Response to ‘New Girl’
By Jacky Kilvington
Morgan’s lovely, thoughtful ponderings on how a girl behaved in relation to her first visit to a play setting, brought to my mind, a similar example from the past, involving young people of 16 who I placed in situations that were outside some of their comfort zones.
I was in charge of a Youth Training Scheme for ‘Arts and Entertainments’. As part of that, I organised a variety of visits, for a group of about 18, 16 and 17 year olds, to a range of different venues, including such places as, the local theatre, working men’s club, live arts and music venue, pub, concert hall, snooker hall, city hall, museum, art gallery, clubs (discos as they were then called) and so on. It was fascinating and frustrating to see how the young people responded to the different environments.
Depending upon their own experiences and personal preferences they would respond in a variety of ways. So, for instance, despite the fact that we went backstage, looked at lots of costumes and sets, saw a demonstration of creating fake wounds and so on, a theatre ranged from ‘only posh people come to places like this’ to ‘I love coming to the theatre. It’s so exciting’! A working men’s club gained responses of ‘They have some right acts on at our local. This looks just like it’ and ‘this place stinks of cigarettes – it’s gross. Who would want to spend an evening here’? In some of the places, when invited, some of the young people would roam around and investigate their surroundings and ask interested questions and in others they would lurk around looking uncomfortable. We went and saw a number of different theatrical and musical productions and exhibitions but minds were generally not changed in that short time. The point I am making is that, despite the intentions of the providers, we don’t all feel comfortable in the same places, or doing the same things because all of our personalities and lives are different. Just because a venue is great for children’s play, does not mean that all children will want to play in it.
Much as we might like to think, as playworkers, that we can provide a play environment that will suit every child’s play need, we cannot. Play does not happen just to suit us. It is spontaneous and self driven, in its own time and place. Unless a child feels comfortable in a situation they are unlikely to play. At different times some children prefer to be on their own, inside, outside, surrounded by their own things, in their own yard, with people they know, without the presence of any grownups and so on. One size does not fit all. Whether this is due to ‘nature or nurture’, to put it crudely, at the point when we first meet a child, they are themselves and will respond as such. The girl in Morgan’s article was clearly out of her comfort zone and did not know what was expected of her. It would be impossible on first meeting, to know whether this was due to her lack of opportunity to play freely without instruction, or just a discomfort in the situation.
Over time we all change and for some of us, our horizons expand along with our comfort zones. This is not true for all, and sadly as playworkers, I think we have to accept this. We can only do the best we can.