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

Archive for December, 2012

Gifts of positive relating

In the lull that is the week between Christmas and New Year (and the imminent return to school of our children), I find myself thinking on children’s relationships with adults. Positive relating between generations is something I’ve long been driven to give consideration to. What a world our children could enjoy if only every adult always understood and respected them.

Around this time of the year, children are given more consideration by the adults directly in their lives and, indirectly too, by other adults. That is, Christmas has morphed from a Christian religious affair to a secular kind of thanksgiving for family and friends, albeit fuelled by a consumer position, and/or a midwinter break from work and other pressures: children are often placed at the centre of this modern ritual. However, of course, gift-giving because of love and gift-giving because of the usuality of ritual can easily merge to the point where those who give aren’t quite sure what they’re motivations are any more. I wonder if children benefit or not.

Don’t worry: this is not intended as a ‘bah humbug’ post! The older I get the more I understand the positives about this time around Christmas in our calendar. That said, gift-giving to children just because it’s gift-giving time in the calendar has its obvious drawbacks: gift-giving centres on this time of the year (and, in the culture that I’m used to, on birthdays too) — there is the possibility of false relating here though because objects given can be seen as just ‘representative’ of love.

Children can suck it all up, of course: give me this, or give me that; I’ll be good. They’re greedy in this respect because our culture has taught them to be. Our ancient rituals have morphed, from pre-Christian society, into modern rituals. It’s not the children’s fault, though they are a part of it. So children will want the latest gadget or toy, and when they receive it they’ll see it as something they’ve earned by negotiations of behaviour, or as something they deserve, or as something they’ve been given because it acts as a token of family unit belonging, etc.

These tokens may well be given with love (who am I to say whether any parent loves their child or not?) — but tokens are, by their very nature, representative of something; they’re not the real thing. If you receive a plastic chip and you put it into a slot machine, you can then go and exchange your plastic token winnings for real coins. Coins themselves are just tokens, used in exchange for other physical goods — an Xbox maybe. An Xbox, in this continuation, is just a token exchange for the idea that someone is loved or valued. Our society is fuelled by tokens. Is there reality in our relating?

What is this reality of relating anyway? Perhaps it’s a quiet look between adult and child (be they members of the same family, children of friends, children worked with on a regular basis, children worked with but just met, etc.); perhaps relating is in the way the child’s face shifts in expression when the adult is in the room, or in the building, and the child knows this; perhaps the child’s whole demeanour takes on a subtle yet significant relaxing; perhaps, dare I say it, playworkers of the old guard, it’s when a child just must wrap themselves around you, a hug without words, because they consider that you have ‘it’.

Children give their physical gifts too, of course, but this gift-giving takes place at any time of the year. If objects of the adult world can be seen as tokens to represent other things, then so too, I suppose, can objects given by children. However, more often than not, there is something ‘more real’ and ‘less token’ in children’s given things: a scrap of paper with a few squiggles and scribbles on it, saved for a while, stuffed into a pocket, brought out when that child meets the intended adult, is a token of a child’s love but it often has more integrity than an adult gift: an adult may not often give an Xbox just because they feel like it, at any time of the year; an Xbox isn’t hand-made, spur of the moment, kept in a pocket for days till the intended child is met again.

Gift-giving is an important part of our culture. Our tokens represent our love, and it is appreciated when we receive these given gifts. Perhaps we, as adults in our society which also includes our children, should also just give randomly, at any time of the year, more offerings of hand-made love (and other, non-material, love: sit at carpet level, talk with children, listen to children, laugh with them); perhaps we should give more offerings just because the children are appreciated.

Some flowers and sunshine (guest post)

In my travels around the blogosphere, I occasionally find an inspirational story about children, or with children in mind. I recently found just such a post written by Tanushree Srivastava. I asked permission to reproduce it here, and Tanushree agreed. What inspired me about the excerpt I publish below is the way in which thoughts about a New Delhi street child were the source of some happiness to the writer.

Tanushree writes with some emphasis on religious belief, which I personally don’t subscribe to. However, the essence of what she writes is beautiful enough for me. I have taken the publisher’s liberty of editing slightly, for flow and emphasis, hopefully without losing the writer’s own ‘voice’.

Tanushree writes:

You know how people say happiness depends on ourselves alone? You should always be happy and without a reason to [be]. People like me waste so much time finding ‘the right’ reasons to be happy that we lose precious time in life to actually be happy for what life has given us. I encountered a magical incident today, which still has a deep impression on my mind. I strongly believe in God’s Messengers theory and the magic that they spread all around us (which might actually be my exclusive theory about life. Yet another to be honest).

I was sitting with some of my friends at a roadside café, drinking coffee, when this little girl came and sat beside me on the iron railing that separated the café from the road. I was very uncomfortable with this poor girl watching me eat and drink because I simply feel pity for poor kids like her. Her face leaked of innocence and she smiled with pure joy at me. The aura around her was simply infectious and I couldn’t help myself from having this little chit-chat with her, and about her.

Her three feet long anatomy was covered with tattered clothes. She wore a shirt, which was slightly over-sized for her, with a pair of torn pants. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, which made her look cute. She roams carelessly on the streets of a posh market with some flowers in her hands. She sold these flowers to people on the road, especially couples, who always buy her flowers.

She attends a nearby government school, which provides free education. She told me that she only goes there for the food that is given to her during the lunch hours. While I talk to her she does back flips on the railing and smiles all the time. She keeps talking and tells me that she is going to be rich by the time she is my age. Of course she doesn’t want to study, but according to her she will somehow find a way to have more money. She urges me, from time to time, to buy her flowers and then again tells me how her flowers are always sold in the night when rich people shop around. She gets some big money when lady luck shines on her. But she loves the sun and the sunshine that warms her in this cold. I bought her a cupcake, which she politely accepted and gave me a very God-like smile. She left almost immediately, emphasising that she was some angel sent just for me.

Her enthusiasm struck me, and her zest for life was so amazing that I pity myself for being sad over things that should hardly matter in life. When I watched this little girl struggle for two square meals and still be happy, I asked myself if I was doing justice to this precious life bestowed upon me by God. Life is so much about the bigger things and perspectives. We have everything that can make us happy in this world. All the right reasons and all the small little things that can last us a lifetime . . .

I really think that we have lost sight of what life really is about. Life is about staying happy with what we have and what we can share with people. That little cupcake was not a big deal to me but it meant a lot to her and it gave me unending happiness and satisfaction after watching her lit-up face. I have decided to be a source of happiness and joy to everyone who passes me in life: so that I am to everyone what that girl is to me now. I really wish that I can be that bundle of joy to everyone whom I know. I know we are living in a strange and wicked world where humanity is slowly losing its significance, so let me be a small part of a revolution which only supports affection and love for everyone regardless of age, caste, religion or colour.

Are you with me?

What playworker means

This blog has reached the stage where the Google-bots seem happy to say: ‘You want a playwork question answered? Hold on, I know a place you might like . . .’ WordPress has a useful backroom feature that allows the blogger to scan down the list of search terms others use; as such, I’ve had a recent run on terms like: What does playworker mean? So, there’s a cue if ever I read one.

What playworker means, what playworker means . . . I could easily just reel off a summary list of other playwork writers’ books, but this cue has given me the opportunity to write further on what playworker means to this playworker. What I’m thinking of here is based on being a playwork trainer and advisor and on being a ‘practitioner’ with (hold on, counting on fingers!) twenty one years of working with children in a variety of capacities, so far, behind me. Once, I wasn’t a playworker, though I thought I was. I don’t think any of us are ever ‘the finished article’.

So, where to start? Here’s a starting point: it’s amusing to me to see that, if adding up the number of different searches I’ve received for the Calvin and Hobbes ‘coffee table and nails’ cartoon strip, the total nudges the top of the search terms list for this blog! So, for those who are looking, I posted it up here, but I also re-post it below because I want to use it to make a point:
Getting it

Calvin and Hobbes Coffee Table

What playworker means is knowing (no, absolutely ‘getting’) one of these characters and why they say what they say!

Playworker also means being humble. It means recognising that you are sometimes, and quite often, wrong. It means knowing that a five year old can understand more than you do, and that throwing your weight around will get you nowhere. It means knowing that sometimes you are just tolerated by the children. It should be accepted that, with humility, and all things being balanced, what goes around comes around, and children will see your grace if you have it.

Playworker means not taking things too personally. If a child tells you, one day, that you smell, or that you have bad breath, then you smell, or you have bad breath. Do something about it because it troubles the child enough to say it out loud. Don’t moan about the child being ‘disrespectful’ or ‘rude’: accept and make change. The same goes for when a child tells you that you’re in the way. Understand that you’re in the way, or that your suggestions or presence aren’t needed, wanted or welcomed.

Playworker means serving. Time and again, I come back to a quote I picked up from a film somewhere, once upon a time. I forget the film title, but the line — as I remember it — is  something like: I’m here to serve you, but I’m not your servant. It helps me focus when I’m working with children. I’m not at their beck and call; I don’t drop everything just because they demand that I come running; I do, however, know that I am in their place of play.

Playworker means being aware. This covers a multitude of sins: it means being aware of your surroundings, that you’re in a child’s place; it means, if you’re invited into the play, that you know how privileged you are there and then; it means being aware that the moment is now, that now is important for the child; it means going with the flow, even if your good intentions or plans are totally ignored or taken in other directions by children.
Thinking and seeing

Playworker means stop thinking like a sheep (OK, if sheep think at all, that is!) By this I mean, just because you may have learnt that ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ are ‘nice’ words, and that ‘being nice’ is ‘good’, or that play is only play if it’s ‘productive’, ‘co-operative’, or ‘kind’, it doesn’t mean that that’s the way things should be to others, or the way that things actually are. Playworker means seeing what’s there.
Standing up and telling

Playworker means telling others what’s there. It doesn’t mean being arrogant and holier-than-thou. It does mean being brave, standing up, and raising your head above the parapet. You may not be able to reach: so playworker also means carrying around an invisible soapbox to stand on. At such altitude above the floor, however, it does also mean that you’re going to be shot at sometimes. If this happens, and if you’re wrong, playworker means holding up your hand and saying sorry.

Playworker means having faith. I don’t know if it’s possible to ‘not believe’ in play once you’ve started being a believer. It isn’t something you can suddenly change your mind about. You’re stuck with it. It owns you. Know what you’re getting into if you’re a pre-playworker! There’s no ‘cooling off period’ or money-back clause. You can’t switch to another religion. You offer your soul, in exchange for all the knowledge of play, and the children happily take it from you and smear it in glue and googly eyes! (OK, a mixed metaphor somewhat, but playworkers should understand it and what googly eyes are!)
There’s more, but this article has to pause somewhere. Here’s a piece, something I prepared earlier, This playworker’s work, which links. Other playwork writers are available; as too are other little bits and bobs of writing floating around, like the Playwork Principles, psycholudics, compound flexibility, etc., which I shalln’t bother you with now (you’ll find them if you need to; if you can’t, then the search term may find its way into my WordPress backroom sometime . . .!)

The things I remember and the things I don’t (guest post)

David Allen, a fellow writer, has given permission for me to republish one of his posts. I’ve been meaning to open up a category on play around the world for a while now, and David’s post has kickstarted that plan into reality. All being well, this will be an occasional series, as with a couple of my other categories. I shall ask permission to use pieces by other writers in my day-to-day online and real world contact with them, but I also know non-writers out there in ‘meatspace’ (I do like that phrase!) whose play stories I can collect from around the world.

So, onto David’s writing. This comes out of the United States, presumably, but what I was drawn to was not only a few insights into childhood play (which affirm beliefs in archetypal play), but moving on through life there’s also observation on interaction between the young adult and the teacher. I’ve taken the liberty of editing for spelling and punctuation (for a predominately UK readership).

David writes:

I can’t remember my invisible friend’s name. But I remember he’d ride my tricycle and I’d push and pull him on it. The tricycle ended up being thrown in the blackberry bushes and I don’t remember playing with the nameless friend any more. I can’t remember the first book I read, but I can remember it was a collection of short stories that were abridged so that children could understand them. One of them contained the story of Rumpelstiltskin. It scared the shit out of me then and it still scares me now. I remember the first time I crashed my bike. I remember struggling to find the brakes. When I found the brakes, they only worked on the front tyre. I must have done a full flip before scraping across the gravel.

I remember writing terrible stories when I was a kid. Stories about dinosaurs, street fights, and senseless violence that I must have seen on TV. I remember stapling pages of computer paper together and making my own ‘real’ books. No lines though. I’d try to fill them up. I remember I wrote a story called The Ancients. It was terrible. But it was something I finished. It had something to do with discovering a cave that went so deep into the earth that dinosaurs came out of it. I was really into The Journey to the Center of the Earth and Jurassic Park. I remember trying to make book versions of movies that (unknown to me) were already based on books. I had a wild imagination at that time. I remember reading one of my terrible stories in front of my 5th grade class. I don’t think I wrote much of anything or read much of anything for a while after that.

I remember my first cigarette, stolen from my grandma’s carton above a counter in the kitchen. Virginia Slims. I don’t know why I took it. But the act of doing something I knew could get me into trouble thrilled me. I don’t think my heart has still ever beat that fast. I smoked my Virginia Slim in the backyard next to the campfire. I felt like a real cowboy. Tough, rugged, cool. For a child in 6th grade, I was a real ‘badass’. The next year I got my first skateboard for Christmas. Now I was really cool. The year after that I bought my first full pack of Marlboros. Or was it Camels? I remember they didn’t even card me.

I can’t remember ninety percent of my teachers’ names. I can remember the ones who cared about me though. I can remember the ones who didn’t care whether I played sports or not. The ones who searched and prodded and interrogated until they found what I was good at. I remember being told I was trying to live my life in a straight line, when what I really needed to do was take the scenic route. I remember being ashamed years later when I realised how much extra time certain teachers spent on me. I remember being positive certain teachers passed me simply because they knew where I was going after I graduated. I remember being miserable for a really long time.

I can barely remember the four years after graduating high school. The Marine Corps is a blur and I don’t think about it that much any more, other than the people I miss hanging out with. And the Marines who raised me. When I got out, I don’t remember what made me decide to go back to school. I don’t remember what made me start writing again. I don’t remember what made me want to write. But I remember I started getting good grades for the first time in my life. And I remember thinking about the teachers who cared about me. The teachers who saw through my act of trying to be cool and trying to fit in. The teachers who knew there was something in there that was worth encouraging, even if I didn’t see it. And even if I still don’t.

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