Play and relationship development are the hallmarks of the culture of childhood. As children play together, we witness their joys, frustrations, anxieties, and intellect. We observe their openness and flexibility of thought. We notice their ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss educator and philosopher, had it right when he said,
"If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society."
It is vital that we commit to protecting the culture of childhood. This does not mean protecting children from risk, failure, or disappointment, but rather giving them the space and freedom to be unfettered by our adult intentions, goals, perspectives, and fears.
During our second Institute this past April, Dr. Ben Mardell, a professor at Lesley University, discussed the Pedagogy of Play and its role in helping children problem solve and consolidate their experiences. He reminded us that play supports children, sustains their attention, and helps them remain focused and engaged in the moment. Play is restorative and reaffirming to children.
I am reminded of this each time the Kindergarten hikes into the forest, and I watch groups of children build structures with campfires "burning" outside. They scale banks and wade through water deep in the imaginative play that they have constructed with their peers.
Research has shown repeatedly that creativity and a spirit of innovation flows from play. Instead of nurturing and respecting childhood, our culture often desecrates it by letting the adult world seep in too early and quickly. It is hard to tap the imagination if there is a bombardment of visuals and sounds fighting for air time in our inner worlds.
Our school sponsored a forum in mid-April at Binford Middle School in the Fan. The intention of the forum was to consider the state of the child in our city of Richmond. The panel spoke on so many important and relative things regarding education, community, safety, and health. It is overwhelming to hear that so many of our children's basic needs are not being met each day. I experienced this, first hand, when I taught at a public school in our city's East end. We would wonder how to teach a child that had spent the night sleeping in a car.
I think that the piece that two of the panelists, Ben Mardell and Lella Gandini (U.S. Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach), brought to the forum was the recognition that there are basic needs of children that are essential to securing this culture of childhood that feed their soul and their mind. Children need to be heard and their thoughts considered, and of course they need to have some time each day to play and connect with their peers. This basic need is not dictated by zip code. It affects all cultures, all races, and all socioeconomic levels. Play is not present in the lives of our children globally.
The International Play Association lobbies around the world for a child's right to play and disconnect, for a period, from the realities and responsibilities of their lives. I found the following information on their website.
The International Play Association (IPA) has long been concerned about the play rights of children experiencing difficult circumstances or challenging environments. Too many of the worldâ€™s children face huge barriers in their everyday environments which mean that they have to snatch their chances to play whenever and wherever they can â€“ and sometimes in considerable danger. In situations of crisis, the disadvantages (such as stress, hampered physical and emotional development, feelings of lack of control, loss of trust, etc.) steadily multiply if children lack everyday opportunities for play.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children. It is a benchmark against which a nationâ€™s treatment of its children can be measured. It brings together, in one comprehensive code, the benefits and protection for children hitherto scattered in a variety of other agreements, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959. The UN Convention also affirms that human rights contained in other treaties apply equally to children.
The Convention was officially approved by the United Nations in 1989 and has been ratified by every country in the world but two (currently 194). Ratification of the Convention is a commitment by these nations to comply with the articles of the treaty and thereby to protect and enhance the basic rights of children through their policies, programs and services.
This remarkably comprehensive treaty not only incorporates current thinking with regard to childrenâ€™s rights but also demands that the world think more deeply about childrenâ€™s position as citizens and more broadly about their development than has commonly been the case. It asks that we look holistically at childrenâ€™s lives and hear their own perspectives on issues affecting them.
As a result, it is leading many nations to address elements of childrenâ€™s lives that have hitherto been ignored but that represent our fundamental humanity. One of these â€“ at the heart of childrenâ€™s lives everywhere â€“ is the right to play.