WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY?
Now this question, that I recall from the Cat Stephens song by the same name (I prefer the Everton Blender version above 😉 ), used to resonate with me deeply in the context of children growing up in the heavily industrialised areas of England, where green areas were not yet the standard feature. I grew up in such an area and even though we had a long back garden where nuff ramping took place, other children were living in high rise flats (apartments), yes, like that of the Grenfell Tower in London. The box-like structures, with tiny balconies and multiple floors of concrete never struck me as child friendly places, but, for ‘convenience’, the Government could house multiple families in smaller spaces, packed in neatly like sardines in a tin. There is, of course, no need for me to highlight the potential physical dangers of such a town planning fiasco, but for those still standing, the question still remains…where do the children play?
SUMMER HOLIDAY FEVER!
It’s that time where thousands of children are still out of school and parents are still hearing those common words…”I’m bored”. Many will be tempted to retort…”In my day, we would go outside to play and find things to do!” Then of course, there is the modern day definition of ‘play’ which involves electrical devices of all shapes, sizes and capabilities. So, getting your child outside may indeed be the biggest challenge. So, what has happened to play?
Play is a part of the healthy development of all children, wherever in the world they live. The exploration of their outer world, themselves and other members of their human family through play and touch are pivotal to their healthy association with their environment. One of my favourite sounds is that of children laughing, shrieking and shouting in a playground. The psychological ill-effects of children confined to spaces where they cannot play freely and/or restricted by adults telling them to ‘sit and keep still’ has perhaps been tested in some controlled experiment somewhere, but for now, let’s just use our common sense and deduce that such children may not develop/flourish in the same way as children given the freedom of boundless play. Fast forward to present day, where electronic gadgets have replaced jacks, skipping ropes, frisbees, marbles, footballs (made from all manner of creatively crafted items). Now, the physiological and neurological aspects of a child’s development are further impacted!
In light of the above, this short blog wants to draw focus to one place where some of the child-play neglect can be addressed, here in Jamaica…our kindergardens, prep and primary schools! Good God man! Children as young as 5 are being chastised for the fact that their cursive writing is not well developed enough (actual sharing with a parent I consulted with last week). The battle to ‘win’ some sort of competition has taken over the minds of many parents that want to be able to say that their child is academically advanced because they could read or write at age 3 or 4! In my opinion, no child should be asked to hold any writing implement, other than a crayon, until they are 5-6yrs old! My son was introduced to the prep school scene at the tender age of 2.5yrs. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had him start school until he was 6yrs old! That is also the guidance I was given after the fact, by a seasoned and well respected educator in Montego Bay. Boys, in particular, need that time to play, explore and develop themselves in ‘natural’ order. Especially if they are bursting with abundant energy as my young prince was. Telling him and his peers to sit behind hard desks on hard chairs for hours upon end and (teachers) getting frustrated with them when they ‘move’ to express the kinetic energy building in their little dynamo bodies, is tantamount to torture. Yes I’m being a little dramatic here, but think about it. In my subsequent child development, learning therapy and psychodrama sessions with so called ‘problem’ kids brought to me by their concerned parents, it was often as simple as guiding the parent through a change of perception and inviting them to see their child through fresh eyes, without the opinion of the ‘school experts’ that slapped that ‘troublemaker’, ‘disruptive’, ‘unfocused’ or (worse) ‘dunce’ label on a child that was simply in full expression of their personality, giftedness and talents.
In an environment where exam passes are still the gauge of an intelligent child that is destined for success in life, your child might just be one of those gifted geniuses that are made to feel worthless because of an outmoded system that starts by removing or limiting the best building blocks to a child’s character development….PLAY!
When I am conducting a Psychodrama or other developmentally supportive session with the children in teen bodies that have experienced trauma, play is one of the easiest ways to fully engage them. God knows…even I get lost in the soul freeing, escapism of that pure un-ADULT-erated world of play. Two weeks ago I was at the beautiful Tryall home of a family, where my dear friend was consulting with the parents. While I waited in the living room (as the rain had halted my beach plan) one of the children invited me to “come play with us…we’re playing Leggo Land”. I didn’t wait for a second asking. “Of course I will”, was my eager response. As I sat on the floor of the girls room, I was transformed from ‘big ooman’ to a live adventurer in this miniature world of leggo houses, leggo animals, leggo food, leggo people (of all colours and creeds!), leggo doctors and vets and leggo vehicles. For about an hour, I was transported to their regular child world and when their 5yr old brother got wind of the fact that there was a big person playing in the girls’ room, he was in like a shot, vying for my attention by jumping all over, wanting some rough and tumble action! He was soon simmered by his bigger sisters and convinced to enter the leggo world. Big people! Let me tell you something. When the bible tells us that we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we do so ‘as a child’….Mi believe! Lordy was I in the Kingdom that day!!!
Why not try it yourself? Next time you get the chance, have a pillow fight with a youngster (tek time wid them though…no full strength strikes allowed J ), chalk out a hopscotch game on the pavement, get your stones and jump! Go out onto your well manicured urban lawn that only the sprinkler water dances on and play a game of tag (‘tick’ for the English based readers). The therapeutic benefits, after you have first released the constrictive thinking that says “I’m too big for this” will make your soul soar.
Let the children play…and allow your inner child to play with them!