Expert / 17 June, 2019 / My Baba
Over the past two decades, we have seen the landscape of play altered dramatically. From the introduction of computer games into our homes and more recently the intrinsic nature of Internet through the tapestry of our childhoods. In some ways this is fantastic, and we have seen an explosion and blooming of confidence and exploration by our children. However, having worked within children’s entertainment and play leading throughout the last 16 of those years, I think it is important that we recognise the essence of what makes play in the first place.
There is a huge difference between gaming and playing, and if we’re not careful some of the greatest and simplest qualities of play will be replaced by something that just quite simply doesn’t offer us the same experience. I’m talking about proper play, actual reality; I’m talking about real play.
There is absolutely no reason to complicate games, and something very reassuring especially with children who are slightly younger about playing a game that everybody knows the rules. One of the key purposes of play is to take us out of our minds and more into our bodies. There is no better way to do this and playing a game where the rules are simple, and everybody can join in.
Making up your own set of rules, or even creating a brand-new game is an extremely fun and exciting way to play and interact with your children. This does not mean you making up the rules and them playing, this will involve accepting and allowing everybody to have an input. Yes, this might mean that there is a unicorn rule that whenever the word unicorn is said you must run around like a unicorn, but if that’s what one of your play community wants and that’s the way the cookie crumbles!
Despite what our children may think we all know that as adults sometimes our inhibitions and our confidence can be tricky to deal with. I want to tell you an eternal truth that after 16 years of professional entertaining and play-leading, I now know 100% to be certain; if you are authentically yourself, honest, humble and truthful then you are already enough. What your children really want is you, just you, simply you, to come and play and to be present. So be confident as whatever you may have read whatever you may have thought you are most certainly enough.
The glorious thing about play is it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It is not results based, it’s experience focused which is a clever way of saying it’s the taking part that counts. It can be very tempting to encourage competition as a way of making the game work, and if it is done in a playful and flippant way that can be okay. I personally prefer to make losing just as glamorous by creating some ceremony around the loss such as a loser’s dance or ‘lap of sorry’ instead of lap of glory. Done with a smile this is the perfect way to de-intensify a play experience.
It’s okay to make a mess if everybody helps tidy up. And is okay to tidy up if it doesn’t interrupt the game. Dare to get a bit messy, to break a few of the rules, and you will find a surge in excitement and energy that lifts the game into something extremely enjoyable. Hide and seek when you’re allowed in your mum and dad’s room can be a very thrilling version.
One of the hardest things about trying to be a playful parent or joyful teacher is that you must find a level of energy and a level of vibrancy that not only defeats your own fatigue but changes the environment in which you’re playing into a playful one. In spite of what you may think even at your most tired is moments if you choose to go just slightly manic, just a bit bonkers, just a wee bit wild you will see the mood of everybody involved including yourself transform and take off into space. Basically, you gotta give it the beans!
In the modern world mobile phones and tablets have snuck into every corner of our lives. We find them on our dinner table, we even find them flashing away at bed time. When you decided to play make it sacred. Be on time, turn off your phone or at least leave in the other room. Don’t multitask, make the play your focus. It is a very respectful and powerful way to give your children your attention.
People often worry about children becoming too hyper. One of the goals of the book I have just released ‘The Real Play Revolution’, is to show people and encourage people to venture a little bit closer to the edge and slightly further from the middle and allow a slightly wilder expression of energy. Children obviously can get worked up and as parents you know them better than anybody, however sometimes in the pressures of getting them to bed on time or keeping the house in some sort of rational order we tend to lean towards minimising the boisterousness of the play. I would like to introduce the concept of a sensory diet; it’s okay to go big as long as you end up meandering your way back to small, you are in charge and can change the entire mood of the day by simply choosing a specific game. We sit in a quiet circle with wink murder or race around the garden around playing Bulldog. Plan your sensory diet but make sure they get a decent dose of delirious as well as some tasty snacks of sneaky.
Where you play can be important. Obviously in the car you’re stuck in the car or at school you’re stuck in the classroom and I understand when you get home from work the last thing you want to do is head straight back out to play in the garden or the park. The problem is that you need that oxygen and that fresh air and that change of environment to really make a difference. It doesn’t have to be every day and it doesn’t have to be for long but if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or live close enough to a park make a commitment to head there specifically for the purposes of honouring play. Then don’t just watch whilst checking Facebook, leave the phone at home and go out to play together. It won’t be long until they stop asking, so make the most of it!
Quite simply you can get away with absolutely terrible games, you can even not really plan properly, because all your children really want is to share some of your energy. Whatever you’re going to do, however long you going to playful cherish the opportunity that is rarer than you may think is a world to give your children some full, noisy, encouraging, uplifting, fire lighting, full throttle ENERGY.
Ash Perrin is the founder of The Flying Seagull Project and author of The Real Play Revolution (Watkins £12.99).
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