A little kid, a bit infamous for forceful, aggressive social moments and frequently storming off swearing, attends the loose parts playground regularly. He is identified as having additional needs. A teacher walking by hears him swearing and grunting in the direction of a heavy, dusty tractor tyre which he just cannot move alone. I can’t f…ing move it..aagh!
He yells some more impressive and even more unprintable abuse at the massive tyre - and at the whole predicament. The tyre stays immobile... until he eventually turns rather meekly and hesitantly towards the busy, bustling kids all around and simply asks.
“Can anyone help me...?”
There is a sort of hallowed silence.
4 or 5 kids immediately turn and move towards him eager mostly to demonstrate their group’s increasingly famous engineering prowess... They surround the tyre, lift it, and shuffle it over to his chosen location.
He is dumbfounded, surprised and left grinning with spiralling wonder.
We could devise or purchase shiny, commercial social skills programs, and implement them impressively... without ever getting the traction that this worn old tyre achieved in that dynamic, risky moment: a few seconds of old-fashioned, genuine play where children’s genuine intentions, purpose and agency are let loose in a village-like, multi-age space that may in fact resemble our ancient evolutionary needs; the sort of space where the development of social confidence and communication find their natural home.