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Changing the world is child’s play

A New Dawn For Play

2nd May 2016

I was at a conference on Play over the weekend. Great job Childspace! There was plenty to affirm, challenge and inspire the 300+ audience from NZ and around the world. So, where are we humans at with understanding the importance of play for children’s development and how can adults support children best in accessing play and making the most of this critical part of life?

Play is whatever a child is feeling an urge to do. Whatever meaning we as adults wish to glean or whatever names we wish to use (schemas, learning outcomes, value of play, dispositions …) children are doing it anyway. Whether or not we document or even notice it, children are still playing and gaining value, learning, creating connections with themselves, others and the world.

Too often adults interrupt children’s play in a well meaning attempt to either “extend the child’s learning” or keep the child “safe”.  Our society believes that adults are there to teach children about the world. This is to overstep our bounds and elevate our own importance far too high. The world is there to teach children about the world. Our job is to facilitate the environment and perhaps the child, though only as necessary – we have no place in facilitating the actual play, nor the learning.

I learned of “adventure” playgrounds – in their truest sense – from Marc Armitage (Malarkey, PlayWork, just fantastic!). Children at The Land in Wales are free to experiment with risk (adults manage the hazards and observe the play without interfering unless absolutely necessary). Work together, social ups and downs, climbing, falling, build a hut with hammer and nails, light a fire in it – whoops, wish we’d created a chimney…

Adults. Stop. Notice. “Are they totally absorbed? Are they playing? Without need for me?” If yes, then

L E A V E    T H E M .

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis didn’t mince words when stating that there is currently a vast difference between culturally-informed beliefs and research-informed beliefs about children, play and the role of adults. Children (in fact all humans) are story making machines. We are designed to seek out experiences, take in the information through our senses, make sense of that information through various parts of our brains and lay this “story” down for future reference. Only 30% of our genes are mapped at birth, 70% of our genome is adaptable – we adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves. This adaptation is mostly influenced by the primary relationships we have during our early years, along with the experiences we have with ourselves at our interactions with the world. Play facilitates this learning most effectively. When we are free to play in the way our brain wishes to learn our stress response system is in a soothed state such that we can access greater proportions of our brains and “learn more”. Our job as adults is to assist with stress regulation, supporting the emotional safety of the child so they in turn can be free to satisfy their natural desire to play.

Full brain development occurs only when each stage of growth is honoured and supported through to completion. Skipping stages doesn’t help children in the long term (nor usually the short term either). When we try to make a 3 year old practice being a 7 year old (e.g. by teaching them to sit still on the mat and read and write and name colours and other facts) we rob them of the opportunities that BEING a 3 year old brings. We need to meet the needs of a 3 year old and step back while they do what they know they need to do as a 3 year old. And 3 year olds are total geniuses at EXPERIENCING LIFE.

A world full of adults with the ability to soothe their stress response system, who have strong, stable, complete foundations and are able to access vast areas of their brains most of the time would be a transformed world indeed.

Always accessible to us as adults and to children are stories and storytelling. Evelyn Davis reminded us of the magic that can be created by a storyteller who’s willing to give it a go, involve their audience and create life there and then. Our brains are ready and rearing to go with storytelling from about 3 years old and storytelling is ideally supported as a major form of play through the mid childhood years. Storytelling accesses many parts of the brain and encourages strong growth and development.

Since we are “earthlings”, Pennie Brownlee (Dance with me in the heart and other wonders) challenged, children mostly need to be connected with the earth in order to truly experience and satisfy their sacred urge to play. An urge – yes an urge – a deep, primitive drive to live and love.

Look closely at what is in the following line…


Pennie, this is wisdom indeed.

My workshop “Changing the World is Child’s Play” asserted that anything can be play. Play is an attitude. Normal everyday experiences together or alone can be play. Play is life. Life is play. Even staring into space is perfectly legitimate play. Furthering that idea, boredom is a valuable state to be in – from there creativity can arise.

Childhood is the dawn of a new human – with all the risk and potential that entails. Child’s play impacts themselves, others, the world, and the future. Changing the world really is child’s play.

What a weekend! I’ve gained so much understanding of new aspects of play and had the opportunity to connect with others who really get what child need – from themselves, from others and from the world.

And a parting thought from Marc Armitage:

“… children have no interest whatsoever in “why” they are playing”

J U S T   P L A Y !

Changing the World is Child’s Play

26th August 2015

My first book. This was born when I first realised what a privilege it is to be such a major influence in the developing lives of my children, and therefore out in the world. The foundations were being laid down with every interaction, every experience I had with my children and that was going to impact how they would later view themselves, others and the world. This was important stuff!

I then realised that it could also be lots of fun – normal, everyday interactions and experiences could be turned into the greatest, gravest or most fun adventures and opportunities for play. Then the list began!

From an original list of 400 experiences and ways of being around children, I culled and combined until I had 150, then 120, then 60 and then finally the 36 topics that made it into this first book. There are a further 36 awaiting inclusion in a sequel to this one for all those who’ve appreciated the ideas included in Changing the World is Child’s Play book 1.

The Foreword was written by Miriam McCaleb and Nathan Mikaere-Wallis. Two very reputable child advocates and commentators and both stunning human beings. I felt very honoured when they accepted my request to write this acclamation.

Please join me in delighting in the precious time we have with our children and acknowledge the extraordinary opportunities we have of shaping the future through our interactions and other choices. Please let me know all about your experiences of Changing the World through Child’s Play.

Arohanui, S xx


CTWICP back coverCover - final

Creating Play!

17th August 2015

Notes from participants of recent “Changing the World is Child’s Play” workshops:

Buy the book for even more ideas to make the most of time with children.

June var 033

Apple bobbing!

Activity: Playing with Play. We tried out several of these types of play, none of which cost money or require special equipment:

Expressing Emotions

  1. How does this play make a difference in the world?
    • Emotions effect relationships
    • Social learning
    • Builds communication and vocabulary
    • Supports further play
    • Uses imagination
    • It give them empathy for other people’s emotions and also their own
    • They are more understanding of adults and their peers
    • Lets them know it’s ok to have these emotions
    • Understanding each other
    • Different emotional responses to the same situation may occur
  2. How can different ages be included in this play?
    • Older kids/adults can use the cards to act out the word – reading for inspiration
    • Younger ones can practice naming the emotion and have fun acting them out when told the name – reflecting back
    • Games and role playing for older children

Exploring corners, walls, floor

  1. How does this play make a difference in the world?
    • Noticing our surroundings including the detail of them and the potential for play – growing awareness of the world, what is around us and available for us to use
    • Discovery, things we didn’t know before, new ideas
    • New challenges, new everything
    • Re-interpretation of the world
    • Team-work – relationships, social interactions
    • Spatial awareness
    • Delighting in the simple, wandering
    • What is my environment made of? Realising what we already have
    • Confidence in own abilities
    • Critical thinking
    • Comparing our previous experience and this new one, and differing experiences between same people doing the same thing
    • Adding value
  2. How can different ages be included in this play?
    • Inclusiveness by those older is important to help younger children get into the play
    • All people. All ages can explore
    • Get better at this the more we engage in this sort of play and allow children the chance to enjoy spending time in this way
    • Exploring different levels (eye, hand) – access changes as you get bigger and able to reach more (and smaller people may have access to smaller places also)
    • Team work – tall people help small ones, small ones can share small spaces with big people
    • Tuakana-teina relationship – fostering those relationships
    • Asking open questions, stating what we see
    • Pulling things out and exploring them out of their home as well as in their home
    • Hiding, hunts, scavenging


  1. How does this play make a difference in the world?
    • Fun, free, relaxing, empowering self confidence
    • Perseverance when not getting it right to keep on trying
    • Helping each other, supporting others, relationship building
    • Protecting ourselves
    • Looking to see structures from differing views
    • Healthy, physical benefits, developing competence, gross & fine motor skills, coordination, fitness
    • Performance – 4 seasons dramatisation about trees
    • Explore ideas with movement play
    • Left and right brain stuff
    • Risk, tree climbing, practicing expanding our comfort zones/limits, health & safety exploring
    • Following instruction through various communications and questioning
    • Teamwork practice and team building, working together and trusting each other, developing relationships
    • Touching and movements – respecting boundaries, cultural boundaries
  2. How can different ages be included in this play?
    • Helping each other, being inclusive, tuakana-teina
    • Learning ideas from each other – both older and younger
    • Songs/music/dancing
    • All ages move, from before birth
    • Leader and following roles
    • Telling the children what they are doing but not saying what we think of it – give them the vocabulary to express what they’ve achieved
    • Providing challenges appropriate to stage or age
    • Role modelling and leading by older children or adults and also role reversal with the younger child exploring leadership and the older person following
    • Providing lots of opportunities for practice

Using household itemsSophie boxed up (4)

  1. How does this play make a difference in the world?
    • Inventiveness, creativity, imagination, fantasy, make believe
    • Getting involved
    • Construction & engineering
    • Using what we’ve got
    • Transforming, ingenuity, innovative, not boxed in, experimentation, thinking outside the square
    • Relaxing, enjoyable
    • Understanding through experience (without instructions)
    • Ordering and divergent thinking, problem solving
    • Real world as opposed to plastic toys and toys with a set purpose, appreciating what the world is made of and how we can use it in different ways
    • Exploring senses and a variety of textures
  2. How can different ages be included in this play?
    • Watching each other, helping each other
    • No rules for “how” we need to play with the items
    • Provide differing range of materials to suit stages of development
    • Rolling, chewing, building, banging, balancing – all available as soon as children begin to control their reflexes. The more practice they get the better they will become with controlling their environment
    • Naming what we see young children are doing – without judging it as good or bad

Finding living things

Cicada wonder

  1. How does this play make a difference in the world?
    • Respect and care for all living things, tolerance, respect, caring, responsibility
    • Consequences
    • Sense of wonder
    • Observing, patience, empathy
    • Lifecycle discussions, harvesting, eco systems, learning how things appear/are born and grow and how things die
    • Making sense of the world
    • Asking questions, wondering
    • Develops curiosity, interest, tactile learning
    • Trial and error learning
  2. How can different ages be included in this play?
    • Exploratory play is available to all ages
    • Touch and look
    • Using the senses
    • Researching and talking about what they know and want to know – getting more autonomous in this process as children get older
    • Encouraging outdoors exploration, provide lots of opportunities for this
    • Repetition, exposure, discussion
    • Telling children what we observe of our natural surroundings and how we are interacting with it
    • Role modelling
    • Acceptance of different levels of competence, interest and complexity of learning


Notes from our brainstorms:

What are society’s attitudes to children and play?

Kaitoke camping with Annika (6)

  • Generally negative
  • Children play, not adults
  • Kids are time wasters
  • Some adults wish they could be free like children but don’t see that they can
  • “Just playing” – considered unimportant
  • They should do it quietly
  • Play is not prioritised
  • Play is something you do when there is nothing better to do
  • Different attitudes in different countries
  • Structured play is the most beneficial
  • Lots of rules, not a lot of freedom
  • Risk is not a good thing, health & safety OTT
  • Conformity is important
  • Organised play is necessary
  • We need toys to play – especially new toys out of the box
  • NZ ECE curriculum embraces play but not yet school
  • Time is considered different to work and there are times for each of these. Usually play comes only after work has been done
  • Tends to stop at school in favour of literacy, maths, lessons, the “real learning”
  • I view play as learning J! Fun!
  • Not open-ended, no “just because”
  • Not valued if not “educational” or academic
  • Straight play is not seen as educational
  • Waste of time
  • Play is what little children do i.e. it’s not for older children or adults, you grow out of it and shouldn’t engage in it anymore, you should get into the “real learning” and “real life”
  • Valuing play more than we used to – slowly seeing it as learning e.g. in new entrant classes
  • It creates lots of mess!
  • There has to be an outcome, some sense of success or failure to achieve this


What stops you engaging in play?

 Mar Pics 031

  • Having to engage in paid (and unpaid) work
  • Housework, cooking, taxi driving, time poor
  • Other children with immediate needs
  • Nothing! Seriously only very pressing emergencies!
  • An inner resistance – too much to do
  • Tiredness, headache
  • A little bored sometimes
  • Mess – creates lots of mess!
  • Loss of the habit! Brainwashed into adulthood
  • Not wearing my Playcentre clothes
  • Not physically flexible enough to get down on the floor, fitness/pain, sore back
  • Repetition, bored
  • Sick of same old schema
  • Feeling embarrassed, lacking self-confidence, doubt my ability to play properly
  • Always so much “paperwork” on session
  • Emotionally drained/distracted
  • Too busy
  • Want to do what’s on my agenda
  • My leisure choices are different from children’s
  • Other people directing it!
  • Having to write a learning story about it!
  • Adult “responsibilities”
  • Too much else on
  • On the phone, laptop, toilet, meeting children’s needs etc.
  • Not interesting, not a priority
  • Need it to be done properly, carefully, tidily
  • It needs to look and go a certain way
  • Senseless play
  • I want “me time”
  • No new ideas
  • I’m an adult, old kid or not a kid


What are some benefits to children & adults of play?

 Mar Pics 028

  • Joy, laughing together, happiness filled
  • Being in the present, slow down time
  • Time together – make time, take time
  • Sharing ideas, self, dreams
  • Learning, exploring
  • Communication
  • Physical activity, fitness, endorphin creation
  • Fresh air
  • Bonding, building strong relationships
  • Turn something boring into fun
  • Discovering their own interests, getting to know each other on lots of levels, enjoying each other and appreciating each person’s input
  • Relaxing, fun, enjoying “life’s” moments
  • Memories being laid down, brain structures being formed for life, linking play with good feelings
  • Making the most of time together
  • Stress relief, emotional release
  • Expression of selves
  • Cause and effect learning (real life consequences on a small, manageable scale)
  • Confidence building, responsibility
  • Flexibility in play
  • Positive, vibrant
  • Extends you as an adult
  • Seeing a different perspective
  • Keeps us young and enthusiastic


How can we inject play into normal everyday activities and interactions?


  • Making something into a game
  • Asking questions
  • Being enthusiastic
  • Let go of expectations
  • Expect to have to clean up/do the job again and be ok with that
  • Do jobs as pirates or fairies
  • Make it an adventure
  • Ask children to take the lead and we do what they say
  • Do jobs joyfully throughout their childhood – role modelling
  • Singing, making up songs about what you’re doing
  • Adding role plays
  • Slowing down
  • Accepting help from children with tasks
  • Asking them to take on tasks
  • Giving them responsibilities, asking which they’d like to take on
  • Taking extra time to e.g. vacuum up to an hour to do a 10 minute job – but great learning/bonding along the way
  • Making it sound cool and exciting
  • Friendly competition
  • “Fantasy” play incorporated e.g. washing, dishes, submarines J
  • Turn the screens off
  • Being present, mind and body, when children initiates it
  • Giggling about anything
  • Having plans to get to something else e.g. put clothes at washing machine, put on pjs, then pupper show time
  • Doing chores/work/jobs with a buddy
  • Flying into bed
  • Including children from early on
  • Giving them responsibilities
  • Taking the time
  • Setting them up for success and how to remedy if they don’t succeed (take responsibility with them for cleaning up the mess)
  • Making it a race
  • Break the rules – go outside in the rain
  • Have changes of clothes/appropriate wet weather gear
  • Give your time … have a break from chores together
  • Being fun yourself
  • Acknowledge effort put in to everyday activities – adults and children
  • Adding something unfamiliar to the routine
  • Ask what children thought of what they did themselves before (or instead of) adding our judgements – positive or negative


How can we create NEW play opportunities – adventures, creativity, new tasks?

June var 037

  • Be outdoors, camping, bushwalks, explore our environment
  • Go into nature and just be
  • Allow time to explore
  • Pot luck dinner and games time
  • Make chores fun, introduce dishes alongside Mum
  • Think outside the box – re-purpose things
  • Not prescribed toys e.g. plastic petrol pump has one purpose. So use toys that can be anything e.g. basic building blocks
  • Ask your child
  • Change names for play regularly
  • Respond to their conversations, suggestions and requests, sometimes even if not convenient
  • Try something that someone else is doing
  • Make ourselves fun in all we do
  • “what else can I do with this?”
  • Involve friends/make new friends
  • Centre swap – fresh ideas
  • It’s ok to do nothing (be bored or dream or just sit and be)
  • Follow our children’s lead
  • Open opportunity, no end limits
  • Remove agendas and time constraints
  • Let go of the need for it to work, go, turn out in a certain way – whatever we are doing
  • Go with the flow
  • Pinterest and other ways to get new ideas
  • Unleash your inner child – think like a child
  • Drive to somewhere you’ve never been
  • Go a different way and explore somewhere new – this can be physical or mental or emotional…


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”

George Bernard Shaw


Buy the book for even more ideas to make the most of time with children. Arohanui, S xx

Playing at changing the world

25th March 2015

There’s so much we can do with children.

Loving baby

We can treat them with love and respect. We can shame and humiliate them. We can meet most of their needs. We can gloss over their needs in favour of providing for a never ending stream of wants in the hope that they will co   mpensate. We can provide opportunities for children to experience life. We can wrap them in cotton wool and plead that they may never be hurt. We can be there with them through life’s challenges. We can try to make them be independent. We can find them to be hard work. We can love them dearly…

But let’s focus on what we can do with children that actually makes a difference in the world. Oh, that’s right, that’s all of the above (due to the adaptive nature of young children’s brains and the influence we adults have on this highly environmentally-impacted development process).

OK, so how about narrowing down the field a little. What can we do with children that makes a positive difference in the world? Ah, now we’re talking.

And do you want to know the best news?

I’d put good money on these things that make the most positive difference being both cheap and fun.

Wanna know why?

Because children develop to their wonderful genetic potential by experiencing an environment of love, light-hearted, repetitive learning and opportunities for imitating back-to-basics real-life stuff like cooking, gardening, storytelling and dancing their self-expression. Children experience the full extent of their physical abilities through feeling safe and relaxed enough to be able to move and experiment freely with their bodies. Children learn to care for others by being cared for and seeing the adults in their lives caring for others. Children develop an appreciation of hard work and anticipation by observing adults patiently awaiting the fruits of their labours. Children are designed to learn. Our job is to support this natural process.

Waitangi weekend girls camp 012

“Changing the world is child’s play” is a collection of inspirations for fun, real life, world-changing experiences that anyone can have with children. 36 topics, each with an invitation and inspiration to act, for anyone who spends time with children: real life, real fun, real change. This is a place to begin changing the world for the better. A place to start when wishing to make a difference or when needing something else to try when children are around. You can even do them on your own, as child involvement is not a prerequisite here. Though for maximum world impact I recommend the inclusion of children during these adventures you’re about to embark on due to their dynamic brain development which you are supporting.

Richard with girls

So how could we all be using “Changing the world is child’s play”? A book of love for life (real life, simple and available to all), love for fun and for children, ideally all at the same time. Some people will take up this book to help them enjoy children more (believe me, I’ve been there and, oh, does this work); some for inspiration and new ideas; some are keen on affirmation on the good they are already achieving through conscious care of children; some to satisfy their desire to grow themselves or to make some sort of a mark during their time on this planet; some for a basic, and, may I say, much underrated, love of life. You don’t even need a reason, just say “yes” and get on with it.

Image of a Playcentre Trainee (3)“Changing the world is child’s play” has been shaped with the dedication and passion that is becoming my child advocacy signature. Much like childhood, my adventure as a first-time about-to-be-published author is developing through a journey of fun and challenging, real-life learning. Haere mai (welcome) and arohanui (much love) to everyone who wishes to join me on this exciting path through life.

Arohanui, Sarah x


Crafting expressions of ourselves

16th February 2015

Creating a message or making marks expressing our very soul onto a clear page can bring relief and clarity for flurried hearts and minds… It’s also just plain fun!Home art day (9)

Drawing, writing, cutting, scribbling, dotting, splatting – can be used to express our innermost thoughts or feelings about others.
Rubbing, sticking, twisting, scraping, crushing – can all be used for expressing emotions as well as realising and releasing our creative energies and urges.
Artistic expression can spontaneously express a number of emotions. Perhaps the love of life, or being so angry with the world that you could eat the sun. Confusion can sometimes be cleared with artistic fervour. I believe any state of being or message is possible to express with arts and crafts.
Try these:
• Art for art’s sake. Create an area where crafts and arts can be undertaken whenever needed or wanted. Provide tools for this: paper – blank pages or books, different drawing and writing implements, perhaps sticky tape, scissors, glue, paints, brushes, newspaper. Add to this collection over time.

Rosa & Kendra (34)
• Crafty support. Work together to store arts and crafts tools so that they are readily available. Find containers and sort items into them. Model and support “when we make a mess we clean it up” whenever craft time is over.
• Scrapbooking. Provide support for children “scrapbooking” their own way, whatever they would like to gather and display.
• Collect. Gather natural additions to crafts – such as sticks, leaves, shells, stones, sand, flowers, pinecones or pine needles – use containers to store and keep them separate and ready for use.

• Use nature itself. Look out for opportunities to leave your mark on nature in a positive way. Sand drawings or sculptures, bark garden creations, fallen leaf piles up to the sky!
Te Horo Beach fun (133)

• Crafty mistakes. Support children to work out what to do themselves as much as possible during their creative endeavours. All mistakes will be learning opportunities for next time!
• Tricky crafts. Try some more tricky crafts together. Perhaps making poi or weaving flax/harakeke, or making a model aircraft.
• Use it. Utilise recycling items in your collection for use in crafty constructions.
• Model life! Create models of real life things if that helps you express how or why things work.
• Express! Support children when working through real life situations by utilising craft work to express feelings and questions.
• Dear … Create helpful alternatives to verbal communication together such as drawing or writing notes for each other.

When crafting with young children it’s helpful to either take their lead as to what you’re both creating or keep your designs as open as possible in order to allow their full creative expression. If we draw a house our way children are likely to attempt to copy this rather than create their own expression of a house. However if we draw swirling lines all over our page this leaves ample room for creative freedom in the children.

Happy crafting. S xx