Today the BBC tells us that there has been a 10% increase in the numbers of 5- and 6-year-olds who need speech and language support. It is said to be the result of the lockdown during which there were more limited opportunities for social interaction – especially play-based learning.
Maybe you remember playing shop in reception class but as I remember it most of the fun aspects of play happened in the playground. It was called playtime. In my day it was endless acting out of cowboys and Indians, which was a large part of TV culture in those times. I must have been shot and killed hundreds of times, but I still stood up and blasted back my friends who had shot me. Would you believe it I occasionally had a horse?
Some of the current crop of kids seem to have less vocabulary, while others are finding instructions difficult or are struggling in taking turns or negotiating in games. From my training as a teacher, I’ve always known that play is central to learning and of course, it’s a skill we call on all our lives. If I’m about to get a parking ticket I can readily call up a polite but somewhat distressed person if necessary. It has worked in the past.
We try to understand the adult world by aping it. For some young ladies, this means slopping around in their mum’s shoes and daubing their faces with lipstick. But it’s play with purpose, play as preparation, and play as a way to understand the world.
You might expect me to mention the central role that TV, theatre, film and also books have in letting us step into another world. As a species, we know this strengthens our understanding of each other, how we behave and what the consequences are when we transgress.
When I think about it I’ve never stopped playing. If I am cold-called and know they are trying to keep to a script I’ll try and subvert it. I know it’s silly but it’s also empowering as they desperately try to take me back to where they want me to be. I like the idea of unsettling them – I know they are after my money so it’s fair game.
In my mind keeping a sense of playfulness adds to your day and reminds you that life is often ridiculous, so reminding you of it keeps you grounded. I knew a taxi driver who kept an empty box of matches in the car. If he stopped at traffic lights sometimes he would put it on the end of his nose and slowly look across at the car beside him. He loved the different reactions he provoked.
So, speech delay can be caught up with but playing in the playground is for life.