On Friday, January 18, I presented my work for the New York Coalition for Play, a group of colleagues in the NYC area who are working to improve children's opportunities for play. Some of the entities represented were: The Alliance for Childhood, Children’s Environments Research Group at CUNY, NYC Early Childhood PD Institute, the Rockwell Group (creators of Imagination Playground) the NYC Parks Department, the Child Development Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Children's Museum of Manhattan, the UFT, NYC DOE teachers, and independent education scholars and consultants.
I shared clips of videos I had made with children in Brooklyn and beyond, from 2001 (Sophie in the Trees) to the present (Red Hook/PS 27), and gave special emphasis to the poetic language I have experienced children using in their voiceover narrations of the videos. Some examples:
• She's looking at something that we can't see. (Sophie in the Trees)
• The seeds will be able to grow inside the dolls, and maybe they will pop up as a little kind of food. (Ark)
• A grass pulled me down, all the way down, all the way to outer space. (Mystery Castle)
• It's raining because the leaf is putting up to the sky. It's raining. (PS 27)
• I think it was a camera but nobody was watching. Or maybe somebody put a camera inside a seed to look at us. (Mysteries in the Woods, work-in-progress)
I remarked about the sense of mystery that has permeated this work, particularly as heard in the children's voices themselves, as they have told the stories of their video-plays over the past seven years. Regardless of the setting or project, each group of children I have worked with has been captivated with the idea that something mysterious may be going on outside while they are playing, or even the idea that they might have found an actual treasure, hidden in the ground, behind a bush, or in a hole in a tree. Young children are completely tuned in to the metaphysical possibilities inherent in the simplest act of play. In that sense, they have much to teach adults about awareness of the spiritual realm of everyday life. I hope that at the least, my videos may help young children to access this other side of life, especially if they are not given other opportunities to do so, in school or at home.
The group also heard from Penny Wilson, esteemed Play Worker from the Play Association Tower Hamlets in London, who gave a heartfelt talk about the power of play to open up children's hearts and minds. The Alliance for Childhood is sponsoring her current tour of the U.S., which will include stops in MD, D.C., IL, MI, and CA, where she will facilitate Americans studying Play Work as practiced by Penny and her colleagues in the UK, in Adventure Playgrounds and other conducive play environments. Penny spoke so eloquently about the depth of meaning inherent in children's play. Educators in the U.S. have much to learn from her.
Finally we were enlightened by Richard Lewis, founding director of the Touchstone Center in NYC, who, there in the basement of the NYC Parks Rec Center on 25th Street, guided us in making "snow"! If anyone could remind adults about the power of the human imagination, it would be Richard. I have attended wonderful workshopsthat he has given surrounding the theme of the poetry of childhood at Henry Street and other venues around the city, but it had been a few years since I had seen him at work. Richard truly gets at the heart of the matter of the life of the child as seen through the lens of imaginative play, both inside the mind and outside. He showed us a telescope made in a workshop with children (see image above), that could function as a viewfinder for children's thoughts about play. When asked to look through their newly-made "telescopes" and to see and describe Play, here is what two children said:
• The universe is like fireworks.
Things are always burning up.
The universe started by somebody playing. (Anoah)
• I feel very good.
I feel so good when I play.
I catch my moment. (Cristol)
Richard did such a beautiful job of making the imagination more real to all of us.
Ark, our 15 minute video from 2002 (about which I wrote my Ed.M. thesis), featuring four family groups of children from Brooklyn, in a mysteriously linked story about dolls, seeds and a box, has been installed for the past month, with the dolls, box and all eight costumes, at Artspace MCV/NYC in Brooklyn. We were thrilled to be part of the show "Risus," which benefited Toys for Tots, and to meet the artists/curators behind MCV, who were gracious enough to build out a beautiful corner of the gallery just for Ark. Thank you Jason, Sean and Lauren.