A personal reflection
There is no doubt our lives and daily routines look very different to what they did a couple of months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What has this looked like for children? For myself, especially in the initial 3-4 weeks of COVID-19, there was an air of uncertainty as I watched what was unravelling across the world and waited for the impact here in Tasmania.
Coming into the Easter break substantial measures were being implemented, specifically around physical distancing and increased hygiene practices. Shops began closing, school numbers were decreasing and the organisation where I work, began strategising about how the pandemic was going to impact the 500+ employees that keep the business thriving! I took some additional leave, which was a good opportunity for me to gather my thoughts, prepare what was needed for my family and think about the possibilities that could come from this new situation I found myself in.
I live just behind a primary school, and while at home on break, I would regularly sit out on my deck which looks onto the school oval and tennis courts. From here I could see and hear the children playing in the school yard and noticed they were bringing a new language into the games they played. Phrases like ‘you’ve got coronavirus!’, and ‘now you need to go into isolation!’ were echoed through the school yard. This language unsettled some of the teachers on duty who responded by trying to move groups on saying ‘I don’t think this is a very nice game you’re playing!’ or ‘we don’t need to use words like that thanks’
During this time, I also noticed a child playing on a trampoline by herself, yelling out at the top of her voice to the world ‘I WANT CORONA VIRUS!’ I was waiting to hear if her mother was going to respond to this as I was interested in what she might say, but there was no response. This defiant exclamation along with the schoolyard observations are examples of ways children are trying to make sense of the unknown that was having a huge impact on their daily lives.
Children will often verbalise their thoughts and feelings through play and this is not a bad thing. So don’t feel upset or worried if you hear your children, or the children you care for expressing themselves with this language in their play, this is a normal response for children and a way for them to interpret and make sense of their world. The International Play Association, an international non-government organisation whose purpose is to protect, preserve and promote the child’s right to play as a fundamental human right state:
‘The world is coping with the unprecedented crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic itself and governments’ responses to it have had a significant impact on children around the world’.
‘There is a heightened need to support children’s play at this time’
‘The International Play Association recognises playing as a basic and vital part of the pleasure of childhood. We see it as an essential part of all aspects of children’s development’.
‘During times of crisis, play has a significant therapeutic role helping children recover a sense of normality and joy’.
The Association has also developed some fantastic resources for families and carers around supporting children’s play during a crisis, these can be found HERE.
I have been working with children for nearly 20 years and my current role as an Education and Care Consultant mainly consists of supporting adults that work with children. During this time, I have been a passionate advocate for children’s play and strongly believe play is an essential part of all children’s development, therefore in this new COVID-19 world, I have been interested to see how children would react and how this change would affect them. I have been pleasantly surprised by what I am seeing and hearing from friends, family and in the community.
Children were going back to playing like I did when I was a child. My sister-in-law talked about children playing daily just behind her house which borders on to a bushland reserve. They were meeting together with a selection of shovels and rakes building some serious jumps for their bikes and were having a great time challenging themselves for hours on end in their play. Close to where I live, I was noticing children roaming in small groups with no adults around. Some were building cubbies from sticks and branches, some were climbing trees and others playing with kites or paper planes. Even when it was raining children were getting outside and running through the rain and jumping in puddles screaming and laughing as they played. Furthermore, I was seeing and hearing instances of this from friends and colleagues here in Tasmania and on the mainland.
As a strong supporter of play and risky-play, in particular, I was thrilled to see children engaging in this way. It’s been interesting to hear parents worrying about their children missing out on learning opportunities because schools were closing, as I have been reflecting on this in a completely different context. From what I could see, children were now being provided with the time to slow down and just be. No more swimming lessons, soccer training, piano lessons, math tutoring, picking up siblings, heading out to do the shopping, dance lessons, and so on. From my perspective, children were getting outside and exploring either by themselves or with other children learning things outside of the classroom about the world around them. Ironically, they were learning the skills that have been identified by researchers and experts that our children will require moving into the future. Children were not only having heaps of fun, but they were also problem-solving, negotiating, critically thinking, collaborating, communicating, persevering, being creative, using mathematical concepts, taking risks, self-assessing risk and more….
I am hearing from many, that after this pandemic, things won’t be the same again, and I am hoping this will be the case, especially for a lot of children out there. While many families are now experiencing more time at home together, hopefully, they can also begin to understand the benefits that children’s unstructured play can have on what may have been over-structured lives.
Scott Gibson – Education and Care Consultant