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

Archive for November, 2012

Ways of seeing: play types speculations from children’s perspectives (second set)

How else might children describe their play? Key to thinking this way is observation. In my post of November 16, Ways of seeing: play types speculation from children’s perspectives, I explained the IMEE model of reflection (intuition, memory of own childhood, experience of work with children in adulthood, and evidence of the playwork literature). They’re all relevant, but this week I’ve been considering my recent observations of children at play. How might they describe their play?

It should be remembered, and emphasised (for those landing on this page via search engines and looking for the sixteen currently recognised play types according to Bob Hughes) that my speculations aren’t his play types. That is, my thinking is drawn from Hughes’ work, but the speculations below aren’t his work. All being well, let’s move on.
 
Play types from a child’s perspective: further speculations (unfinished)

My recent observations have led me to thinking on playful behaviours which are, initially, roughly linked with children’s creativity. Of course, I couldn’t just think of such creativity: play has a way of tumbling out of such boxes we put it in. Creativity spilled out into further language play and into linguistic and physical play repetition. This set of speculations isn’t listed alphabetically (as the last set were), because there’s a chain of thinking taking place in my observations.
 
Making play

When a child finds a box of shiny paper, card, cardboard tubes, glitter, glue, etc., and if you have the opportunity to ask what they’re doing, you may very well get the answer that they’re ‘making’. It isn’t always specified what they’re making (sometimes the child doesn’t seem to know themselves: not until it all comes together into something that fits whatever they’re thinking as they ‘make’). Adults have a tendency to try to pin down, exactly, whatever is in the process of being made: that is, to label it. ‘Making play’ is, I suggest, all about the ‘product’ (the robot, the alien, the house, etc.), but it’s a fluid process in ending up at that product.
 
Sticking play

By contrast, ‘sticking play’ is all about the process. A child with access to glue sticks, shiny stickers, things to glue onto other things, etc., will quite often just enjoy the moment of the stickiness. I’ve seen stickiness take place just for the sake of stickiness. Sometimes it might turn into ‘making’, but often it’s just the act of rendering ‘something that was dry’ as sticky, or ‘something not stuck-with’ as now stuck-to, that is the desire of the moment.
 
Angry play

This came about by thinking about what can happen at the end of sticking play (and sometimes making play too). I was thinking about the destruction of the materials used (the card, the paper, the glue stick even — relentlessly rubbed down to its raw plastic!) This is another adult agitation: those things cost money, you know! The child only cares what the thing used becomes, or what it feels like to rip or rub away the former useful thing. ‘Destructive’ isn’t a child word though. What is? What word might I, or other children, have used? I came to ‘angry play’. It’s another one of those words (like ‘fighting’) that seems to have different connotations to adults and some children. Angry, in this context, doesn’t mean angry as we adults know it to mean. Angry, here, means ‘with furious intent’; or better still, it means ‘relentless, quick, Godzilla-like!’
 
Silly play

Where do we go from ‘angry’ (relentless)? Recent observations of children at play have highlighted something that I’ve always known: that that power exertion of angry play has a contrast in the non-power play of just falling around. It’s silly play in child-speak (or whatever word is better in any given other local dialect). From adult perspectives, it’s just as pointless as destructive play (which some would say isn’t play at all, because it’s not ‘productive’). Silly play is futile; yet, it’s a different kind of pointlessness and futility. Silly play has a quality, to the child, that adults often find unable to grasp. I don’t know what the point of silly play is (I’ll have to think more on it!), but I know it involves a lot of flopping around.
 
Real play

Children have some curious expressions. I met a friend’s daughter when she was five, a long time ago. Back then we’d have long conversations, myself and this five year old, in which — invariably — I’d be stopped at some point with some phrase along the lines of: ‘Ah, but in real life . . .’ Real life, in this context, related to the very real context of this five year old’s play life. ‘Real play’, I suggest, is removed from silly play because there is a point to the play (although the child may not be able to articulate exactly what this is, or even want to). Real play covers a multitude of possible actions, but whatever is played, it’s very important that it is played.
 
Again play

I found myself thinking about the repetitive play actions of very young children. This is, perhaps, an offshoot of silly play. It is, perhaps, also an offshoot of real play. If the repetition isn’t cycled through, there seems to be a small breakdown in quality for the child (abstract quality in the possibilities of the physical environment, in play objects, in the relationships with other children and other adults, in trust). It might not seem like much, but there’s much more wrapped up in repetitive play than immediately meets the eye.
 
Chasing play

Of course, this form of playing is nothing new to animal behaviourists. I refer, for example, to studies on monkeys at play (chase/flee interactions, which children also undertake). I include it here in my child-word speculations though because this playful behaviour follows on well from silly/real/again play. It’s not the actual game itself I’m referring to (i.e. tag, tig, it, or whatever regional variation of the game you know — they are all, essentially, the same game anyway). In fact, I’m not even writing here about a ‘game with rules’ at all. I’m writing about the verb that is ‘to chase’. Chasing play is in because I’m thinking here about child verbs and not child nouns or adjectives.

My list is paused again. To be continued further at a later date.
 
 

Abuse of thinking

I’m saddened, agitated and annoyed by a mindset that seems to prevail in others. It is the mindset of mob mentality, pitchforks at the ready, fire brands held aloft. Their message is: child abusers are everywhere. Of course, when I write about the ‘mindset of others’, I’m not actually saying that everybody has this mindset; I write it this way, deliberately, because it makes it sound like my message is everybody thinks this way.

How ironic. Unfounded accusation is a vicious beast though. Take the recent accusations of racism levelled at football referee Mark Clattenburg, for example. In the past couple of days it’s been reported that he has no case to answer. The accusation, however, threatened his career.

Child protection is, of course, important: that much is unquestioned; it’s built into the fabric of our society. This morning I watched a BBC TV report that highlighted unacceptable adult care standards; an interviewee stated that, if such standards were delivered to children, there would be something akin to national outrage. Perhaps the interviewee was right. However, whilst agreeing about the importance of child protection, I do have concerns about the disproportionate mindset of some, perhaps many, who indulge in the over-protection of children.

I’m not the first to cite this, and in some ways I’m kind of jumping on the bandwagon here. However, where the message is deemed reasonable, it should be spread along all possible avenues of readership. In his book, No Fear (2007), available as a free pdf download from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Tim Gill writes (p.54):

while the vast majority of child abuse takes place in the family, education programmes for children focus overwhelmingly on the threat from strangers.

He also writes (p.48):

The motivation behind the expansion of child protection is understandable. It is, at least in part, the expression of a natural outrage at the repellent behaviour of repeat abusers. Not only are they determined to gain access to children whom they can then abuse, but they persist even after their actions have become known.

Whilst statistics should always be taken with care, Gill does present a compelling case in No Fear, which amounts to the reasoning, I conclude: contrary to popular belief, not everyone is a potential child abuser. He adds:

Precisely because the crime [in this case, child murder] is so rare, it can be stated with near certainty that there are no more predatory child killers at large today than there were in 1990 or 1975. These statistics categorically refute the dominant media message that dangerous, predatory strangers represent a significant or growing threat to children. (p.49)

The vast majority of adults do not intend to harm children they do not know, so strangers are a largely dependable source of help if things go wrong. Safety messages that warn children never to speak to strangers reinforce the view that it is wrong for adults to initiate social contact with children they don’t know. p.53

Despite this thinking (and if you look around the streets of any village, town or city, on any given day, you’ll see children going about their day absolutely unimpeded by adults), there are still moments of the ill-informed mindset arising. Whilst reading a recent article in The Guardian, If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it, (Nov 19, 2012) by George Monbiot, I scrolled through the comments to discover this:

Reasons for this collapse [of children’s engagement with nature]: [include] parents’ irrational fear of strangers . . . (Monbiot)

To which, someone has replied:

Don’t forget the ever present risk of child abusers, George.

Finally, and this is — in essence — the start point of my thinking, earlier in the week I was agitated when working in the backroom of this blog. WordPress has a good facility that allows writers to see what recent search terms have been used for people landing on their sites. I won’t repeat here a line that I found, but suffice is to say that there are some sick people out there.

Yes, contrary to what I’ve written in the bulk of this blog, there are sick people amongst us. However, let’s get this in proportion: whilst child abuse does happen, whilst predatory adults are out there, the vast majority of us are not so inclined. We do what we can to protect children, though over-protection is counter-productive. No matter whether we have minimal contact with children, if our usual routes take us by children’s places of play, if we have our own children, or work with them in schools, clubs or community groups, or if we write about our work with children, it’s possible that we could — in some ways — be tarred with a certain brush. This needs to stop. Those of this mindset need to be educated. Perhaps, if all else fails, they need hounding out.
 
 

Ways of seeing: play types speculation from children’s perspectives

How might children describe their play? There is, quite often, a jumping off point in writing, and in thinking about writing, and the jumping off point for this post is this: what are the words that adults use to describe the play that they see?

So, we might use words such as: messy, dangerous, nice, beautiful. Some or all of these come loaded with layers (us adults are built up of layers, like onions, that we’ve absorbed from our own societies, the places where we grew up, the people around us, our genders, our learning or the preferred things we’ve retained, etc). So, ‘messy’ might be loaded with negative or positive, artistically inclined or disrespectful; ‘dangerous’ might be irresponsible or exhilarating; ‘nice’ (my own personal pet hate!) might be loaded with appropriate, adult-friendly, or bland and socially conforming; ‘beautiful’ might be loaded with . . . what?

Adults have a particular way of seeing, and we impose this on children — either directly or indirectly. Children might describe some of their play as ‘nice’ because that’s a value-loaded word handed down to them by adults. How might children describe their play in their own words though? Hang on, I need another jumping off point . . .

Bob Hughes’ play types. The playwork readership of this blog will have these play types etched onto their skins like tattoos! For the non-playwork readership, and briefly, Hughes read a lot (let’s make that one clear), and produced A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types (originally in 1996, added to in 2002). Other taxonomies, classifications and lists are available, but Hughes’ play types have become the currently accepted industry standard. That’s not to say that that’s it, job done, no more need be thought on the matter. In fact, Hughes himself writes:

Although we now acknowledge the current existence of sixteen different types of play — there may be more . . .

Hughes (2012, p.96).

Hughes’ sixteen play types, then:

Communication play, creative play, deep play, dramatic play, exploratory play, fantasy play, imaginative play, locomotor play, mastery play, object play, recapitulative play, role play, rough and tumble play, social play, socio-dramatic play, symbolic play.

If you’re interested, you should go look them up: the explanation of each is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice is to say though that the play types taxonomy was ‘produced to enable those who worked with children to call similar playful routines by the same names, to sing from the same hymn sheet, and to be clearer and thus more specific about what they were observing when they watched children playing.’ (Hughes, 2012, p.97).

So, this says to me that the play types are adults’ words for what they saw children doing when they played. Yet, how might children describe their own play? I’m going to ignore Hughes’ given reasonings for devising the taxonomy (i.e. that we adults might all be able to describe play in the same way), and indulge in a thought exercise of looking at play from children’s perspectives.

How can we possibly know what play ‘looks’ and ‘feels’ like to a child, or how it might be described by a child? We can only really know about the play of our own childhoods. We could ask the child, but then the play that’s happening is no longer the play that was happening. So, I come back to Hughes for the next jumping off point: the idea of ‘problem immersion’. That is, briefly and for these purposes here, imagining things from a child’s perspective: if I imagine descriptive words for play, from a child’s perspective, partly based on my own play experiences, I might come close.

My final jumping off point is Hughes’ IMEE method of reflective practice. That is, I shall keep in mind what my Intuition tells me, what my Memories of my own childhood tell me, what my twenty-odd years of Experience of observation of children at play tells me, and what the Evidence of the playwork literature tells me.

My points of reference, my jumping off points, therefore are:

(i) What are the words that adults use to describe the play that they see?

(ii) Hughes’ play types, observed playful routines; adults all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

(iii) Problem immersion and imagining descriptive words for play, from a child’s perspective: based here on my own play experiences.

(iv) My intuition, my childhood memory of play, my experience of observation of children at play, my reading of the evidence of the playwork literature.
 
Play types from a child’s perspective: speculations (unfinished)

Whilst these ‘potentially child described’ play types do, in places, cross over with Hughes’ play types, it’s not my intention to just think of a different word for each of those in his list. There’s also some cross over with what other thinkers and writers have written.

This list is also, unlike Hughes’ taxonomy, not meticulously researched; nor is it methodically and scientifically researched with planned-out observation and experimentation (although there is my ongoing xyz years’ of experience). As such, it is very much speculation.
 
Chilling play

I don’t know how long that word has been around, in this context, but I don’t remember it being used in this way when I was a child. However, this child-word type of play (if indeed it is a child-word) is listed here to highlight the evolution of language. It’s also here because children now don’t seem to do too much ‘relaxing’, ‘just watching’, ‘quiet play’ — they chill instead. (Or maybe I’m out of touch and I don’t even know it!) If I had the word, as a child, I’d probably use it too (or that awful concoction that is ‘chillax’ — though that is an adult opinion and so should be cast out here!)
 
Dangerous play

Two thoughts immediately strike me here: just as Hughes’ work has been constructively criticised in some quarters for its male perspective (he could also only draw directly from his own childhood), so is the possibility here with mine. Also, as previously noted, ‘dangerous’ is a value-laden adult word. However, this is one of those times, I suggest, when an adult value-laden word can get used by children in different ways. So, ‘dangerous’ is right, just as much as ‘bad’ could mean good, etc. I’ll stop whilst I’m ahead on this one though because the point of a child or teenage language, maybe, is that the adults don’t get it, or that the adults get it hopelessly wrong! I have to concede that I’m an adult now.
 
Diss play

Not to be confused with Sturrock and Else’s (1998) dysplay, which is another animal altogether. Diss play, perhaps, refers to the gentle, and not so gentle, art of antagonism. It is an art. It is a communication, as is ‘whatever play’, below, but diss play is played harder. It might also be ‘grief play’ or ‘I gonna knife you, bruv play’, etc., depending on what part of the country you’re in. (There is, I know, at least one other reader here who gets that last reference!) Perhaps ‘diss play’ and ‘whatever play’ come under a joint heading: Bugging play, perhaps, or Yeh, right play.
 
Dizzy play

Caillois (1958) identified ‘vertigo’, but the child’s word is dizzy: spinning around for no other reason than to be dizzy (you know you did this too!), rolly-poly, cartwheels, etc.
 
Fighting play

Adults tend to heap such physical play with value-laden words such as ‘play fighting’ and even ‘rough and tumble play’. They’re the ‘good’ type of fighting. However, I’ve often heard children get excited about the ‘fighting’ they were going to do later. ‘Fighting’ is just fighting. There are other words for ‘real fighting’, perhaps.
 
Freaking out play

Whilst thinking about ‘chilling’, the other context for this word came to me: chilling as in ‘frightening, scary’. Children, en mass, can scare the life out of some adults! Children can scare themselves, and others too, with their play. Sometimes, a critical mass takes shape: a group of children at play can bounce off each other to such an extent that something almost frightening takes shape; something odd and weird and freaky. I certainly had moments of childhood play where I just ‘went bananas’, ‘freaked out’ because I needed to. It was still a form of play (and I’ve definitely seen it happen in children I’ve worked with — a knowing in their eyes that suggests they’re kind of saying, ‘Go on then, work with this!’) It’s still a form of play, but a freaky utterly discomforting kind for the adult.
 
Girls’ play/boys’ play

Perhaps this one needs scrapping before it’s even written because the concept of gender specific play is passed down to children from adults. However, it’s in for now because ‘typical’ girls’ play or boys’ play can be, and is, played by members of both genders. In my childhood, girls didn’t usually play football round my way, though girls now add a whole new dimension to a previously mostly male play experience; also, if I got involved in ‘girls’ play’ (so dolls, or songs, or skipping) when I was a child, though I might still be involved, I still would have known it to be girls’ play.
 
Whatever play

I include this one tentatively, bearing in mind what I wrote about the child or teenage language being something adults are necessarily a step removed from — ‘whatever’ is a word in use that I can only have an educated guess at. However, in this context, I’m thinking: if I were a child now and I wanted to play around with a whole bunch of things at once — including communication, assertion, identity, role, power dynamics, etc. — then saying ‘whatever’ whenever I could irritate someone else would do the trick! Of course, this type of ‘child-described’ play is also subject to local dialect, nuance, level of streetwiseness, etc. (as is, probably, all of these speculations).
 
This list is paused here. It is to be thought on more, to be continued. How do you think children might describe their play?
 
 
References

Caillois, R. (1958), Man, play and games. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press (2001).

Hughes, B. (2012), Evolutionary playwork. Abingdon: Routledge.

Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing – the Colorado paper. IPA/USA: Triennial National Conference.
 
 

Ways of seeing: love

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (1926)
 
 
Inspired by my continuing open dialogue with Arthur (or diablogue, as is my learned colleague’s phrase), I’m thinking first and foremost here about love. Arthur noted that I’d cautiously buried the ‘l’-word deep down in the middle of my previous blog; to which I return with a ‘beat you round the head with love’ approach here and now! It is the love given by the child that I’m offering due thought to.

So that I don’t go over old ground, your reading of my previous blog immediately before this one will help: in reality, children love; love is beautiful, as I believe, and should be accepted.

The space between that last blog and this one is served, in part, by Arthur’s thinking on the ‘theory of mind’. This leads me to think on how we can ‘know’ another by knowing ourselves. That a child can ‘know’ me, or vice versa, when I’ve only just met them has been a source of several years’ worth of trying to understand. Arthur writes, in My eyes are thinking about what is behind your eyes: ways of seeing and theory of mind:

I now realise that ‘the theory behind the gaze’ is what distinguishes this intense seeing from the glance of an unthinking reactive playworker who tidies up my piece of cardboard while it is catching the light.

Children love. Why? My head has been buried in philosophy books, looking around linked and, as yet, unlinked ideas. I surface and hope my words come out in ways that are readable!
 
Love’s aim

According to Professor Owen Flanagan (of Duke University, North Carolina), Franz Brentano (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, 1874) brought back the thinking of Aristotle and Aquinas when he discussed the idea of ‘intentionality’. Our conscious mind must be mindful of something. It has an intention, an object it aims towards. Mental states are aimed towards ‘objects’, which can be anything. Love is a mental state and I think of myself as the object, the intention, of a child’s love. In other words, the child’s mind has to be conscious of something, has to aim at something: I am the object of fascination, deemed worthy (when I am); I am loved.
 
Love as more

Dr Paul Gilbert, University of Hull, writes that ‘Plato viewed love as a desire for beauty, which should transcend the physical and even the personal, culminating in philosophy — the love of wisdom itself’.

In the light of most of this thinking I can view children in such ways. That is, because my mind understands something of a notion of beauty (albeit a personal one), I consider that others can do the same too, especially children. My belief is in tune with love as much more than merely physical and personal. Perhaps others have their own words for similar thoughts. What I can’t know, however, is what those thoughts of the children are: (a) because language isn’t necessarily good enough, in general, for such ideas to pass between two people (even here I’m struggling with words); (b) specifically, between myself and the child, word-language is unformed and perhaps inappropriate (it disrupts the bubble of the moment).

When we analyse (or over-analyse), we risk destroying the very thing that we’re looking at. I type that full stop and realise what I’m currently doing.
 
Archetypes and the mythic realm

If love transcends, or goes beyond, the physical and the personal, what does it amount to? Here I shall recycle some recent comments to Arthur, from memory. Here we’re into the realms of Carl Jung’s archetypes. It is, what I call (and perhaps others have done so too — I must have got it from somewhere) a mythic realm. That is, this is a dimension, a space, a place (but not a solid place) populated by characters we can all associate with: mother figure (not ‘mother’), joker/trickster, shadow figure. The child mind, or the mental state of love, is aimed towards (wants to ‘see’, connect with) these archetypes of this mythic realm. A child, more so than an adult, can more readily see what they might know as (if they had the words) The Wise One, The Knower, Seer, Understander. A child is not yet fully pressed into what the adults call the ‘real world’: the mythic realm is still a living space to the child.

When I am ‘seen’, am I seen because I’m in that mythic realm at that moment?
 
Inalienable love, or giving and receiving

I thought that love was not inalienable (that which cannot be transferred). In other words, I thought that love could be transferred, given out. Of course it can be given, but it doesn’t transfer to another person lock stock and barrel. It’s odd and cheesy to say it (it sounds like a cheesy old song), but the more you give it away the more it grows in you.

Why else might we, and children, give love? Do we give to receive love? Or is it the only true altruism, the only act of selflessness? I’m not so sure there is any such thing as altruism: no matter how noble or kind our act, we might always receive something in return (even if it’s ‘just’ the glow of knowing you have loved).

Perhaps we give love because, deep down, very deep down beyond the words and thoughts we understand, we are scared. We’re scared of aloneness (I use this word deliberately): life as a search for shared connection, connection to the archetypes we all associate with and understand at some level, a kind of ‘cure’ for solipsist thinking (that is, that my mind is the only mind I can truly know as true; therefore I can’t be sure of others; therefore this is my aloneness). Of course, by using the possessive that is ‘my’, this suggests that ‘I’ consider there also to be an ‘other’ or ‘others’ (‘you’, ‘them’), and my aloneness is not real at all. The only other way to think is to use ‘it’ instead of ‘I’: it is not at all certain about love.
 
Love as irrational

When we analyse (or over analyse), we do it in a very rational, logical way. However, much of what we do as humans is irrational — superstition and belief, for example. We are, as are human children, irrational creatures. I shouldn’t differentiate at all here between adults and children: we are all irrational creatures.

Love is irrational. It’s that concept again of how it grows bigger in you the more it gets depleted (given away). When children love, they don’t do so in rational analytical ways (in this model, and so I assume because I don’t know their minds for sure). Children love because you are there, because you have crossed over into the mythic realm (which they can see), because it is just necessary to do so.
 
Love and gravity

Sometimes love just can’t be helped.

Professor Adam Morton, University of Bristol, writes: ‘Your mind is like your weight’. Run with this with me . . . Your mind, that which you are. So, by extension, your mind is like your mass? Your gravity?

Love has a mass.* Its affect can be felt. I think of love as dark matter, holding the universe together, exerting gravity and being affected by the gravity of objects too. Sometimes love just can’t help but aim towards the gravity of others.

*Yes, I am aware that mass and weight are different things!
 
Occam’s razor

Back to Earth. There’s a philosophical principle called Occam’s razor, which suggests — in essence — that the simplest answer is the one to go with. Children love — why?

Love is imbued in us from an early age: a reaction to being loved; the more we receive, perhaps, the more we give back.

I can’t just leave it there though. Occam’s razor might suppose that the fewest amount of assumptions creates the most elegant solution, but I have to add in assumptions because that’s the nature of this enquiry!

Love is imbued in us from an early age: a reaction to being loved; the more we receive, perhaps, the more we give back, until/if we reach a point where society, culture, others’ fears suppress what we give out. Many children love because it is just what they do, in various ways, until they’re imposed upon differently.
 
Beyond Occam’s razor: into the light

In my rummaging in philosophy pages, I found something that I see as quite beautiful. I want to use it as a final idea here, but a pause in the overall and ongoing thinking on love.

Professor Hossein Ziai, University of California, writes about the Islamic Philosophy of Illumination, according to the 12th century Persian thinker Shihāb al-Dīn Yahyā Sohravardī: ‘Objects, depicted as lights, are inherently knowable because they include essential light that may be ‘seen’ by subjects who, recovering their own essential lightness, become self-cognisant and capable of ‘seeing’ the object’s manifest light-essence’.

Adult as light, and seen by the child.
 
* Main reference material: Honderich, T. (Ed) (1995), Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
 
 

Ways of seeing: interpretation (first draft thinking)

The key to a Chattoist [see text below] approach is your eye. This eye is a special eye — it is the eye of a Hockney. It’s a Zen eye, a beginner’s eye: developed by an expert, who has spent years developing it, so that it is almost exactly the same as, and as good as, a child’s eye.

Arthur Battram (private communication — unfinished blog, 2012). Ways of seeing: the craft of management/ways of seeing: the craft of playwork.
 
 
Following on from my recent blogs (whose overall themes can be boiled down to the way that adults might negatively perceive children’s play, or try to control it), I’d like to ask you a question: how do you ‘see’ the children around you?

Do they frustrate you with their energy, please you with what they’ve learnt from you, confuse you with their thinking? Do they make you smile with their random interactions, annoy you with their stubbornness, make you laugh out loud at their peculiarities — though you don’t know why?

In truth, perhaps it could be all of these, and more . . . but wait. Drawing from John Berger’s 1972 book and BBC series on viewing art, Ways of Seeing, some parallels can be derived when thinking about how we adults see children. Berger notes that:

(i) We see first, and then we use words to explain what we see. (So, we add our own words of interpretation onto what we see children doing: the affect on us of their energy, learning, confused thinking, random interactions, stubbornness, peculiarities).

(ii) What we know or believe affects the way we see things. (So, what we believe affects how we see children — children are, supposedly, energetic, able to learn from us, confused in their thinking, random in their interactions, stubborn, peculiar or individual).

(iii) What we see (or perceive), and what we know, can be two different things. Berger uses the example of ‘seeing’ that the sun goes round the Earth, but knowing the opposite. (So, we ‘see’ children being energetic, learning from us, confused in their thinking, random in their interactions, stubborn, peculiar or individual, and yet we might ‘know’ something quite different).

What we ‘know’ comes from somewhere different to where the words we use (to explain what we think we see) come from. That is, call it some intuition. I deliberately write this word here to give this paragraph some meaning in a way that many will understand; I use a word to explain something that maybe can’t be explained. In reality, what I’m writing about here is perhaps beyond the word-label that is ‘intuition’ — what this ‘knowing’ of children is about is maybe unwriteable, though I’ll try.  

Beth Chatto, gardener, as described by Arthur Battram ‘has an incomparable skill in working out how to nurture a garden in any conditions: an example being a cold wet, dank corner of her own garden, starved of nutrients by- and shaded by- huge trees. Years of patient experiment, based on years of observation, is her secret.’

In my previous blogs, I’ve highlighted adult perceptions of children that aren’t in this Chattoist model of patience: that is, ‘do not play with the leaves because I don’t want you to’; ‘children’s play is increasingly seen as something for adults to decide upon’. Examples such as these are not the stuff of beautiful relationships. Here we get to the nitty-gritty of this blog post: what I ‘know’ is that children love.

This is a strong word, and adults are often scared by it. It’s confused by adult concerns of protection, fear, wrongdoing. In reality, children love. It is my years of patient observation that have shown me this. If we see the world just through the eyes of protection (or over-protection), fear, or wrongdoing, the words we use to explain what we see will reflect this way of seeing.

Similarly, if we only see what children do in terms of how they affect us, the words we use to explain what we see will reflect this: children frustrate me with their energy; please me with what they’ve learnt from me; confuse me with their thinking; make me smile with their random interactions; annoy me with their stubbornness; make me laugh out loud at their peculiarities.

If we open up to seeing in a different way, what might we then know? When I feel I get it right, with my child’s eye understood by the children I’m with, it’s like a scene from The Matrix! There is a shared knowing in operation, or so it feels: the child, or children, and I operate in a bubble of comprehension. They know that I know, and I know that they know. They ‘get’ me and vice versa.

Recently, it turned out that I got my ways of seeing right. I only knew this for sure when the play had unfolded as fully as others had allowed it to, or when I could read the signs in the play.

At a school, I hadn’t done anything particularly active in the space, but I had developed a space in which play could happen. The children were beside themselves with excitement. It was novel for them, it was a space that buzzed. I stood observing carefully, because it was school and because it was novel and because I didn’t know what might happen. Play happened. Several children came up to me as I was packing away bits and bobs (the teachers were calling for the children’s time again). I was down at the children’s level, picking up, tidying up. The children told me, of their own volition, that they’d enjoyed their play that day. Two children wanted to spontaneously give me a hug. I kept a little distance; though on reflection, what this all amounted to was that these children seemed to have seen my child’s eye, known and ‘got’ me. It was their love that they wanted to express.

Another day, and other children I hadn’t yet met. I sat in the doorway at a friend’s house with the aim of supporting the two year old I did know in his shyness at new children around him. Three other children played. It only took a brief exchange of names, being at carpet level, and a child’s eye, I feel, for all four children to be offering cues and affections to me — by which I mean not the negative seeing of the word, but rather affections of understanding. It is a mutual knowing that cannot be fully written.

This Zen eye, this beginner’s eye, developed by someone who has spent years developing it, so that it is almost exactly the same as, and as good as, a child’s eye: this way of seeing has offered me these words I use to explain second what I see first; this way of seeing, this belief I have, affects the way I see things; what I see and what I ‘know’ have different qualities — I see a beauty of play, I ‘know’ something even richer taking place.

How do you see children?
 
* It has taken the best part of a week’s thinking and a day’s writing to craft this blog piece, and I still don’t know if I’ve laid the words out in ways that can be empathised with and ‘known’ by others. Such is, perhaps, the nature of the beast in question.
 
 

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