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Stinky Sock

Greg Bottrill, author of Can I Go Play Now..? and early years thought leader, shares with us the legend of Stinky Sock– a repurposed football sock and a very helpful tool in helping children engage with non-linear, fun, and occasionally nonsensical, ways of learning!

One of the things that childhood doesn’t want from the adults is a Dour Day. And yet often it feels as though that’s what’s on offer. The Adult World seems to have a penchant for making life over-complicated and ‘spreadsheet-ist’, yet all the while childhood stands and waits to be given the gift of playfull-ness, connection and the joy of Being and Seeing.

It’s why I believe that the Adult World needs to be more accountable to childhood than anything else, to give children days that are defined by adventure, exploration, discovery and the magic of story. And it’s also why I’m so passionate about co-play and the joy of Time Together, adults and children in the flow of the day sharing skills, wonder and the pleasure of being alive. When we co-play together, we create a Shared Space ready to be filled with marvel and connection.

This last word is critical in co-play, children seeing the adults around them as gentle guides within their day so that each one is filled with a sense of companionship and a knowledge that the adults care for them and want to share the gift of learning and delight with them. It’s here that Stinky Sock enters the room.

There’s a narrative around early education that likes to suggest that children need to be taught in a linear, systematic way with clear lines of progression being followed so that the Adult World can weigh things on the balance scales of accountability and micro-managing. Yet childhood is looking in a different direction and is waiting for us to immerse in the delight of nonsense, make-believe, wonder and ‘gamery’. It wants us to let go of the suffocating seriousness that can make the days claustrophobic and instead join in with the joy each day can offer if we look past the myth of ‘learning only happens if the adult instructs’.

It is a joy of being in the Early Years sector to see how many of us who work with children do this day in day out and I see it with my own eyes in the kindergarten at Kingwood, adults full of play-fullness forming authentic bonds with children while co-playing and offering the warm heart-glow of the Golden Thread that can be stitched between adult and children. I go back to my concept of the World of Good Things that is formed by the environment, the children and the play-full adult.

Stinky Sock is one way to usher this world in. Essentially, it’s a football sock that is introduced as ‘Stinky Sock’. It can be used in a variety of ways but ones that I’ve found effective include:

  • Chasing the children outside with it trying to tag them with Sticky Sock
  • Rolling it up in a ball and seeing how far we can throw it to one another
  • Creating a space for Stinky Sock to sit on the carpet and join in listening to a story
  • Rolling it along the floor for children to jump over
  • Leaving Stinky Sock in the sand area – it takes about five minutes for the children to discover the joy of filling it with sand
  • Giving Stinky Sock a bath in the water zone especially if you have a large scale one with ramps so that it can tumble into the water again and again
  • As it stretches, putting Stinky Sock in the Role Play area as a prop – children love wearing it as a hat
  • Inviting children to look after Stinky Sock in their pocket like a Pocket Pal
  • Taking Stinky Sock into the construction area to play skittles with
  • Making up nonsensical stories about Stinky Sock’s adventures and co-playing in Junk Modelling to create props, vehicles, clothing and houses for it
  • Using Stinky Sock to hunt and collect with – it’s amazing how many objects Stinky Sock can hold!
  • Giving children a high five as they come into the setting while you have Stinky Sock on one arm
  • Leaving Stinky Sock in children’s wellies for them to find before the go outside
  • And using Stinky Sock like a glove puppet to eat play-dough pizza and all the myriad of foodstuffs made in the play kitchen.

All of these ideas, every single one can be sprinkled with the gift of learning because Stinky Sock has the brilliant innate ability of having messages hidden inside of it: numbers, words, writing, symbols and objects can all be hidden and discovered and when you realise the potential of this, you might see how children could have their very own Stinky Sock to take with them on the adventure of the day.

These are just some of the ways you can bring the joy of Stinky Sock to life within your setting, and I hope you can feel its possibilities for you and your co-play with your children too. If you can’t then put one hand behind your back and hold up three or four fingers. This is how old the children are who you have the privilege of being with. Maybe, when you bring your other hand from behind your back to join the other one, it might just have Stinky Sock all curled up and nestled in its palm ready to show you its magic….

Curious Question

Can you feel the joy of Stinky Sock? How might you use it in your own setting to add to the World of Good Things? How else do you shape this world and how does it feel when you do? Stinky Sock doesn’t just bring its joy to childhood, it can 100% bring it to the Adult World too.