Not being ‘off-duty’ has its fringe benefits. Episodes of observation, amusement, fascination, non-comprehension, challenge, and something bordering on bewilderment can happen. A few short tales of not being ‘off-duty’ gathered in me as the week just gone passed by. I didn’t write them down at the time because, sometimes, letting stories float around inside for a few days allows them space to form.
What do you do?
I’ve had this question asked of me many times, in various ways, by adults in other areas of the children’s workforce sector. I’ve had it asked of me, once or twice, by children – an air of honest inquisition on their faces when they say ‘What is your job?’ (I remember a child once telling me, rationally enough, and in a particular moment of functional and frustrating playwork practice on my part: ‘Well, if you don’t like working here, just get another job’).
Whilst sitting around eating toast and cheese with the boys, the youngest asked – in German – what it was I did, professionally. I thought for a little while. It’s hard enough explaining it to English-speaking adults sometimes; it’s a difficult thing to tell an English-speaking child and without patronising or dumbing it down. How to explain playwork to a German child? I did the best I could, in English, because my German or my Deutschlish wasn’t up to it: I do my best to make sure that play can happen (or words to this effect). His mother translated. He screwed up his face and made a small noise that I can only transcribe, roughly, as ‘Eh??’
I thought some more. I couldn’t elaborate. Words and thoughts didn’t stretch that far. Later, I threw back to him the small stuffed white cow – Weisskuh – that comes with us on every trip, and I kept throwing it back and back each time it came my way; on the beach, each day, I gathered stones, stepped away, or built, as per requirements; I made passing comments to other adults on the site where we stayed, on notes of play; I made myself available for the children to arrange their play through me – ‘Football or beach?’ (I fancied a trip to the sea, myself . . .) – ‘Football,’ the boys said, and I was necessary, apparently.
(As an aside, is an understanding exchange of no actual words between playworker and parent – such as the parent of the young girl who sat at the beach – a silent advocation for play?)
Overall here, sometimes – in attempting to answer questions – ‘doing’ is far better than saying.
A small inquisition
The youngest is having a conversation with his mother, in German. The rough gist of his questioning, as he eats, is this: ‘If you were a child now, would you prefer child labour or school?’
I don’t know where this conversation comes from; I have no context. I do know that the question intrigues me. I have no conclusions. I leave you to piece together your own. His mother is a teacher.
Family meal times are a good source of information in the on-going study of the state of being ‘child’. The youngest is on fine form. The conversation is about girls. He has an ex-girlfriend, apparently. We should put this in context: he is adored, it would seem; he is an innocent; he has a stuffed white cow. We talk about the ex-girlfriend and he tells us how he was forced into the relationship. ‘How?’ we ask. ‘On Facebook’. He managed to get out of it online too.
Weisskuh, stunt-cow today, waits patiently with his feet jammed into the windows of a model Mini Cooper.
We adults are drinking beer. The eldest is deep in German conversation with his mother. The youngest is documenting everything in snapshots and short videos on his mobile phone. I don’t notice all of what he’s doing. There’s a dance floor, and it’s a family place so there are plenty of children around. The dance floor clears but one girl of about eight years old stays and dances on her own. The music is coming from a laptop on the stage; the laptop is hooked up to the amps. It’s some cheesy modern pop that I have no way of differentiating from any other such cheesy modern pop. It doesn’t matter. I notice that the girl on the dance floor also has a mobile phone. When she spins around as she dances, and although I’m a good thirty feet away, I see that she’s got the camera pointed towards herself (I see a close-up of her face on the screen, even from this distance). She’s dancing away in her own little bubble of a world, and she’s talking to her image on the screen. She waggles her finger at the image, playfully, as if she’s singing to it. Her image is her audience. She seems totally oblivious to everybody else in the room. She can obviously hear the music, but she chooses to block out everything but this and her own image.
I find this fascinating. On the one hand, modern technology has enhanced the play opportunity – developing the usual dance play into a dialogue between the actual self and the (literally and psychologically) projected self; on the other hand, I’m a little bit bothered – is there such a bond, such a dependence, on mobile phone technology in some of today’s children that they can’t, or won’t, see the world around them? Is the screen version of the world just better than the real thing?
She pops back into the real world, eventually. Maybe. Maybe she’s popped out of the real world of play.