Another Playworker and I, were creating a play provocation in the form of a tyre mountain/pyramid in Joomunjie Land.
Joomunjie Land is a 'Community Backyard' for local children to play, after school ond during schools holidays. It's purpose is to provide children with a space to engage in creative, constructive, self-directed free play, with local friends. Just be children.
During this play session, our plan was to make the tyre mountain about 3 or 4 metres high, tiered to avoid high impact falls, encourage climbing and see what provocation this would have on play, if any.
A new parent, Jo, entered Joomunjie Land with her young 8-year-old son in tow, Kayden. I introduced Kayden to long time Joomunjie Land player, and original team designer, Tyler, who is nine years old and asked if he would show Kayden around.
Once out of ear shot, Jo asked where she could sit. I informed her if she wanted to stay that is fine, however most parents drop their children and leave. Jo then told us that 6 months ago they lost their son, Jo’s younger brother, and she didn’t feel comfortable leaving him, yet. Devastating. I said, “I am so sorry”. Jo said “Kayden loves this type of play, he needs it. It has been hard”. My Playwork colleague beautifully expressed “It must be difficult when you need to heal too”. There was a silence as we all stared down towards Kayden and the other children immersed in self-directed play.
There was no sign of sadness in Kayden as he tumbled rolled down the hills inside the compressed cardboard tube, or while running around exploring, swinging, playing with all the other children present.
Joy, a 10-year-old girl who regularly plays in Joomunjie Land, quickly claimed the tyre mountain as
her own ‘new base’ and started decorating. After a while, Kayden tried climbing the mountain and was promptly and rudely ejected by Joy. Kayden’s mum watched her son get booted off the tyre mountain by Joy, and I said to her "Joy spends most of her time playing alone. She likes it that way. She has challenges playing with others". Jo seemed to soften at this knowledge, by this time Kayden was off with the other children immersed in mud making. "Where is the water" I heard him yell to the others.
Joy disappeared and went off to one of her three established kitchens she had built and started making some culinary delight. Joy has a knack for preparation, presentation and turning dirt, water and whatever other bits of nature around her into something amazing and delicious looking.
The other children were now all grouped down the bottom swinging and climbing over the nets. I spotted Kayden trying to master the big rope swing. The others immersed in a wrestling type game. Giggle, squeals, calls of freedom and fun.
I spotted Joy heading towards Jo, Kayden’s mum, and offered her a beautifully decorated mud cupcake. It looked like chocolate covered with orange icing.
Rosemary, 10 year old, started making a unique type of mud pie, which comprised of a splattering of mud folded and wrapped in a huge bright green leaf. Rosemary mischievously delivered a neat little leaf parcel too me, that had a small drip of bright orange mud oozing from one side onto her hand. Giggling Isla says, "Here you go, your mud pie", placing it carefully in my hands. Then quickly Rosemary slapped it and mud squirted on both Rosemary and me. Her hands were covered in mud. Rosemary ran off squealing with delight. I said “YUK, diarrhea hands”. Rosemary looked at me with disgust and wonder. Smiled and then repeated my words “Diarrhea hands”.
This piqued the curiosity of the others. Rosemary started chasing others around with her mud-covered hands laughing and calling out "Diarrhea hands, diarrhea hands". The other children become enchanted by this disgustingly wonderful thought and joined in a choir of “Diarrhea Hands”. This briefly became a chant while children ran for their lives in fear on being touched by the pretend poo covered hands. Eva, Rosemary's 7-year-old sister, inspired, covered her hands in bright orange mud and began chasing others too. More squeals, running, laughing, smiles and fun.
Suddenly Joy appears next to me holding a pot of mud, stirring it with a stick. It is a bright orange colour and smooth. The others are still running everywhere and for a few brief moments it is quite chaotic. Joy standing there with a pot of mud says, "it looks like I have some competition". I responded, "What do you mean"? Joy replies in a very impressed tone "This mud is really good. Look at this consistency".
The other children are still running away with chants of diarrhea hands being called out everywhere. I look at Joy and ask, "Did you just steal their mud"? she smiles and says "Yep", then walks off towards one of her kitchens, the others blissfully unaware as the diarrhea hands chase continues for a little while longer.
In reflection, what do you see happening in this singular play session?
In my humble subjective view I witnessed, individually, each child immersed in expressing their story, through their play. All the while caught in web of a ‘group think’, each child threading their way through one another’s story. Linking together as they pass through the others world. Impacting directions, at times strengthening one another’s stories, or, at times weakening the web.
In a small but powerful play-story I see restorative healing, time away from trauma, testing of boundaries, self-awareness, strengthening of identity, kindness and compassion towards each other, inclusion, acceptance, as well as connection to nature, and parent giving her
child a very powerful gift, as well as too many other outcomes to repeat. So complex, tricky to pin down and put into words in some instances, and yet at the same time, so beautifully simple and human.
Australian Institute of Play