Watching normal

I watch the children playing in the school yard outside my office window. It is all so well, how do I say this . . . normal. They are running around, playing tag, playing fall down and get up, playing beat up the other kids, playing “I am faster, stronger, smarter, cuter than you” . . . playing, playing, playing.

It snowed this week and there are piles of snow on the field, formed in to forts, snowmen and a variety of undefinable - but obviously important and exciting - shapes. Children climb over them likes ants on an upturned honeypot, rushing excitedly, pushing and shoving, grabbing and yelling, sliding down the sides and lobbing snowballs at the children on the lower levels.

Wandering through the playing field, which is the size of a small soccer field, two monitors watch the 75 or so children play, moving in to interfere only if the excitement carries the children too far away from the territory of safety. Their watchful eyes scan the area and listen to the changing rhythms within rhythms, the fluxuating volumes, the pace of movement. As they scan, they touch, or listen, to those children who choose to hang around in the circle of their safety.

As I watch the tableau play itself out between the bell of freedom and the bell of recall, I think about our work. Now, I know there are some “troubled children” out there in the playing field. And probably the monitors know it too - they may even know which ones require a special eye. The thing is, I can’t tell which ones they are. When all the children are mixing together, playing the way children do with each other, it is hard to point at one and say “Oh, look at him. He’s troubled.” We could say, "Oh, look at Mary. She is pushing Peter too hard.” But that doesn’t give her a label. Instead, it is a comment on her behaviour.

And I think about Henry Maier’s recent comment that children need to be allowed to be children; to live and learn life through being children. And I wonder how many of the children in our programs would just be allowed to play. I can imagine us out there on our own playing fields (if we dared to take the children out to play), setting rules, controlling intensity, stopping the game because we were afraid of what these troubled children would do if we let them be children.

Children, instead of problems. Children, instead of trouble waiting to happen. Children.

I love being able to see the playing field from my office window. I love seeing real life. I forget about it sometimes and I need the reminder.


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