Reflection and mistakes

I went to an excellent workshop at Friday’s East London Play Conference, which was supported by the marvellous Meynell (hello!). 

It’s more customary to say that a workshop was ‘led’ or ‘facilitated’, but that doesn’t feel quite right when talking about Meynell’s style.  He didn’t lead the participants as such, or necessarily make things easier for them.  Instead it was as though he brought everyone to a large and comfortable room where they could talk.  He opened the windows, he let light into the conversation, then opened a series of doors which individuals could walk through if they chose.  He didn’t push anyone along, but provided encouragement and signs.

The workshop was about recognizing our preconceptions about children’s behaviours, and becoming reflective, rather than reflexive, in our responses to play.  It is so easy to leave our assumptions comfortably intact, to remain complacent and hypocritical instead.  It is so easy to agree with both of the following statements:

“Kids today don’t get the chance to play the way that we did.”

“I’d never want my children to get up to half of the things I done.”

… and never perceive the contradiction.

Many of the issues that came up in the workshop would be what you might image: fears around children’s capacity for cruelty to one another, cruelty to animals.  Swearing.  Stealing.

After we made the list of what troubled us Meynell asked for a show of hands on who had done each one.  We were all far more experienced at darker play than we’d like to admit, and it reminded me of that piece of research which showed that when we do something cruel or foolish we tell ourselves it was justified or occured on an off day, but that when someone else does we view that one act as indicative of their whole character.

“Oh, but I regret it now,” one participant said of her old habit of pulling the legs off spiders.

“They should be more respectful,” said another who couldn’t stand children swearing.  “Even if we allow it, they’ll get in trouble for it outside the playground.”

The thing is, (as Meynell pointed out) we have no right to expect respect from children.  It’s not what we ask of them, but what we ask of ourselves that is the point.

We are not there to teach them to be nice to one another, or to creepy-crawlies.  We are not there to teach them vocabulary or kindness or deference or macrame.  We are not there to teach them anything (there are other people to do that).  We are there to support their play. 

One of the most important tasks of this is reflective practice – it’s right there in the Principles.   Reflective practice is the process by which we become better playworkers.  It’s how we learn to get over ourselves and out of the children’s way.  Part of reflective practice is giving yourself the freedom to change your mind, to develop your thinking.  To admit mistakes.  It’s so much easier then to let the children make their own.

The thing is, its our mistakes who make us who we are – that is, our mistakes and how we understand them and those of the people around us.  Mistakes are the only way of really learning anything first-hand.  Life is a process of trial and error, and even if it’s a sharp instinct to help someone who’s struggling and give them the answer straight away, denying someone their right to get things wrong takes away so much more.  All we can do is be there to support them through the process, as we’re supported in turn by what we’ve already learned.

The proof of that was seen afterwards, as all of the different participants in the workshop wandered off to the buffet table, chattering about what they’d felt and discovered, making sense of their new place on their long journey as playworkers.

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2 thoughts on “Reflection and mistakes

  1. Last year I read a book called “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”. The same author, Debbie Ford also wrote a book called “When Good People Do Bad Things”. The essence of her work is that we all do bad things and these should be used to strengthen us rather than castigate us. The books are very much written for an American audience but applicable to considering how to tolerate children’s less desirable or less ideal play.

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