Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post || The Universal Language of Play

Thank you Chelsea for inviting me to share my experience on your Play Lady blog.  I love that you have chosen to embrace the name Play Lady.  

Play is such an important part of who we are as people (little or big)!  I recently traveled to Cambodia as the Child Life Specialist on an Operation Smile Mission. It was my second Op. Smile Mission, the first being a trip to India. Because I dont speak any of the 10,000 dialects spoken in India, and I dont speak Khamer the primary language spoken in Cambodia, I was faced with connecting with children (and adults) through the language of tone, expression, gesture and PLAY.  

Child life “play areas” were very simple, a couple of mats or mattresses on the floor covered by a colorful sheet or table cloth, some basic supplies (whatever fits in a suitcasecrayons, markers, coloring sheets, crafts, balls, matchbox cars, bubbles, stickers). In India many of the children (and even adults) had not colored before and were fascinated by the process. The children and their parents were intrigued by all the toys, and joined pretty readily in the activities. One little wind-up chick bounced across the floor to squeals of delight. Bubble blowing was, of course, the hit of the day!  It made me think about the true essence of play:  spontaneity, fueled by curiosity, and experiencing the unexpected. True play is really joyful, and I am humbled by the joy that I found in these poverty stricken pockets of the world. 

One of my favorite memories in India, is grown men playing. Our child life area was in a hallway next to the maternity unit.  There were several babies being born during the week I was there.  We had a roll-a-way screen between the child life area and the fathers waiting area. Often times I would notice fathers peeking around the screen to see what we were doing.  They would go back to the task of waiting.  I brought several matchbox cars and one of the children inadvertently rolled one under the dividing screen and into the waiting area. To my delight,  I heard two young fathers talking and laughing. They examined the car, turned it this way and that and then started rolling it back and forth between them, playing with it. I am reminded that many adults have forgotten how to play, and have lost the play connection with their own children. This my friend is an excuse to PLAY today regardless of your age. And if you have children, remember play is an important way to connect with them. 

After the mission in Cambodia, I traveled with several team members to visit ancient 12th century temples in the Northern part of Cambodia (Angkor Wat).  As this is a wonderful tourist attraction, many children who live in the area with their families can be found at the temples trying to sell postcards, or trinkets. According to our tour guide, these families depend on the income from these sales to survive. The likelihood that tourist will buy items from children is high, so children are taught to sell and earn income at an early age. They can usually say a few phrases in English, like “please maam, just a dollar for you. Please maam I want to go to school.  They follow you and it is so….hard to say no (I have more trinkets than I need for sure). Day two of site seeing, I packed a few toys (bubbles, cars, and mirrors) in my backpack and when a child would walk beside me and ask “just a dollar for you maam” and show me all they had to sell, I would give them a toy. Unexpected, they would smile with delight when I blew some bubbles or gave them a toy. I gave onematchbox car to a young boy (about 5 or 6 years old). He smiled and clear as day in English he said, “Can I have one for my friend?” I reached in my bag and pulled out a second one.  He sat down on the edge of the temple path and began to play with his cars. As I continued down the walkway, I heard a gruff voice and saw a man (likely his father) come through the crowd, carrying a long thin stick and looking angry.  I was concerned he would hit the boy! (he didnt thank goodness or I might be jailed in Cambodia right now). The boy immediately got to work selling his postcards, but he tucked the little cars into his pocket and gave me a smile. The desire to play, and the connection are universal. I hope this little guy will get to take a break and share his new found treasure with his friend.  Play is always more fun when shared with a friend!

Michele Tryon, MA, BS, CCLS 

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