This post nestles with the one from yesterday.
We were delivering some training not very long ago, and the training spilled over into a play session. Some of the trainee playworkers were watching a group of children explore a length of heavy-duty plastic, and discussing it with very concerned faces.
“Is it sending the wrong message?” they asked me. “It is plastic, after all.”
“And plastic bags even say This is Not a Toy, don’t they?” one pointed out.
“What if they thought it was okay to play with plastic bags, because of this? They might suffocate,” said the first. Their faces clouded with fear, with all the ominous imaginings filling up their brains. Danger. Death. Lawsuits. I looked at the children they were watching, who had now poured paint over the thick plastic and were sliding one foot each across the cool, smooth surface, laughing.
As if on cue, the other brother of the painty sliders approached our huddle of grown-ups, completely covered in a giant, flimsy black plastic bag that had been brought for clean-up. He made an improbably stocky, high gloss monster, bumping into things and saying “woooo” in between fits of giggles. I thought the hearts of the trainee playworkers had stopped, and I could feel their increasing tension as they struggled with what to do, as age-old sirens rang out DANGER DANGER, contradicted by all that we’d just been discussing. Don’t adulterate their play, help them to extend it whenever possible. The boy bumped against me, wafting the plastic away from his face with both hands.
“Wooo?” he asked. I laughed, half at him and half at the way that playwork has of bringing us abruptly, disconcertingly, face-to-face with our own fears.
“Who’s THERE?” I cried, and tore the bag open at his head. His face burst into the light, split by a massive grin. He stepped out of the remains of the bag and ran off, back to his little brother and sister. I gathered up the abandoned plastic from the ground and balled it up, cramming it deep into my purse.
The point of this story is not that what I did – but that there are ways of balancing conflicting agendas in the moment. There are true and authentic and playful ways through our own fears and out to the other side.
People sometimes want to know how to ‘do’ playwork, as if there was one simple answer. There is.
Do it. Reflect. Talk with people you respect. Do it better tomorrow.
There are 1,000 ways to do it right.
Find your own.