Musing on last school “holidays”…

It’s not as such a holiday for us in that Helena and I have to go and I get paid. So for 8 weeks of the year I visit full time work and Helena goes into care, unusually and importantly for her, they are the same place. I have very little to do with Helena and our days can go so differently.

There is an ebb and flow of my time, mental energy, friendships, just as there is for the kids. I spend most of the morning totally focused. It’s when I get asked for resources, chatted too, do the settling in some kids need to feel safe? empowered? those needing a short hand hold. Then at some point everyone starts on some self directed task which I usually don’t understand and try never to interfere with. True play, and maximum learning, is when children decide of their free will what, how, where to play and make all the rules. It’s totally opt in and I love watching. It’s not until this all encompassing free play starts that we get to get to some harmonious balance and I begin to do “nothing”. But sometimes there are kids who just don’t settle, don’t get into it.. there is the “I’m bored brigade”. Sometimes I try to maneuver them into some thing, but you can usually tell who is just not going to work out, they just can’t think on their own of things to do. I worry for them and in the context of a holiday programmme there is not enough time to help them. Sometimes, occasionally, there is one kid who just disrupts the balance. The one, I am meaning neuro-typical children here, who hasn’t learnt how to play, who doesn’t know “the basic playing rules” or worse is playing “people games” some kind of power manipulation which then means the whole session will feel wrong, there will be arguments, other peoples independent play gets interfered with. Think mini ‘Lord of the Flies’ and the Jack character, or sometimes a Piggy.

Kids have these rules like dogs do, and it is all about body language and some kind of invisible attitude. Adults do this too we just pretend we don’t – the instant discomfort with some people, the recognition of people you have little in common with and knowing when your conversation is being held on different levels and that to actually understand requires a lot of work (I think we call that talking at cross purposes but it goes deeper). Some kids have to observe for ages even when they know the rules they just really want to be sure that the others will follow the rules, that they can trust them. There are one’s (like mine) who are rendered ‘shy’ when there is a group of kids, even when they know them all, they are silent while they have to watch the interactions between these kids to get a sense of the play dynamic as they know people behave differently in groups, they can sense discord, inequality.

I love the holiday programme for allowing time, space, and freedom for this process to develop in ways that lunch time on the playground can not. To let children really learn about people.

One of the things I like and respect about schools (private i.e. pay for schools aside) is that they are for everyone, though this also gets subverted somewhat due to Tomorrows Schools (where zoning and resourcing is at the board of trustees discretion). At a school you get members of the community that I, for instance, might not get to meet in my self selected group of mostly well educated, non religious, left winger friends and the same is true with the holiday programme (though it is important to say that this is a paid service so a kind of selection occurs and I suspect we loose the “I’m bored”s to more structured programmes) as we DO not, CAN not, and WILL not exclude anyone. My kid gets to meet children who are play challenged, the diversity of people she will meet later.

I had an interesting conversation with a child I know well and have done over a long period of time, as we watched one of the people manipulators at work. Their take was that this child had the making of a bully, despite the child disguising this. I agreed. Behind every child who is behaving in a way we can’t tolerate is some kind of motivation that needs addressing, there are conversations to be had, a fragile ego maybe. I feel even in the context of a holiday programme that we as a group and especially me as a responsible adult needs to address this and support that child. Even at the cost of my harmonious day I really hope this child will come again and that I can in some way help.