Blog 40

Resilience.What is it?

I have been thinking about this a lot. I think it means the ability to cope with what happens but of course this covers a multitude of subtle and not so subtle implications. 

We at IPA believe that play improves resilience but why is this so important?

Children are born and adapt to the world around them, they learn through their own senses – electrical messages going to their brains. They are influenced by their environment and the people around them and those closest to them have the greatest influence.

I am not going to cite the evidence for this simplistic description- I am going to presume you are with me so far.

Why do children learn and adapt? Presumably to survive- this seems to be why all living things do what they do.

So if a child is definitely going to survive what happens next? Which mechanisms kick in. Is there an aim to live the best life possible? To achieve? To be ‘happy’? To survive ‘more’?

Science hasn’t answered this and neither has philosophy.

If there is no further desire than to survive then all our learning and energy will continue to use the skills and techniques that we have needed to survive in our day to day lives and this is when it gets interesting.

It may be that we are responding to non threatening events as if we are being threatened. Using survival skills when we don’t need them.

Think about that.

So what is resilience? how does it help? 

Maybe part of being resilient is recognising when we are being threatened and when we can be calm, knowing when to use stress and adrenaline to get things done and when we should take some deep breaths and keep still.

Resilience is being able to roll with the punches, respond appropriately and keep on going when it seems too hard.

These are key skills that you can learn on adventure playgrounds.

And that’s why IPA runs them!

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Blog 39

I know it has been a while since my last blog. I was waiting til I felt a bit more settled and knew what to say but I can see that this is not going to happen anytime soon so here I am.

I am feeling overwhelmed by social media and am a bit reluctant to add to the outpourings of very real emotion with my own thoughts. I guess if I feel like this then others do too.

I am struck once again at the sophistication needed by young people to be able to cope with the immediacy and rawness of social media. I have grown up and been used to my news being filtered through lenses that may have, to a greater or lesser extent, been relevant. I have spoken before about my dependence on the Guardian to provide my news with a slant that I find comfortable.

That dependence seems somehow naïve and obsolete in the new world. For example: young people had seen images of the public apprehending the terrorist van man outside the mosque long before the papers reported on the story and the way that information is freely available to them means that the papers seem to be withholding information and acting in an untrustworthy, mealy mouthed, manner.

It feels unfamiliar and strangely upsetting to me.

It feels normal to young people.

Children and young people are coping because they have to.

I spent last Sunday at the Cally Festival and it was a lively, buzzy, wonderfully hot day. The set up time was affected by a violent incident very close, an incident that could have caused the festival to be delayed but everyone worked hard to get it all on track and in spite of that incident and all the other terrible things that have happened in London over the past few weeks, thousands of people and their families turned up and celebrated together.

Of course they did.

There was a massive police presence but they seemed to be part of the community, as they actually are, eating food from the stalls, chatting to local people and enjoying the sun.

It was heartening to see that life goes on and people can get on with enjoying their lives in the midst of the upset and worry of recent events- but this is one of the things that we can most easily learn with the children and young people: Feel what you are feeling, be where you are and do things that are real, in your community, with people you like.

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Blog 38

It has been a busy time both at home and at work.
IPA head office has moved from the West Library where it lived for over 30 years into the Paradise Park where we can join our early education and childcare colleagues making our office space there into a hub for the whole organisation.
It will be a whole new adventure for us allowing us to be closer to the children and what’s going on.

I will miss the library through.

At home my two daughters have left home. Following the Brexit vote and our discussions about whether it was about to get more difficult to live and work in Europe, they both decided to bite the bullet and go. One is in Italy working and one in Holland studying. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to experience other cultures and grow and it will be a whole new adventure for them.

I will miss them though.

I don’t know about you but life (and yes I include politics) seems to have changed into something else. I feel very much like the old world was not perfect but I thought I sort of understood it. I had an idea of what I was doing, and why. Now I feel at sea. Maybe it’s all we can do to ride the storm.

As always I am filled with amazement at the never ending resilience of children and am thankful for it! They need to understand, interact and have an impact on their lives and environment so that they can find their way into the future.

It seems harder than before. Am I just getting old? Maybe.

It’s no surprise then that I return to the importance of play. Play is what children do when they are allowed to do what they want. Play allows freedom of thought, movement, of spirit and is in the space where children can find themselves.

 I am not advocating asking them what they want by the way-speak to my own children and you will find they were rarely asked that! My son would say he wants to play Xbox and eat sugar.

Play is something more fundamental than that. Xbox games are an adult created addictive set of scenarios that control behaviour by offering specific rewards for certain actions. It may be fun but it’s not what I mean by play.

Play is an evolutionary need. A way for our brains to find out about the world and make ourselves. Playing is what underpins creative thought, encourages innovation and frees the mind from its restrictions. By its nature it is not leading anywhere, has no specific outcomes and cannot be rewarded externally.

I think maybe I need to play more perhaps then I will be able to cope with whatever is going to happen next. 

Maybe we all need to play more?

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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 identify myself as a ‘guardian reader’ but I know too much about the other side of the story to trust any 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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