Blog 37

Was thinking today about being alone- the rhetoric of Trump and Brexit – from those not fully supportive of either -seems to be about feeling overwhelmed, scared, powerless and disenfranchised. Alone. Obviously this is just what gets into my ‘bubble’.

I used to think of my ‘bubble’ as being Brighton, Islington, north London- a sort of leftie, liberal and guardian reading, Camden lock living, organic veg eating, homeopathy beliving bubble. Now it seems my bubble is just me.

One reads of families breaking down, friends being unfriended and neighbour set against neighbour as we all try to process what is happening, whether Brexit means Brexit and what it might mean for Us, Our children, Our stress levels and The Economy.

I can’t remember any time in my life when I was so aware of The Economy. I have worried about friends, relationships, health, love, philosophy and the meaning of life but The Economy?!?!!

Is it the most important thing? 

Surely who you love, how you live, whether you are happy, healthy, cheerful, if you have friends, good books to read, enough food, walks in the park, pets, people to talk about nothing with-aren’t  these are the important things?

I worry about young people (you know this about me!) I am concerned that information is getting to all of us too quickly, no buffers #nofilter. I used to think of myself as a ‘guardian reader’ but no one buys the paper anymore – and anyway I know too much about the other side of the story to trust a media source. This is just an example of the fact that groups that one could belong to and filter information through and discuss things with seem to have gone. Trade unions, churches, affiliation by newspaper or BBC versus ITV all seem retro and meaningless now. Leaving us and especially young people on our own.

Even the recent marches seem different from those that went before. The sense that each of us has, and indeed should have, our own reasons for marching, our own agenda, our own understanding of the issue serves to divide us even as we walk together.

The comfort of being in a group and agreeing, compromising, working together for a greater goal – this seems to be missing as we each struggle to work out for ourselves what’s important.

It’s time to think community – if this is not one of those words that is so tainted by some politicians speech as to be useless-Young people (and us!) will need to find ways to marry critical thinking- that allows for listening without being brain washed or terrified, an understanding of one’s own beliefs- where we come from and awareness of our own history and the acceptance of differences in others and where they are coming from. We need to build communities that are real not just a snapchat.

Community; where you feel supported, safe, able to express yourself, be yourself with others, agreeing to disagree and still sharing life events. No longer alone.

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Blog 36

It’s Christmas and specifically the Christmas of 2016. It has been a shocking and bizarre year with an accompanying realisation that life as we were living it has to change.I am, I realise, quite old now (or at least old enough to be considered ‘grown-up’!) and have developed many coping mechanisms – some of which I must admit, are failing me. But what of the young? 

How are they coping? Are we (the adults) able to get the head space ourselves to know?

There is constant research finding that our young are more anxious, are struggling with mental health issues, have worsening physical health and feel a lowered sense of well being.

So I guess yes – we know that children and young people are not managing, need help and are very stressed.

But what, if anything can be done by a group of people struggling to understand the world (adults) for a group of people struggling to understand the world (children)?

At IPA we focus on the individual and know that any play, work, support or help has to start where people are. Individual circumstances colour every thought, every emotion and it seems to me that past experience and learning fundamentally affects current understanding unless it is consciously challenged.

What then for the young person who has learnt that life is hard, people leave and the world is a scary place? 

I can only speak for myself, I was one of those young people and I have worked hard to break the cycle.

There can be habitual ways that we misunderstand what is happening (see the work of Aaron Beck) where we jump to conclusions or think superstitiously that one thing not working means that everything will go wrong. Negative thinking can depress us and reduce our energy and ability to feel optimistic. These patterns or habits can be challenged and to be honest children can be taught to stop doing it a lot quicker than the rest of us.

Children and young people are absorbing information constantly and the Internet is facilitating their getting certain types of data and helping to exclude others.

Watch any young person walking along a tree lined street, with a sunset over the city and puddles reflecting the light – they can tell you how many Pokemon they have got and how many likes on their selfie. I know I sound like an old killjoy misery guts – and to be honest I often feel like one.

I instinctively feel that there is a connection between failing to be aware of and be part of your surroundings and an increasing sense of disconnection and alienation that can lead to unhappiness.

And of course this is why I am a passionate supported of adventure playgrounds where children and young people are given the opportunity to explore their environment, change it, work on it and play in it. They are spaces where adults are taking the time to think about young people’s feelings, emotions and points of view. There is freedom from set outcomes and therefore the endless possibility of many. Adventure playgrounds are where habitual thinking can be challenged, new experiences enjoyed, peers become friends and yes, risks can be taken.

Call me sentimental, and at this time of year why not? But I hope and believe that 2017 will give us a chance to really think about what’s important and allows us all to develop the skills and resilience which we evidently are going to need.

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Blog 35

Not sure quite what to say. I have been through many different emotions and also a dampened down sense of no-emotion. I am not sure where I am at right now.
At a time like this when all the people I spend my time with seem to be feeling the same sense of unreality and we wonder whether the earth has shifted on its axis I am amazed, as always, by the children. I have had a number of serious conversations with all different ages which clearly show that they are as disturbed and worried as the adults around them and yet they can prioritise the now, incorporate their concerns and worries into their play and continue to interact with those around them, talking about their thoughts and feelings openly.

Perhaps we need to follow their lead. After all it is they who have to work out how to cope with what seems a very different world from the one I fondly remember from 2015.

Things are moving and changing so fast. Things like politics, technology, economics, box sets – that I can hardly keep up but then again I am old now or at least I feel it. My eldest left home last weekend and that means that I am old enough to have a daughter who has left home – how did that happen? I remember when she was born….

As one of the so called ‘grown-ups’ I am trying to carry on with what I need to do and am certainly proud of the work of IPA and the dependability of the brilliant staff in doing it and I am watching the children so that they can show me how we are going to get through this with grace, optimism and thoughtfulness.

 

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Post 34

I am finding life as a grown up complicated. I have become one of the disengaged, an outsider, disenchanted and seemingly disregarded.
Maybe it is my turn. Previously I have felt frustration, impatience and sometimes anger but I always felt that I knew who was making the decisions and why, even if I didn’t agree with them (Ed not David?!?).

I understand the outpouring of fury and disgust about the status quo that presumably had some impact on the Brexit vote outcome but I couldn’t then and I can’t now, see how where we are heading can make it any better.

I am feeling scared and powerless-it is very unusual for me!

I hope I am wrong, that I am unrealistic, gloomy, only seeing the worst. I hope so. 

I find that children and young people are amazing, they are able to get on with it and their frustrations and disengagement with adults and their ways will save them from being overwhelmed. Young people are used to grown ups making seemingly random rules and far reaching decisions that don’t take other group’s needs into account. They often feel the need to fight and argue and challenge to make their space in the world. To get some attention. To have their voice heard. 

Children and young people will inherit what we leave them and so they need skills, resilience, confidence and self esteem in order to survive and thrive.

Islington Play and its excellent staff team will continue to try to facilitate the environments and experiences that allow children to explore the world they find themselves in, find out about themselves and others and experience as much independence and freedom as possible.

 I will hunker down and focus on the work that I have committed to because I really believe in it. 

IPA is at the heart of Islington’s approach to children through our services and aim to support all families to protect, nurture and encourage their young ones to engage energetically with their world – whatever that looks like.

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Blog 33

My son doesn’t play out. There I’ve said it. I spend a lot of my professional life talking about how important it is for children to play out, away from their (possibly controlling/over anxious, almost certainly, insecure) parents but I cannot make it happen at home.Part of the reason is that I am at work and therefore not there to support it happening, partly it is because he loves the x box but mainly it is because there are no other children playing out.
I would like him to go and ‘knock’ for his mates and then for them to go to the park. That is what I used to do but the parents of his mates don’t feel safe about letting the children go by themselves. 
This means that an adult must be free to facilitate the play, that they must stay at the park with a watchful eye, they will not be able to resist or will genuinely enjoy, organising games and therefore behaviours. 

The ‘meetings’ for play (known as play dates) need to be set up, friends chosen, families vetted, safety kept uppermost in the minds and responsibility placed squarely on the play-dater’s shoulders.

I used to choose who I played with – my parents didn’t always like the children or their families. I didn’t care. I didn’t even consider it in my decisions. I worked it out for myself.

I was sometimes set up to play with people who my parents liked or friends they thought suitable – these weren’t the same people.

I find myself flummoxed by what is happening on a macro level in the UK right now, I have lost my confidence (if I ever had any) in those who have set themselves up to know more than the rest of us and am bewildered that the things that I value, beliefs that I have and opinions that I hold have no bearing whatsoever on what comes to pass.

I find myself returning to my experience as a young person when I couldn’t understand adults, why they did what they did or thought the things that they seemed to think and I am glad that I worked out then how to make up my own mind, consider my own decisions and live with the consequences of my actions.

We need to work out how to ensure our children and young people get the chance to develop these skills and build resilience so that they will be able to cope with what comes next. The adventure playgrounds in Islington offer this possibility but I don’t live in Islington- I need to work out how to get the parents of my son’s friends to let them out to play.

I will keep you updated. (And yes, the dog has gone).

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Blog 32

I have been thinking about the role of being a parent this week. I made a mistake at home and had to apologise. I said we could get a dog… 
Now without going into detail introducing a rescue dog into a home consisting of the eldest and her boyfriend living in the basement, the middle one doing A levels and planning her future life, the youngest (age 8) me and my husband may, to others more sensible than myself, seem obviously like a recipe for disaster.

I thought it might work.

 It didn’t.
Having older children seems to be no easier than having younger ones and a core issue is that as ‘the adult’ is there (me!) all risks are minimised for the children/young people/actually adults.

Their ability to risk assess and make decisions is affected by my presence. They trust me. They think I know what I am doing (?!).

This reminds me about why our adventure playgrounds do not allow adults on site during the weeks play sessions. It is to give the children the responsibility and freedom to make their own decisions and to try things out without their adults controlling and influencing their behaviours. The playgrounds create a safe space where families can practice trust.

Children do not make decisions based on parental approval or allowance, they have to think for themselves and find out what they are capable of coping with.

I am hoping this is what will stand all my own children in good stead when they leave home and decide whether to get a dog. Sadly dog ownership is definitely beyond my capability of coping….

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Blog 31

Let’s not mix up childcare with play.

This is a controversial statement – my own organisation provides both and ensures that our childcare services are play based. That is -based on the Playwork principles. However there are some fundamental tensions in that space. The principles state play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.Childcare and after school clubs have no intrinsic child-led agenda -the services are bought by adults -they may however have a culture, ethos and desire to provide excellent play opportunities for children to run sessions that are based on the freedom to play. What they all do have however is an increasing pressure to conform to a bizarre unrealistic ‘health and safety’ agenda which seems to imply that adults can irradiate risk for children.

This flies in the face of the UK’s own health and safety executive which once again has come out publicly to show the frustration of experts about our blinkered approach to supporting our children and young people to be equipped to deal with that which life will inevitably throw at them.

Mental health issues rising mean that a higher and higher number of children feel disconnected, lonely and powerless. It is proven that free, self-directed play develops connections in the brain, improves socialisation and gives a sense of agency…

Free play is what children do when you let them free. It is not the same as what they do when you set them tests, explain the rules of the game, tell them to make Christmas cards or to take turns.

Childcare is for adults. Play is for the individual. They are not the same. By all means let’s work hard together to ensure that the children placed into childcare by busy adults receive the opportunities to develop that play services can provide but let’s not forget the fundamental foundational difference -children in childcare are not free.

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