I have become a little lazy over the past few weeks in my writing about play on these estates. I started trying to use face book and twitter and move the discussion beyond this forum alone. But somehow, I miss the freedom to roll around in descriptive phrases and linger over thoughts and rememberings.
The play sessions on Eric street continue to be a wonder. They are warm and comfortable and the children play deliciously freely. It feels as if they have known each other forever, but this is not the case at all. They have only played together since the playgarden has been created. The mums are comfortable together as well and the real issue in playwork terms is, what is our role here?
The children have a strange way of relating to adults. They are capable and independent. However they adopt babyish mannerisms whenever they are around grown ups. So a child who has been doing quite adventurous climbing will come up to the adults and make a winging sound with a ‘verge of tears’ face and point to something that they could reach themselves, but would rather you reached for them.
They wanted a fabric swing last week. This was suggested to them by the fact that Rainer decked the tree crown with long lengths of fabric to make a clear visual impact.*
Well the adults hung the fabric securely and the children started to queue up for their turn to swing. Somehow both they and the helping adults got lulled into a system that involved two grown-ups holding the fabric and swinging the children and helping them in and out of the swing seat drape. It took me a good while to see this as well. I knew that I was getting irritated by something but found it hard to identify what it was. I was annoyed by the constant demand of the children and the fact that there was a queue that some of the boys were pushing in in front of their sisters and some of the girls were giving up their turns to please their brother, it was a sudden realization that we, the adults were not needed at all. If the swing was securely tied, and it was only six inches or so above the ground, why on earth did two of us need to be supervising this activity.
I checked the knots and pulled the women helping me away showing them as we left that the line of children had broken down into a cluster of kids who were helping the little ones to get in and out of the hammock swing and were creating other games around the swing, whereas before they had simply stood in turn and bickered. Within minutes another swing had been made by one of the taller girls and the playing had really blossomed.
How did I fall into that trap?
Well I think it is because I feel as if we need to be seen to be doing playwork. I now deliberately spend most of the time when I am at sessions talking to the adults or tidying or doing small tasks. This keeps me within the play space, watching and listening, but removes me from any direct interaction with the children. When they do approach me, I am usually incredibly rude or indignant to them… (Cartoon rude/ indignant. It is a game and I always check that the children are getting the joke and are not cut to the quick. ).. it is possible to do this and still let the children know that you are being loving and playful.
I seem to want to get further and further away and see the children as minutely as if I were directly with them, but behave as if I were invisible. They seldom need us as much as they did when the whole process was new. Also I am hearing the team telling me that the children on other spaces in the Playtimes area are not using the sites when they are not there. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid… however, this has not happened on every site, within the same estate some spaces are well used all the time and others are not.
It’s a puzzle.
Anyway the violets are peeking out of the rolling hills on Eric Street, so are the mini daffs and the crocuses.
It just keeps on getting better.
The Greetings from Mile End postcards are now printed. They are images taken locally with quotes from local people on the reverse. You can see them here.
*I was at the US Play Coalition meeting in February. Had loads of excellent conversations with people there and learned a great number of interesting things. One unlikely fascinating chat was with a guy who is a sports coach and doing his doctorate at the moment. He spoke about how children will do casual, improvised co-operative games based on baseball –or whatever- in an informal setting. But if you take them to a ‘proper’ pitch/stadium/court etc, they start to play by the grown up rules and be super competitive. Isn’t that interesting?