I love playing with our kids. It provides a window into their active imaginations and a glimpse into how they perceive the world around them. Almost always, play involves a sparkle of laughter and the occasional unsought aha revelation.
With the exception of ‘watch me , watch me’ moments, or playing together as a family, the general progression these days, at least with our 9- and 11-year-old, is to a ‘no grown-ups required’ modus operandi of play. And this is how it should be.
As kids get older, they want to assert their independence and actively explore their environment without the at times overly protective demeanour of parental units poking and prying about in their affairs.
So when I can be a silent, non-intrusive witness not influencing the play, or when I am invited into the play zone via the ‘watch me, watch me’ command performance call, it’s a compelling treat that I enjoy savouring.
Recently, I watched two kid driven play happenings from the sidelines. One, at our green place in Kejimkujik National Park, was a spontaneous riff on the popular recess game four square. Because the cement surface was so small, the game was rejigged to become two square.
There were about 10 kids playing who prior to the game didn’t know each other. Players ranged in age from 5 to 12 with both girls and boys represented. During the game, the kids assumed many different roles – players, coaches, referees and fans. The kids called all the shots, resolved disputes, jazzed up the rules and looked out for each other.
The game went on for close to an hour. Players would drift in and out. There was plenty of cheering, laughter and respect all around. Participation was the winning element for each of the kids. From that perspective, each one of them was a champion.
A few days later our 9-year-old set up an obstacle course in the backyard with materials she could find at hand. I was invited to see the girls go through their
manoeuvres. Running the course was certainly the highlight of this kid-fueled play event. However, setting it up ran a close second. It’s the kind of activity that attracts kids to our house – a gathering place for neighbourhood play without a lot of intrusive supervision.
The following day I collected all the material strewn about and cleaned up the course while the kids were out of the house. I was working hard to regain that Home and Garden kind of look. I wasn’t quite able to pull it off.
The girls were disappointed that their handiwork had been undone. A little later, I had to leave the house and when I returned that evening all my good tidying work had been reversed. The obstacle course had mysteriously reappeared and it’s still there in one of its permutations….
I count myself as fortunate when I get to see this play up close. It fills my heart. I’ve been dreaming of a job as an embedded photographer documenting the spontaneity of kids at play. Let me know if you hear of any openings.