The Power of Play



On Friday I spoke with two friends from Love and Hope. One of them, K, is a young teacher who is giving tutoring sessions to some of the children. She will be at the Home for two years. Two of the children she is tutoring individually are the two boys of 8 and 9 years old that I wrote about in a previous posting. I am particularly concerned about these boys, who are both struggling in school and seem isolated and unhappy. I was glad that she would be helping them with their academic skills and their homework, because school is such an important source of self esteem in school aged children. In addition, it seemed to me that offering them another relationship with an adult whom they could come to trust and care about could make an important difference at this time in their lives, could change their negative sense of themselves and give them hope. 

In my last visit, I spoke with the psychologist and social worker about beginning individual therapy sessions with these children. In this conversation, I recommended to K that she add 15 minutes of “play” to the end of each tutoring session. By play I meant playing a game and not talking about anything serious unless the child brought it up naturally in the course of the game. 

It is easy to underestimate the importance of play and the role it has in child development. A simple game of cards involves many features that scaffold growth. For example, when the card players move back and forth across the play space as they draw and place cards, they are creating coordiinated rhythms with their bodies, what I call a “do se do” pattern. When they speak, they make coordinated rhythms with the duration of their vocal turns and with the length of the pauses they take as one finishes speaking and the other begins.  These coordinated rhythms are implicit; they occur out of awareness in the micro-process, the second and split second time frame, but they underlie the building of trust in a relationship. Synchronous rhythms between two people can generate a sense of comfort and security. They can form the basis of reciprocity. 

In a larger time frame, a game can generate trust through the notion of “fair play”. The adult proves herself trustworthy by not taking unfair advantage of the child in the game, not cheating. She demonstrates tolerance by her patience with the child as he learns a new game or when he is not as adept as she at playing. She shows compassion when the child loses and even offers an example of “good” winning by expressing pleasure but not gloating nor superiority. You can see why I recommend playing a game.

I will follow up with K to see how this goes.

In the next post I will begin the summary of the Infant Mental Health Course weekend, which was wonderful.

Read this blog in Spanish.

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