I was chatting with a friend of mine today about her new job. She's now a "Play Specialist" at a Central London Hospital. The role has many different responsibilities but her major focus is on using "play" to prepare children for treatment, distract them during procedures such as injections and help them to understand what they have experienced. Hence the title ?Play Specialist?.
She says that sometimes she has only one hour to get to know a child before they have a major procedure and that the best way to get to know them is to simply start playing with them straight away. This enables her to make almost immediate decisions about their personality so she can work out how to support them in whatever they are about to go through.
Chatting to her made me think of my favourite quote - "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation" (by Plato apparently). And wow, I really believe that. It's basically the whole ethos behind Perform - our major emphasis is on play. We spend all our time playing drama, dance and singing based games with the children and, as teachers, this helps us to get to know them really quickly so we can get onto the useful business of helping them develop.
I was outside a class last week and one of our brilliant teachers stepped out to prepare himself to enter in character as Boss the Head of the Monkey Village. Just before he went in, he said "Can you believe this is our job?" And I know just what he meant. Sometimes you have to convince yourself that you are working when your job is spent jumping in and out of different characters, playing silly word games and singing songs at the top of your voice.
But, despite appearances, it is serious fun and serious play and whilst it may seem like we are all "monkeying around" for an hour, we are able to really get to know a child and work out how to make a difference. By playing our now famous Toy Shop game, we can work out which children need to help with their focusing skills. With our Word in One game, we can see which children need their confidence building with solo-speaking exercises.
Parents often comment on the Feedback Forms written by Perform teachers for every child every ten weeks. One of the most frequent remarks is that it is more detailed than their end of term report from school - a pretty flattering considering we spend a maximum of 90 minutes with the children each week. But, if Plato was right (and I think he was), it's through play not conversation that we can get to the real heart and essence of our children.
So here's to lots of playing and lots of serious fun. And here's to using fun for all sorts of purposes. One of my favourites is the Mary Poppins purpose. Serious Fun was the way that Mary Poppins got her charges to clean the nursery by making a boring activity a fun game. And if it's good enough for Mary Poppins, it's good enough for me.