Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The joy of play

It is a constant battlecry these days: kids aren't resilient enough.  There are all sorts of cautions against helicopter parents, rising anxiety rates and kids not being able to cope with life, the universe and everything.  Me, I work with kids and hear all the cautions and concerns but lately I've been watching something that gives me great joy: kids just playing.

Every morning I start my day on the playground watching kids before school.  There is often at least one kid who brings or finds a soccer ball and it begins.  It starts with kids breaking into sides on their own and the game begins.  There are no boundaries - the whole field above and beyond the two goals is fair ground and as more kids show up, they naturally break onto the teams to keep things even.  With no refs, no adults, no rule book, the sides ebb and flow with the number of kids who show up or wander off.

Disputes happen and get solved.  Sometimes not that well but, more often than not, with an incredible sense of fairness and justice that only kids really understand.  It ends when the whistle blows announcing to kids it's time to end things and line up.

Another game I have been watching is one I introduced from my childhood called "Fox and Geese."

When I was a kid, we had a tag game we played in the snow.  We'd all stomp out a huge circle with an X in the middle.  The fox had to stick to the X only but the geese had the run of the whole board.  If you got tagged by the fox, you became the fox and the fox became a goose.  Variants included you became an additional fox or you were out.   Most schools today have various things painted on the blacktop and we have 4 square boards.  As the 4 square games became more and more complicated to the point of most of recess being taken up by agreeing on the cornucopia of rules for each session, the level of frustration among kids was visible.

A couple of weeks ago, I introduced "Fox and Geese" on one of the 4 square board as an alternative game.  I laid out the basic and let the kids take it from there.  The younger kids tend to switch off where the tagged goose becomes a fox.  The older kids changed the name of the game to "Alien Invasion" and have incorporated all sorts of rules that include "so long as you can keep one foot on the cross lines, you can tag someone so long as you can reach them.

More importantly, I watch older kids play with little kids and listen to them laugh.

It reminds me this is what play looks like when adults just let kids be kids.  They make up games and rules and find a way to get beyond the grown up  "everyone's a winner" attitude to avoid hurt feelings.  The truth is sometimes you lose, sometimes your feelings get hurt and, almost all the time, you have a lot of fun or find something else to do that lets you have fun.

So yeah, put me down as someone who wants to say just let kids play.  It's amazing what they can learn when adults get out of the way.

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