The questions and longings of parents with little ones:
Ideas and activities that will captivate, occupy and engage (preferably not too messy). Playful ways to replace screens. More independent free play (a.k.a. I need a break!)
If they could just “do their own thing” for a while!
Do we even dare imagine that kids can sit alone in self-satisfied reverie for hours, lost in their imaginations, swimming in the crystal clear sea of who they really are?
If that sounds like fantasy, if I lost you at “hello”….that’s OK.
But I’d love to tell you about the one thing we’ve done for 10 years that’s really established that reality for us — as we’ve raised our 4 very play-absorbent children.
I’d say there’s one thing above all that we did gloriously “right.”
What I want to share with you goes beyond parenting style. It doesn’t matter how many hours a day of video games you condone, where you shop or where your kids go to school (or don’t).
So promise me you won’t pull out the Mary Poppins measuring tape; it’s not about being practically perfect in every way.
It’s just a simple truth that set me free — back when I had no idea what I was doing — when my kids were 2 and 4.
A few words inserted into a ripe, open heart (so ripe, so ready)! Take it or leave it…..for us it has made all the difference.
It was the keynote address by a wise, wise Waldorf woman — ambassador of free play and director of the Alliance for Childhood: Joan Almon.
I remember standing up, amidst the hundreds of conference attendees, to ask the question that was plaguing my daily life and numbing my will to live: “how much should I play with my kids?? How can I get out of playing little toy cars with my 2 year old son ALL THE TIME????”
Not that I didn’t enjoy their company. Not that I didn’t want to play tea party and make believe and eat bottomless bowls of dandelion soup….all very marvellous, but it was draining me to the bone.
Something felt amiss.
Joan Almon’s keynote talk spun electrons around one core principle; one steady nucleus — a centre point of what was needed:
The definition of Play as child-led, child-motivated, open-ended & unstructured.
Since then, that one basic idea has attracted a whole host of likewise ideals — Wild, Natural, Simplicity, and Waldorf — all making me a happier and happier parent and spawning a full universe of wonderment in my home.
I now take these truths as self-evident:
Play is their job. Their kingdom. Their daily bread.
I am not their playmate. I am their model and provider.
The calibre of their play goes up as I get out of the way.
As I tend purposefully & joyfully to my realm, they will tend to theirs.
I am an atmosphere to my child; so I strive to embody spaciousness.
I safeguard imagination and creativity above all & avoid surrogates.
I thoroughly relish & continue to grow in my role as a “playworker.”
Not everyone will thrill at the idea of “playwork” but I absolutely adore it.
For me, it was like discovering that (sweet destiny!) the secret to raising wholesome, happy kids just happened to be the thing I most loved:
The glorification of Play!
Play as Holy Grail!
My highest joy: to be a playweaver.
When I look back over 10 years of Play preserved in photographs I see common elements; I see quarries of gold, seams of diamond, ribbons of treasure.
I see the banquet of Play that has made my kids who they are.
I see the devotion and artistry within it all — the sacred loose parts and recipes concocted out of rich, rich collaboration.
I see it in scene after scene — how their soul-satisfying Play condensed like moisture out of the air; manifest because of the vessels, the provisions, the substance I gave them.
I see my evolution as a playworker/weaver; how it all became simpler and simpler and simpler with time as they owned more and more of their Play.
So, what is Playwork?
A strange term at first glance but an actual career in many parts of the world, playwork is a way of overseeing/empowering the deepest possible Play. It has its own methodologies and best practises (worth a google!)
In a nutshell:
A playworker will set up and “strew” play-worthy materials — the more basic/versatile the better.
A playworker will then step back and watchfully allow. Allow the Magic of childsplay to happen.
The playworker is largely silent; almost invisible.
They trust the children and have faith in the process.
They may weave in a new element now and then, but they are hesitant to interfere, slow to offer admonishments, cautions, problem solving or advice.
I run a little Waldorf inspired Kinderforest in my home and I have been privileged to behold the ebb and flow — the Magic that carries the children like wind, like current.
They don’t look to me for much anymore…
They know they have the wellspring inside them and they are intimate with the sweet spot. They are becoming experts at combining their ideas and working through their differences.
Alternatively, I could have created a program where I was indispensable; where new craft materials were needed every week, where the prep was overwhelming, and where constant monitoring was required during class.
But I do Kinderforest the way I raised my own kids:
I think highly of them and their capacities and I give them lots of opportunities to prove me right about that. I open wide the gates of Play by supplying good hearty materials in abundance. I help them fulfill their visions. I expect and require clean-up, responsibility, and kindness. I am warm and enthusiastic and offer my authentic delight, lavish as warm butter over their daily bread.
So. There you have it. If it sparks you, if it speaks to you — Parent like a Playworker. It’s an incredible journey and you have everything you need inside of you: access your own child-heart (remember/imagine what you loved to do as a kid) and let that lead the way.
More on this theme and specific how-to tips in the next post — “The Ramshackle Way to Play” coming soon.
To support my new children’s book (which is equally if not more so for the pleasure and inspiration of the adult!) please visit Kickstarter:
It’s the story of a Fairy Godmother who gives up her wings to become a Playworker…..an enchanting lyric tale that glorifies free play and sparks imagination!
A truly beautiful book, vibrantly illustrated by Alisa Day Reeves.
Don’t miss your opportunity to pre-order!
Until next time….
May your child’s Play be as wide as it is deep and as strong as it is long!
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