I'm not one for book learning. I like reading certain things for pleasure, but to be honest I got bored at school and anything academic still leaves me cold. The thing that made school bearable for me was that my friends were there, and I loved the sound of the bell that meant Playtime.
As they grew up I took my children to school. They never really wanted to go. My eldest found school very trying, and in the end I offered the chance of home education, but it was turned down because of the social side of school. Playtime.
Often when I'm walking the dog a bigger dog will bound over and knock my dog over. The owner usually apologises for this by telling me "He's just playing"
It wasn't until I started fostering that I began to understand what Play is. I thought it was enjoyable because it was nothing. The playground was candy floss the classroom was meat and potatoes. The more I learn the more I realise it's the other way round. The things children learn in the playground are far more life-changing than the stuff on the blackboard.
How am I learning? If I'm someone who's got a built-in resistance to being lectured at?
For a start, the Blue Sky training sessions aren't school. They're friendly, short and sweet. You don't take notes, there are no exams or tests. There's a lot of laughter, coffee and biscuits, followed by sandwiches. Try the crayfish and rocket on white.
The training session on "Play" was typical. All balloons and games. The whole morning was a bit like pass the parcel. As the layers came off you got closer to the little gift on offer. Although we were merely playing games, I noticed myself getting anxious to do well. Not show myself up. I was paired with another carer for one game and we sort of bonded for the rest of the session being similar types. We chatted when it was coffee time and swapped phone numbers. I remember how much the fitter men and women enjoyed the physical games such as heading balloons into the air or lying face down on their tummies trying to blow ping-pong balls at each other. The quieter carers seemed less competitive, but it wasn't difficult to spot more subtle skills aimed at rewards such as keeping their pride intact. Interesting session. I'd forgotten how big "Play" used to be for me when I was a child.
Then there are supervision visits. Once a month (more if you want or need it) your Blue Sky social worker pays you a visit. Once again, these sessions are friendly and informal, a cup of coffee and chat round the kitchen table. They ask about you, how you are, how the family is doing, then the chat gets onto the child. The social worker, who remember has trained for years to do the job, doesn't lecture you what to do. They give a different angle sometimes. Every so often they chuck in a nugget.
Example. One of my foster children, who has since left, used to be locked in a tiny bedroom by mum, and when dad was in charge the child lay low for fear of being hit. One morning during half-term, my social worker paid a visit and offered to look after the child while I nipped to the shops.
The next time the social worker visited me the child was at school. We chatted about anything and everything, then she casually said "The play I had with X was very interesting. Wanted me to watch a game played with tiny soldiers and big toy monsters. One of the soldiers had been captured and held prisoner by the monsters in a tiny cage. The other soldiers kept trying to rescue the prisoner, but every time the monsters won. After we had this same game over and over I said what would be great next time was for the soldiers to win and the monsters be defeated and the prisoner escape. X did it, but as it was all new the game was bit quick and flat. You might want to keep a quiet eye on the game and see if there are some more happy endings."
My social worker had cottoned that the child's "game" was acting out the whole universe of X's life, in which the big bad uglies did what they liked to their prisoner and the little soldiers (I guess they represented the human race) couldn't do anything about it. The point being that by playing the child could start to see more rewarding possibilities in life by exploring them in a game of soldiers.
The thing I could do, my social worker suggested, was to get involved in the game and keep encouraging the idea that good can beat bad, that big does'nt have to beat small and that right is better than wrong.
Play tells experts what the problems are, and can help by encouraging more hopeful results.
However I'm no expert on play. For example I can't explain why men who love football get incredibly pompous about the importance of loyalty, devotion and roots when I innocently suggest they switch the team they support. Men who've had five children by three different women.