leave it. And see what happens.

And what do you think will happen?

I would predict, and hope, that it will be explored, and used, in some way. And I wouldn’t tell them how to use it [the clothes]. The only things I would be slightly concerned about, which perhaps I wouldn’t even include, would be the ropes to tie up the gowns. I might leave them out, just . . . not because I’ve got a problem with it, but if something goes wrong at that moment, I will never get this back into the school again. Let’s just . . . And I wouldn’t put swords and guns in, because I don’t hold with that, and I don’t think a Christian school would either. But I’ve got plenty of dressing up kit, and they can charge around and I don’t care if they get mucky — they can go in the washing machine, can’t they?! They’re fabric. You know, they wash. And I am quite happy to take that on and do that myself, and I’m bloody well going to do it.

And then, once they see children playing, like children should — not little fucking robots — then, maybe . . . we can move on from there!

This playworker’s work (or, for better SEO spreading of the word, what is playwork?)

It’s becoming clear to me that this is a period of great change. When we meet new people, we often ask (as a means of fixing one another with some reference point, some template to colour in), what do you do? The best answer I’ve come across (and I forget the source) is, I do the best I can. Telling people you’re a playworker, I find, often results in puzzled looks, or replies like, ‘So, you teach children?’ or maybe, ‘So, you teach children how to play?’ or anything along the lines of keeping children in line or out of ‘mischief’.

More and more these days, I’m realising that interaction in- and for the play world is my ‘vocation’ (something that inspires me); my ‘work’, however, is in advocating (call it ‘preaching’, if you will) for play. Playwork Principle 4 (for those readers not of the playwork world) highlights the need to advocate for play. There has been some debate, in that playwork world, as to whether this advocation is indeed for play or for playwork, i.e. playworkers justifying why they’re needed in order to get paid. My ‘work’, I’m finding, is not paid.

I talk with the man in the pub, family, work colleagues of family, the man or the woman I meet in the street, the mechanic, fellow writers, neighbours, friends, etc, about how play is play because it’s play. I talk about how agendas for early education, informal teaching in parenting, outdoor learning and opportunities for understanding about the world are all understood and appreciated in their own contexts; however, what about play for its own sake?

A Moroccan contact recently sent me links to video clips made by a children’s TV channel out there. The clips, Youssef tells me, show traditional Moroccan play as a reaction to the perception of lots of computer play (so, much the same debate as we have here in the UK). I’m ignoring the adult education agenda here though because I wanted to highlight the second half of the second clip, which shows a group of children skipping. Watching this I was thinking that, when children skip, they skip just to skip. They practise how to skip just in order to be able to skip. They don’t go into their skipping thinking about the social skills they might learn, or about their gross motor skills and muscle development, or how this practising will help them later in life. No, they practise skipping in order just to skip. They play for the sake of play.

I find I do this advocating (or teaching, or preaching, call it what you will) sometimes despite my better judgement. I recently enquired about a playworker role I saw advertised. They were asking for a Level 3 qualified (so, experienced) playworker (or, as they wrote, ‘play worker’, which bugs me because that small gap between the words has always, somehow, suggested to me that ‘playworker’ is not what they understand or want). The advert suggested that a person with QTS (qualified teacher status) would also be good. After several communications in my line of enquiry, I was told that I was considered to be ‘over qualified’.

What does this mean? Can a doctor be over qualified to diagnose patients? Can a lawyer be over qualified to practice law? Can a teacher, a nurse, a carpenter, a social worker be over qualified? What this phrase means, I suspect, is more along the lines of, ‘We’ve seen your type before, and we don’t want you to rock the boat.’ In the greater scheme of things, being turned down doesn’t matter; it was a line of enquiry: though I am saddened by the implication I pick up — employers want people to work with children in their play environments in ways that might work better for those adults than for the children. I wrote to those concerned, courteously enough and without, I hope, arrogance — though it may well be perceived that way — and I passed on links as to what a Level 3 playworker is and does. I’ve not received a reply.

I’ve long been dispirited by the soft policing of children’s play. It’s something that I see taking place in many settings and out in public too. Perhaps it has a lot to do with my own childhood: we can only truly work from starting points of things we’ve experienced ourselves. My play was my play. I played with others and I played on my own. I played out and about, and I played indoors. I fell off things. I hurt myself. I worked things out. I was lucky. I try to think, sometimes, what I would have felt if adults were controlling my play, telling me not to play now, or here, or stop playing, or play like this, or do it like this so that you can learn this or that, or share, or say sorry, or sit quietly, or don’t shout, or walk don’t run, or just no.

Play is what it is. Play is what it needs to be. Playwork has a history: it’s not just some made-up new-fangled thing. It has experienced people at its heart: people who had, and still have, a vision for something beautiful to have the space to take place. If playwork is the noble cause of doing what needs to be done so that children can have the opportunity to play (in the ‘compensatory spaces’ of play settings, e.g. when children can’t play, for whatever reason, in ways and places that I’ve described in my own childhood above), there is still so much to do. Adults, in the UK and perhaps in the US too, generally speaking, find ‘play for play’s sake’ such a difficult concept.

There is still, also, so much to do out and about, ‘out there’: in the pub, on the street, at large. We don’t get paid for this work, but this is the work that, perhaps, needs doing. This is not a way of saying those who are playworkers are better than others. No. We can all learn from one another: parents, teachers, early years workers, all of us, can be positive lights in a child’s life. The work, for this playworker, just keeps happening because he just can’t keep his mouth shut!

So, the message is played two ways:

For the playworkers reading here, I’m preaching to the converted but keep on keeping on at others.

For the non-playworkers reading here, I’m preaching because it’s my unpaid, necessary ‘work’: play is play because it’s play — it is just what a child must do, and it belongs to them.

On teaching, learning, wisdom

One of the things I would do if I were going to teach a child, I would as quickly as possible get out of any model that I was going to teach this child. That is, by hanging out with this child and saying, ‘OK, now what?’ You see?

Baba Ram Dass (1970), from Doing Your Own Being.
I come back to Baba Ram Dass in my reading. I’ve been thinking this week on teaching and learning, and from several perspectives: there is my own journey of learning (and here I’m not talking about academic learning); there is my role as a teacher, of sorts, of adults; I think of my adult learners; I think of children at play and what they receive from this play.

There is a tension of adult and child in the dynamic of play-based relationships. There is a tension of humility and assertion in the dynamic of adult/adult ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ relationships. I’ve often felt these tensions and have a need to explore, to think as I write.

In his lecture at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, in May 1970, Baba Ram Dass (formerly the psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert) discusses teaching and learning. He adds, regarding his thinking on if he were to teach a child:

‘I am now under the model that the child already knows everything, and my job on myself is to thin the veils that keep me from knowing it all, and to not contribute to increasing the veils that keep him from knowing it all, right?’

This ‘work on the self’, it seems, is critical. It feeds into all aspects of the perspectives and tensions I list above: my own journey of learning (or wisdom); my skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being); the journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them; children at play, and my interactions with them too.

Ram Dass discusses how, in an ideal world, he’d like there to be a programme for ‘teachers to work on themselves.’ He says:

‘I think I would be inclined to surround children with as high a consciousness as I could find . . . I would put [these ‘teachers’] in an environment with these kids where whatever the vehicle [the moment of learning possibility] was, the teacher saw that as merely a vehicle for us to become conscious together . . . I’ll play for the long shot that they [the children] will open to the universe, which is within them.’

When I’m with children, I’m not teaching them as such: playwork isn’t about this. I have heard the argument, however, that there is a necessary dynamic of ‘informal teaching/learning’. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the flow of what the adult knows can’t help but be passed on to the child. However, I’m not necessarily the ‘highest consciousness’ at any given time. I have learnt a great deal from children, and I’m not talking about ‘knowledge’ the way the education system sees it. Ram Dass also concludes:

‘Sometimes [the highest being is] the teacher and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a kid.’

We shouldn’t read ‘highest being’ as something or someone aloof. We should read it in terms of ‘being wise’. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge.

Recently, I read a beautiful comment on another blog post. Laura Grace Weldon writes, in her blog, about the concept of educating too early, which is itself an inspiring read. However, one of the comments to that post also caught my attention:

‘What these high-minded early education experts don’t recognise (or don’t care about since all they want is to feed the education system) is that our civilisation is best served by people who have learned how to love, how to direct themselves, how to enjoy their own company in quiet, how to discover and create and imagine, how to be within the real world not some fake environment where sitting still is more important than anything their bodies and beautiful brains inspire them to do.’

This speaks to me of the acquired wisdom of children, but also of the acquired wisdom of the writer.

So what of my perspectives and tensions on teaching and learning?
My own journey of learning (or wisdom)

If I’m open, here and present, I’m able to see the way others inspire me. When I’m closed it’s because I’m ‘stuck’ in cycles of not understanding the self, of ego, of past and future thoughts. If I’m open I may see high consciousness in any other, irrespective of age. There’s a tension even here in the writing of these thoughts: these are notes for my own work on myself; these are notes that may read as directed at the reader. I write them in order to think them out. I keep the rest to myself. You find your own way.
My skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being)

In his prologue to the transcription of Ram Dass’ lecture, Ernest Scott writes that the former Dr. Alpert began to feel ‘the pretence that those who were teaching, knew’.

If we teach, or try to teach, do we really ‘know’ at all? The tension of humility and assertion is always there. How much more can I help my adult learners, by standing back and being the medium through which their own desire to find something out is played?
The journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them

If I input information directly, will it stay in there as well as if the learner who is ‘ready’ absorbs such things? Reading books is all very well (of course, the playwork literature is important), but ‘information’ is not the same as the experienced feeling of the moment in playwork. It is ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’.

How shall I guide and not pollute that journey any other is on?
Children at play, and my interactions with them too

If I’m privileged to be invited into children’s play, I feel I’m invited in because of who I am, at that time, in that moment. I’m usually not invited in as a teacher, though sometimes children have asked questions because they want information. (‘What’s that?’ Gack said to me recently, as he got in really close to a yellow and black version of the ladybird family crawling over a wooden bench). Mostly, in play interaction with children, I feel I’m in it because I’m not teaching, because I won’t teach, because the children seem to sense this. I feel this because, the moment I slip into a more widely understood adult-child dynamic (a small frustration, or a more assertive request of mine to the child), there’s often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) shift in their demeanour towards me.

If I think it to be a good idea to input some ‘knowledge’, directly, into an interaction of play, I’m often ignored. It’s because the child isn’t ready. They come to learning of their own accord. These are notes to remind myself of constantly.
Things the ‘thinking whilst writing it’ has shown me

Teaching and learning has its tensions, as does work with other adults and with children. It is my learning, my absorption of information, that tells me that play is play because it is play: it is of the moment, and the moment is all. However, much more than this, in words I can’t really write because I don’t know how to, my experience shows me that play is the feeling of now. Play is the wisdom of now. It may not be a feeling or concept I can adequately teach. It may just be a concept that has to play itself through me.

Baba Ram Dass concludes:

‘The whole history of knowledge is as a drop in the bucket compared with wisdom. We’re trying to preserve something and what we’re doing is preserving at the cost of something much, much higher than is what we really want. We would like to train for wisdom, not knowledge. And what we’re training for is knowledge, because we can measure it. But knowledge is not convertible, necessarily, into human happiness or well-being. Wisdom is, because wisdom is learning to live . . . in harmony with the world at the moment it is.’

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