Greg Bottrill, author of Can I Go Play Now..? and early years thought leader, explores the innate desire children have for transforming reality and realising their flights of imagination.
If you could turn invisible for the day I wonder what you might get up to?! I think I’d definitely like to get up to mild mischief even if it was just tapping people on the shoulder or swapping drinks around in a café. I think I’d also like to take a look around Buckingham Palace just to see how the Queen lives and what she has for breakfast!
What if you could fly? Not on a plane but with your very own wings. Where would you go and I wonder what it would feel like to be soaring way up high with the World stretched out below? I think it would unbelievably exhilarating and it’s why I’m so often jealous of the sparrows and blue tits that visit my bird feeders every day. Oh to be able to take flight at will!
It’s this Wishful Thinking that I believe childhood is often looking for. It wants the flights of fancy and the joy of thinking about What Might Be If Things Were Different. It wants a storyline to its day that is immersed in magic and possibility. I find that it’s one of my favourite things about co-playing with children, pretending and seeing the nonsensical together, an escape from all the grey austerity of the Adult World with its unwanted habit of slowly removing the joy from life and making children’s days so leaden and heavy with ‘do this, do that’.
So in steps ‘Invisi-bubble’, the perfect way to shape the conditions for co-play, that joyous way of being part of children’s day because they want your company, your ideas and your Joy of Being Me. And as with pretty much all things that bring joy, Invisi-Bubble is ensconced in the dream of childhood – it comes from what children want, not what the Adult World is looking for.
Children want transformation and special powers – they want to be superheroes, Tiny Teachers, tigers and astronauts. They want to find fossils and imagine winged flight up in the clouds and they want to be zombies and explorers and inventors. And above all, children want the Adult World to see that they want to be these things. They want us to notice them.
Which is why I play games like Baby Zombies with children outside, pretending to sleep in a big parachute when the Sun is out and then wake up and groan and stagger when the Moon shows up, arms outstretched and all feeling the joy of anticipation and being Something Else. It’s why I’m such an advocate for the shaping the World of Good Things, children and adults learning and being in the World together, researching and finding, making and story dreaming. And it’s why ‘Invisi-Bubble’ seems to pull children into the world of make-believe so easily, because when we play it, the heartbeat of childhood goes ‘boom, boom-boom’.
As ever, its joy lies in its simplicity. With children around us, we ask them if they’ve seen one of their friends who is in fact stood very clearly and un-invisible in front of them. And off we go, walking around asking children if they’ve seen the child. They’ll all point to them and of course we pretend we still can’t see them or that they are talking about another child.
You: “Has anyone seen Amina today?”
The children (all pointing at Amina who is right in front of you): “She’s THERE!”
You: “I can’t see her anywhere. I’ll take a look around”
The children: “She’s there! Look!”
You: “No, that’s not Amina, that’s Benjamin!”
The children: “Noooo! That’s Amina”
You (now walking around): “Amina! Where are you?”
The children (now following you with Amina because she now has the joy of being invisible and the children now have the joy of being able to see what you can’t): “She’s THERE!”
You: “I’ve told you – that’s not Amina! That’s Benjamin! I’ll look over on the other side of the playground”
The children: “Stop! She’s right here!!”
You (looking in the opposite direction of Amina): “I think I just saw her over there! Come on, let’s take a look…”
And so on for as long as the joy of the Invisi-bubble lasts. And of course, right at the end you turn to Amina and say: “Amina! You’re there! Everyone, why didn’t you tell me?!”
I hope you can feel the joy as you read – I hope you can sense how childhood will want to play Invisi-bubble, how the game pulls on the need to be seen, to be with adults who are play-full, who know they are playing and show children that they too are part of childhood’s game.
But what’s this coming over the hill? It’s the Adult World with its demand for ‘learning’ and its rush and push for children to be reading and writing earlier and earlier. It’s wearing its long grey coat all full of pockets brimming with ‘do this, so that’, outcomes and measurability. It wants to know where the learning is. It demands to have more than what childhood wants because it can’t fathom that a child’s life isn’t just about what the Adult World wants for it.
So in a quiet but confident voice we can reply with how we sprinkle maths over Baby Zombies by having a number code to make the Moon come up, how we immerse children in the playground of language by having enriched vocabulary as the key for children to follow us looking for Amina and how for children to have a go at Invisi-bubble they need to have the Mystery Mark written on a piece of paper in their shoe otherwise they can’t ever turn invisible. And it’s that which is the real joy of Invisi-Bubble – it carries the Gift of learning along with it because that’s where learning can belong: in the joy of co-play where children can turn invisible, fly up the clouds and shrink to the size of an ant in the World of Good Things…
What games do like to play with children so that they know you are the World of Good Things? How do you sprinkle the Gift of Learning over the top so that children see that skills are there to immerse in with joy?