Let's play

2010-02-09 00:00

IF you don’t know how to play duster hockey, beetle, umlabalaba or ring taw, there is a new book that can help you. A Durban nonprofit organisation (NPO) is one of a team that has produced A Chance to Play, South Africa’s first manual on the why and how of play. Children’s right to play is enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in Article 12 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Play is a right because it is essential to children’s development and wellbeing. “In fact, if we see that children are not playing, then we know something is terribly amiss and we must act,” say the authors. However, as is recognised by many authorities and parents, this right is being dangerously eroded in many communities.

In more affluent circles, many teachers lament the way parental anxiety and over-organisatio­n have eaten into children’s time and space to play and just be. School-day afternoons and holidays are packed with organised activities and programmes that are designed to keep children safe, busy and, perhaps, dare I suggest it, out of their parents’ hair? There’s also the large and looming matter of too much time spent on television and electronic games.

In less affluent sectors of society, lack of time, facilities and opportunities for play has the same effect. In the all-too-many child- headed households, particularly, children are too busy with household chores and other usually adult responsibilities to have much time to play as they should.

Many authorities and experts agree that South Africa’s children need more opportunities to play. Children who play are better equipped for learning and life in general. Yet, many people remain unaware of this, and ideas on how to engage children in a meaningful way are often lacking.

The authors, Janet Prest Talbot of the Durban-based Children’s Rights Centre and Lucy Thornton of Woz’obona in Johannesburg, describe the book as “a manual”, which is significant. It is not a theoretical reflection on the importance of play, although this is included, along with guidelines on how to set up and run play programmes.

Prest Talbot and Thornton write: “Our role as adults and carers of children is to provide for their needs and respect their rights, including the important right to play … By sharing these ideas for play with you, we hope to help you become a happier and better-equipped carer.”

As the first South African manual published on this topic, the book offers a wide range of play activities and ideas drawn from the experience of people who work with children. “We are primarily targeting carers of children, including parents and teachers, who can facilitate play with children,” Prest Talbot said.

The theoretical sections of the book cover children’s play rights and related issues and their play needs at different developmental stages. As interesting as it is sensitive, another section covers why and how to incorporate children with disabilities. Since current educational policy encourages the mainstreaming of disabled children, this inclusivity is not only laudable, but also relevant and useful.

As a committed recycler, I was thrilled with the section on using waste products for play. The section on using old newspapers is reproduced here, but the book is full of creative ideas on how to make toys, musical instruments and other play equipment out of waste. For example, old greeting cards make good building blocks for tall towers, sand-filled plastic bottles serve as skittles and duster hockey just needs rolled-up news- paper­ sticks and a ball made of rags. Play equipment can be made from almost anything, including old tyres, cement blocks and pipes, tree stumps and rocks, and 2l cool drink bottles.

Even if there is really nothing to play with the manual offers many ideas for play that require only children’s willingness to use their bodies and their imaginations.

I have reviewed books on many different non- fiction topics and lamented the lack of contextualisation — no South African recipes in a cook book or local vegetables in a gardening book, for example. This manual is different. A section I found heartening covers traditional games that I grew up playing, such as marbles, hopscotch, elastic and even hide and seek. Another covers indigenous games that others will have enjoyed, like upuka, three tins and moruba.

This manual is a fine resource for more than just the obvious people and institutions. It is a wonderful help for grandparents, church youth groups and Sunday schools and even management consultancies involved in team building and other corporate activities. Such is the publishing team’s commitment to South African children’s right to play, that the book can be downloaded from the publisher’s website at www.a-chance-to-play.org

HERE is a series of activities that can be played with a pile of old newspapers.

• Musical papers

Place newspaper sheets on the floor. Play music or create a rhythm for players to march or dance around to. When the music stops, everyone must jump onto the paper. No bits of feet sticking over the edges.

Gradually remove paper sheets and those players who don’t make into onto the papers are out.

• Pack the paper

How many people can you fit onto one piece of news-paper? Perhaps it is the only raft in a sea full of sharks; encourage players to be helpful to each other.

• Dressing up with newspaper

Co-operating in small groups, players select a member to be dressed up and they make designer clothes with the newspaper. They may be given sticky tape and some pins to hold it all together. Another idea is for everyone to make a hat. Have a fashion parade.

• Big person

An individual or group volunteers to have their clothes stuffed with newspapers and groups compete to see who can make the biggest person.

• Build a sentence or slogan

You will need scissors, paper on which to stick, and glue or sticky tape. Players work in a small group and must cut out letters from newspaper headlines to spell out a word or slogan, such as “Children need to play”.

Players stick letters on a piece of sticky tape or masking tape (bend the ends under to stick on the wall or floor).

• Newspaper treasure hunt

For each group you will need a complete newspaper and scissors (younger players could just tear the paper). Players work in small groups. The play leader gives each group one item to search for at a time; for example, a birth notice, a Pick n Pay advertisement, something about the president of South Africa, something about children, a soccer score and so on.

When the players have found the item in the news-paper they take it to the leader and are given their next topic to find. There might be 10 to 12 topics. The first team to find them all wins.

• Paper ball fight

Crumple up old pieces of newspaper into balls. Place a row of chairs down the centre of the room and divide players on either side. The aim of this game is for players to clear their side of balls.

Players need to quickly pick up the paper balls and keep throwing them over the chairs to the other side. Of course the others are also doing this so that players have to be very quick and determined to get rid of the paper balls. When the whistle blows the side with the least amount of paper wins.

• Clean up

Conclude newspaper games with a clean-up competition.

• Reflection idea

Some newspaper games can lead into discussions. After playing a game, give children an opportunity to reflect. Some ideas:

• Discuss good news and bad news. Ask children what the good news and bad news is in their community, school or their group. Can something be done about it?

• Ask children to write an article about themselves and something that they might imagine themselves (or the group) doing. Encourage them to express and share their dreams and aspirations.

• Ask children to write a newspaper article on what is happening to children in their community.

– A Chance To Play.

A CHANCE TO PLAY

Started in 2008, this programme aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and youth by linking opportunities for play and sports with learning and training projects. It is funded by donations from the Volkswagen Group Workers Council, and is implemented in co-operation with terre des hommes Germany, and South African NPOs.

WOZ’OBONA

Founded in 1988, it runs early child development programmes in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo, including additional training for preschool and nursery school teachers and assisting children affected by HIV/Aids.

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS CENTRE

This NPO based in Durban strives to transform South Africa through its vision of a sustainable, child-friendly society.

THE VOLKSWAGEN GROUP WORKS COUNCIL

The Council is made up of workers’ representatives from the auto corporations Volkswagen and Audi and their subsidiaries. Started in 1998, workers collect funds for projects for children in need.

TERRE DES HOMMES GERMANY

This German-based child rights organisation was founded in 1967 and currently funds about 450 projects for disadvantaged children in 29 project countries. The focus of its work is protecting children from violence and exploitation, and programmes on HIV/Aids.

Lives in: Durban

G rew up in: Cape Town and JHB

Qualifications: High school teacher, Montessori diploma and BTheology

Married: to Stuart

Children: Anna: 14-year-old competent play leader and Alexandreo, 11-year-old imaginative queen of play.

To relax: Camping, mountain walking, go-nowhere-slowly holidays and karate.

Important lessons for handling children: Always listen to children and be respectful, occasionally be outrageous, eg. make 15 litres of finger paint, gather friends and go mad. They’ll have memories.

Regrets: not travelling enough.

Never: get tired of children, they have life to share.

Want to be remembered: as someone who could bring hope and sunshine to sad and difficult spaces.

Things on your bucket list: Black belt in karate, Drakens- berg traverse, help build a magnificent adventure playground that lets children go home dirty, tired and satisfied.

Lucy Thornton, Woz’obona

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