Kick It To Me!

November 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Imagine our life without play.

No toys, sporting equipment, imagined friends or experiences, games, creative expression or joy. No moments of connection that are built around so much more than our similarities or within our comfort zones but that breaks down perceived connection barriers such as nationality, language, gender, age or any other difference that individuals may want to identify with.

I want to start with a couple of quick stories. 14 years ago I was in China, first major trip overseas and plenty of examples of stretching comfort zones or perceived barriers to connection, especially through my lack of local language and the sheer number of people in areas of the country that we were travelling in such as Beijing. Each afternoon I would go for a run but this one afternoon I stumbled across an outdoor basketball court. It hit me how much I had been missing playing but with all these games already happening around me, teams had been assigned, friendships established and barriers like how would I even ask to play or what the local expectations and rules were, I initially thought this may be all too difficult. But something was stronger than that. I was drawn to the energy created by play. Through finger pointing, head shaking, hand moving, handshakes and high fives I was suddenly on a team and involved in the creation of inspiring memories, moments of play and connection.

Fast forward 5 years from that trip to China, having now been living in the UK for a year, I found myself in NY State, USA working at a YMCA summer camp. Being a teacher, having grown up loving being in the outdoors, heavily involved in sports and games of all descriptions, this was something that I had always wanted to do. Life for 8 weeks included, working with 25 odd staff from various parts of the world, living in a cabin with 10 kids, each day facilitating activities such as swim teaching, boating, rock climbing, challenge courses, bushwalking and the list could go on, every second weekend a day and a half off to recharge the batteries, and above all an overwhelming sense of amidst life’s successes and challenges, through play deep connection is achieved. That summer, along with the two others that I went back and worked provided so many amazing memories of games and sports, cheers and chants, me singing poorly but loudly, individually and collectively stretching comfort zones and growing, friendships and connection, all the while celebrating difference and participation.

These last two stories are from my time in Africa. I was lucky enough to live and teach in Uganda for a year in 04/05 and then to be back in Africa for 6 months last year. On my travels through Southern Africa last year it saw long driving days at times on the 43 day adventure from Cape Town to East Africa. Play became such an important element to bringing our group together and maintaining connection when people were tired and around each other a lot. Through bus olympics, challenges, 20 questions, made up games and their imagined transition to becoming a TV hit, music, and the various others opportunities that we created we were able to gain a depth of awareness and appreciation that would otherwise have remained an unknown. The way that individuals are able to confidently share more of who they are while playing can see the group dynamic benefit from diversity and the unique contribution that each is able to make.

I was then at The School of St Jude in Tanzania for 3 and a half months volunteering as a teacher mentor. Out of so many amazing memories from that time one really sticks out. I was asked to organise and facilitate a team building event for all staff, local teachers, admin, groundskeepers, cooks, cleaners, drivers, as well as international volunteers working at the campus. The afternoon team challenges rotation, competing against others but really just allowing each individual to connect through play saw such an outpouring of joy. The comments that I received really touched me, whether it was local Tanzanian staff asking when was the next event, vivid recollections of favourite games or moments straight after and throughout my time at the school, the laughter, group problem solving and creativity that was on display or this email that I was sent by one of the Australian volunteers:

“Yesterday was an amazing experience, one that will be definitely be added to my extra special memory treasures. I was the only mzungu (mzungu means person of foreign decent in East Africa) on my team and it didn’t matter one little bit, what a privilege. Thank you with all my heart for such a wonderful gift for us all.”

This is the privilege of my work throughout 12 years of various educational roles. This is the journey of Explore Discover Act, providing programs that allow participants the opportunity to increase awareness and appreciation of potential, through connection to self, others and the world around us. We will continue to use play as a vehicle within our experiential programs, learning by doing with reflection. We love seeing the engagement, enthusiasm, curiosity, belief, vulnerability, support, openness, celebration, trust, respect, initiative, hope, courage and fun that is discovered this way. The stories above a just a few of the experiences that remind me each day to take the time to be in the moment and pay attention to connection. Whether that be with family, friends, at work, facilitating for groups or with those we meet throughout the journey of our days, an attitude of playfulness inspires my thoughts and actions.

This short video caught my attention this week. It connected with me because of its message as well as its mission. A movie that inspires people to become mindful of the thoughts and actions we have individually and collectively around play, its importance to our health, happiness and the future of life. A movie that challenges our assumed best practice, that asks questions and provides examples of how play should be embedded into all aspects of life, from birth through the journey of potential that each of us is on.

Think about those memories that stand out in your mind from your life, the ones that inspire you because of the connection and joy that was experienced. I would imagine that the mindset that you had in those moments mirrored playfulness, open to the uncertainty of connection and filled with the energy, passion and joy that we experience through this process.

Watch this short video, then go and play, kick it to me, kick it to me!

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