It's Mental Health Well-Being Week this week, and it brings the importance of finding time within our squeezed days to take care of ourselves into sharp focus. Taking care is something that many of us find hard to do however - often we put ourselves at the end of the queue...
If you look back over the past month and you count the times you did something that helped you relax, switch off and temporarily 'step outside of life', you'd probably count no more than three or four if that. Modern Life was already condensed into a rush and push, and Covid-19 seems to have only exacerbated the pressures both physical and mental. It can begin to feel that what we see around us is the only possibility, stretching out to the horizon - we want to see hope, to feel that the present challenges will come to an end, but the path to this seems remote and dim.
Uncertainty and stress seem ever-present companions in each day nowadays. Not only do we need to meet the practicalities of coping in the face of the ongoing pandemic, many of us will also find ourselves in environments that feel 'different' and untypical of Early Years spaces that we might hold as being effective. We want play but it feels, just like the path out of Covid, far-off and distant. Relationships with parents may feel less personal. Rules and updates on the use of playdough, water, sand, Lego, books all seem to have sprung up and impacted on our provision. We may feel at a loss, unable to spring the richness of play to life. Some of us may also be under pressure to ensure 'catch-up' especially if we work in schools and settings that are driven by the spreadsheet and micro-management. It's as though we feel leaned on from all sides.
All of this can have a significant toll on our mental health, and it's certainly true that if we are not at our best, then we can fall short of giving our best to our children. Do we ever feel like we have somehow been pushed to the side of our own lives, as though we are a bystander watching on, an observer in a maelstrom not knowing which way to turn? We want to feel joy. even a glimpse of it, but the days seem bloated with external forces pressing down on our ability to do something, to act. We can quickly discover ourselves in a state of mind that has its finger permanently on the 'react' button, pinballing from one thing to next. Pinball Brain can lead us to another state if we are not careful: Unravelled Brain. In this state our good intentions for children, our playful pedagogy, our self-perception as the 'teacher-who-is-me', the Controller of our little world, can often represent a chicken coop when a fox gets in...
Can we find a way in which the joy we and our children need to feel so desperately can be taken by the hand, especially if we currently feel unable to bring play into the room for the majority of the day? Well, yes, perhaps we can...
I would suggest that we take some time to look at our week. Look to see what moments there might be for co-play, that rich and immersive phase of a day when we can become embedded in children's play and its magic. It might only be an hour a week, it may be an hour a day. One hour of co-play a week is better than none. And why is it better than none? Because it is here, in co-play, that the magic of children will bring us to life - the starlight that children have within them, that they have in their souls, that light that just wants to burst forth and show us how to live once more, with wonder, curiosity, creativity and collaboration will sweep into the room.
It is here that the mystery of childhood will reveal itself - that Great Unknown of play that will embrace you and pull you in. The choices children make, their re-imagining and inventions, their ability to cross-pollinate language and ideas, and their delight of being valued and listened to. of being seen because we let go and stepped into their world. And like them we can become 'play-full' even for that hour. For it is there that the joy of life awaits us. It can fill us - we'll feel its warmth in our limbs, even when we anticipate it - that Golden Hour(s) - we will have something to look forward to. It will be the hope...
Because there is hope. There is a way forward. We may not be able to fully sense it yet, but the moments of co-play might just be the lens that we can put to our weary eye and see the possibility of joy once more. And this hope that is co-play is not just for the adult alone. It is for our children too - for play is buzzing and humming inside of them 24/7 and the moments in our week where we make space for co-play, very subtly but critically, will be showing them that they can change the world around them. It will show them that they are protagonists in their own adventure, an adventure on which we are by their side, there for them, with our own skills and and magic and curiosity to lend them when they need it.
If we can feel joy deep in our soul as we read these words, then we are halfway there. If we can't play for the majority of our week, then at least that hour or two can enable the one thing that will bring us and children well-being from here to the moon and back - play.
Play IS our hope - it's our Excalibur, let's pull it out of the stone that life has become and step into the fray. The children will be right there with us as we hold it x
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....