Why Organized Play Is Vital
By Charity Graff
He was wild. He ran around the room stopping just to touch, throw, drop, or bang the toys set so nicely on the shelves. He could be distracted for a few moments only to tear away from the touch of his assigned caregiver. It was as though her hands were hot and he raced around the room, no one able to lay a hand on him. If he was held or restrained, he screamed. At first glance, it was the restraint he was fighting. But eyes of experience saw the fear and panic in his behavior. Children who have never attached, are terrified of being loved and touch actually hurts them.
Slowly, the trained caregiver provided boundaries. Not too many at first, but enough to allow the child to stop pushing. Boundaries give security and this child had never experienced a place of safety. He had learned to spend his energy pushing to find a line he could not cross. So lines were put up- visible and clear- so that he knew, throwing toys was not allowed. They would be taken away. Blocks were quickly brought out- brightly colored blocks and the caregiver built a tower, then a house, and the little boy could not resist being enticed to sit on the floor and build his own tower, bigger than the caregivers. He was praised and he smiled, surprised at how nice the words felt.
Blocks were put away after ten minutes and small cars were brought out. The caregiver zoomed the red car across the floor. The boy took the blue one. Did he like the green car with the black stripe? He shook his head. He liked blue. A few races were won and suddenly the cars were put away and in their place, were marbles. The little boy was settling now, sitting quietly on the floor, the caregiver across from him. Marbles required skill and he had to focus. This game lasted longer than the others. Slowly, the caregiver pulled out coloring books and crayons. She sat next to him, her arm just touching his arm. They colored for more than 20 minutes. The little boy was able to show his knowledge of animals as they colored pictures of jungle animals. They finished and the pictures were hung up on the wall. She took his hand but he did not pull away. A snack was next and then they would look at picture books, she said. Surprised at the excitement he felt, he squeezed her hand and smiled. The caregiver smiled back. She knew she had won.
In the context of a residential care facility that houses 100 children, organized play on every level is crucial. Catering to children who have experienced trauma on many levels, means helping them to adjust their behavior and being able to organize the chaos they feel inside. From the moment of intake, the children need boundaries and structure; the caregiver in total control of each activity. The child unknowingly, begins to trust as security is provided and his world of swirling emotions begins to take shape within the confines of organized activities. The caregiver is the catalyst for this and slowly, over time, the child will learn to take control of his time and space and be able to self-regulate his physical behavior. He will learn to play within the limits he has been taught as he experiences the peace and freedom that comes with structure in his daily play and interaction with others.