Recently, out of an abundance of caution, due to age and underlying health concerns (namely her in ability to be put in the washer machine one more time), my daughter’s beloved Baby, her most special something, the something that’s been with her every day since Christmas morning 2015 was put into quarantine. Not wanting a Velveteen Rabbit situation, she made a hospital bed, tied a cozy sweater around her as a blanket, fitted a surgical mask from the doctor’s kit on her, and set her aside to watch the play rather than continue in it.
Play is different in a pandemic. There are no more museums, playgrounds, playgroups, no more out in the world “adventures” as my daughter calls them. No more playing with friends, no more sleepovers with cousins. No more best friend hugs. Even for a child who is used to playing independently, this is different. A novel virus that’s new to scientists and doctors means we can’t be with friends and our family. This virus makes older citizens sicker than younger citizens. To be a good neighbor, we need to stay at home and stay 6 feet away from each other. Cue the tape measure to test what 6 ft means. “Wait, I bet we can’t do that, because of the virus!”
My daughter and I have taken part in our fair share of novelty. We’ve hung Christmas lights and birthday decorations on the playroom ceiling. We’ve held Teddy Bear Birthday Parties. We’ve ordered butterflies. We’ve started a garden, a bathroom Art Studio, and a wall collage. We have watched Mo Willams, performed with #HamfromHome, and ice skated with dish soap on the kitchen floor (we used helmets). We hold dance parties in the playroom and stage concerts from the living room. Yet in all that novelty and fun, one is asked for most.
We have a slow song we dance to when things have gotten a little too big before bed,
a fun slow dance to bring us together and slow us down. Now, my daughter asks for this song and wants to dance a couple times a day because it makes her feel close and loved.
Yet there’s no playing with best friends. This means no playing with Izzy next door.
Generally seeing Izzy outside causes an all-out stampede to the door, a frantic shriek
of “Izzzzzzzzzzzzy!!!!”, then a dash across the yard leading to a tackle-hug finale. I find myself expecting a lot of happy tears upon the first meeting post-Covid.
Now more than ever I am so grateful for my background in RIE®. Lessons I have learned through RIE steady me now. Learning to separate my feelings from her feelings so I don’t project my own anxieties onto her, learning how to speak honestly in an age appropriate ways, trusting in children’s ability to succeed in struggle, enjoying slowing down, enjoying learning about children through their
play and a deep belief in the importance of independent play, all these lessons enrich our lives now more than ever.
My daughter’s been the driver of her play since birth. Now, just a month shy of six years old, her play remains a rich exploration of her inner life. Play is the way children process the world around them. It’s the language they speak. That language changes during times of stress and trauma. Their play gives them understanding and mastery over things that are scary. It provides them a space to safely ask questions they may feel are too painful or scary to say out loud. Maybe most important, it gives them a way to gain mastery over their fears. Researchers observe that after a disaster, children often replay it over and over. Post 9/11 teachers noticed preschoolers building towers and knocking them down. Post Katrina,researchers noted children loudly blowing “wind” and scattering toys around.
Death play, while sometimes alarming to parents, is quite normal after catastrophic events. Children often need to use play to question whether they or their family are at risk, as well as if and how help will come when they need it.
Emergencies now befall the figurines in our home on a semi-regular basis. Calls ring out: “Oh my son, please help my son has died, what can I do!” Playful sobs ring out often. Soon, rescue vehicles arrive on the scene. “We are here. We can help-see he’s alright! We can make him alive again!” are shouted reassuringly. Baseball games are cancelled mid-game. “Baseball season has been cancelled. I repeat baseball season has been cancelled.”
The day finally came when she saw Izzy. Outside on a lovely day, skipping around the
corner of the house next door comes Izzy. “Izzzzzy!!!!” They ran full speed towards each other and then stopped abruptly roughly 6 feet apart from each other on either side of each other’s property line. They say hi to each other and then get right to playing with each other each on their own side. They play apart, yet still completely together.
“I’m going to rescue my baby from the mean queen.”
“Okay, I’m gonna sneak in and grab the magic potion.”
“Grab a wand too!”
“Okay! Make sure she doesn’t sneak in on me!”
They play this way for a long time. Each on one’s own side of this new world. Playing without touching. Then someone asks: “Can we throw a ball back and forth?” I check with the other parents: “Do you mind?” They don’t. We agree everyone will wash hands when we get back inside. And they throw the ball back and forth. Laughing, smiling, playing with friends in a new way.
RIE® Associate Bio: Kelly Scott has worked with families with small for over 15 years. She began her career working with young children while attending the University of Minnesota. After moving to Los Angeles, Kelly discovered the work of Magda Gerber and the Educaring® Approach. She incorporated this into her work as a nanny and nursery school teacher. Kelly passionately believes play is fundamental to children and works to provide families and children with opportunities for play. Kelly started the exciting journey of homeschooling her daughter this school year, splitting time between Chicago and Minnesota. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org