2020 COVID Play
In a low socioeconomic status school setting, COVID school closures mostly meant opening our doors to students deemed to be at risk. (Not many fell into the other category of children of essential workers). We started with a group of around 30 students, with numbers steadily increasing each week as needs became apparent and as communication turned up emergencies.
Students that came to school, tended to have tricky home circumstances, complex needs, or known domestic-violence risks. The growing group was also made-up of students of all ages (i.e. prep-6).
Some parents had expressed feelings of desperation or inadequacy about their ability to provide support for their children in using our take-home or online curriculum materials. Others were previously known to need support. Some were clearly at breaking point, with large groups of siblings in overcrowded, multi-family dwellings.
The school day was radically different to the usual churning rhythm of bells and bustle. It was made up of fairly thinly supervised completion of the school’s lovingly prepared COVID curriculum materials, and… an abundance of outdoor, unstructured play.
I remember spending considerable time in the Prep playground where children of different ages now played together. One young boy, R (5), had started making potions in his carefully set up mud-kitchen. He prescribed and dispensed these potions as antidotes and remedies for all sorts of things. He didn’t call himself a chemist, but for some reason, announced that he was Mayor. (He pronounced this ‘May-or’, suggesting that he - at five, in a bookless, drug addled home, had read, rather than heard the word Mayor.) - wow... The main ingredients in his small-pharma offerings were eucalyptus leaves, seed-pods, dirt, water. Rocks and tree-stumps formed the mortar and pestles of the sunny apothecary.
R eventually harvested all of the low-hanging tree vegetation and needed to build a small but perilous tower from objects in the playground upon which to stand to reach the branches. He took this very seriously and would recruit anyone available to help. He later needed to throw one end of two tied-together skipping ropes over the low, bendy branches so as to haul them down to break the leaves and pods off for his next batch. A small group of admirers gathered to help and soon… there was a very effective team processing the fragrantly evocative, vegetation. Reno’s description of the benefits of his potions was extremely compelling (monsters could be defeated) and he gathered an enthusiastic crew of helpers and patients. Scooters and balance bikes made urgent deliveries all around the playground. Uber delivery drivers were paid in gravel rocks.
This play was watched by adults from some (COVID-safe) distance. Intervention was rarely needed. Each day brought a new change; shops opened; scooter races were held. At times, nervous adults ensured that the play was not too daring. They were also sometimes involved in adding/removing objects that sparked new directions. There was a lot of… play.
When school, as usual, finally resumed, I remember teachers – especially from the early years crew - approaching me and saying that the kids were not noticeably ‘behind’ but somehow …advanced.
The group of school attenders at our place towards the end of the COVID school closure was actually quite large. But school, had been different.
I’m not sure that we lost anything much that had not been overtaken by strangely unexpected gains.