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Greg Bottrill: Play Loves You…

There’s something you should know… Play loves you. It always has and it always will.  

Maybe let that just sit with you for a while. Feel it. Allow the love that play has for you to glow within you. Play has loved you for your whole life. It gave you a tiny flame for you to hold in your heart, and the moment it did that, play told you that it isn’t something you do, it is who you are. 

You’ve spent you whole life seeking to show the world that very flame. Indeed, the world has waited for you to show it – it wants to be played with, to be brought to life by you. And why? Because the world around you knows that play has everything you need. It is your inventiveness, your marvel, your will. It’s your connection to others and to nature, your drive to adventure and seek new encounters, to mould materials, to explore and feel the joy of being alive in the world – it is why play is here, because in the words of the late poet, Marly Oliver “Joy is not made to be a crumb”. 

The beat within you 

Can you feel it? Can you feel how play beats within your chest? It beats there because it wants you to unfold your creativity, your inquisitiveness, your dream. Play wants you to go on an adventure. Not by yourself, but in the companionship of the children you have the privilege of working with, with the animal kingdom that offers you endless allies, with the parents and families you support, and the team of Play People that you are part of. 

Perhaps it is the Play People who need this message the most. The pandemic will have had a significant impact on them, as well as the children. The sector feels heavy now: recruitment, retention, morale, pressures, absences are all taking their toll on well-being and if we are not in the right frame of mind, then we find it even harder to bring the best of ourselves into each day. 

It’s certainly something that we’ve noticed in the kindergarten I work with here in Devon. And our solution? We’ve chosen to go on an adventure. All the team know that play loves them and the children. We know that love holds the healing we need, with all its chat and movement and sense of belonging. Because both the adults and the children belong with play since that is their shared ‘language’. Perhaps it’s time to go back to The Hundred Languages of Children poem by Loris Malaguzzi and read it slowly, allowing each line to speak and galvanise you – there is a dream, there is wonder, there is remedy. All of them can be found in play. 

An adventure awaits you 

So, taking this belief, the kindergarten team have begun to use the narrative of ‘adventure’ each day, to start it asking, “I wonder what adventure I will go on today?”, which in turn we have begun asking the two-year-olds, who in turn are now using that word too – we often hear about adventuring with the playdough or having an adventure with the bricks. We’re even hearing parents ask their children at pick up time what adventure they’ve been on. It’s a simple approach, but one that has begun to show the team that every day we are ‘writing the storyline of childhood’ – it has galvanised all of us to see ourselves in this way, adventurers who no matter how hard things feel, will press on, will enable each other and openly reflect on what the day’s adventure has brought and what tomorrow’s might.  

It is this sense of adventure that is ensuring joy is not a crumb. We can’t change the immediate staff absences and shortages and we can’t go back in a time machine and change the past, but we can hold one another close on the adventure and explore and discover as team and the children in our company since they have only one childhood and will have it once. 

And how will we adventure? What one thing do we have that illuminates the paths to take? What do we know and feel deep within us that loves us and will heal us and the children? Play. 

It is play that is waiting for us. It doesn’t want to become a lost word. It wants us to reciprocate its love and go with it on the adventure since play holds all the language, the social interactions, the mathematics, the mark making, the connection.  

Play holds the love because it IS love. Ultimately that is what our children need and it’s what we need too: love. We don’t have to say the word, but we can show it. We can show children that we love them by adventuring, by creating Learning Landscapes that glow with possibilities however simple they may be – play will fill in the rest. It’s what it does.  

Play with children, show them the joy of who you are. Together you can create the Kingdom of Play and you KNOW that there is no better place on this whole earth. Chat and wonder and BE with them there. This is what play wants you to do and if you are one of the Play People this is why you are here – to bring the world to life for children and for whoever is around you. Show them that play loves them.  

Close your eyes and feel the play beating in your chest – it’s there. Now, as a team, if you can feel the call to adventure too, roll up your sleeves, start an adventure, spark curiosity and show your children that play loves them, because it really, really, really does. 

Now, ask yourself the following three questions… 

  • Can you feel the love that play has for you? 
  • Are you willing to go on an adventure with your team? 
  • What three things can you do now, next month and this year that will show play that you love it in return?
     

Article written by Greg Botrill

With thanks to Greg Bottrill, Early Years author and trainer for writing this article. Greg is the author of ‘Can I Go and Play Now?’, which focuses on bring ‘the magic of children’ back into the Early Years through play.

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