My eldest boy (born in the year of the Chinese rabbit), when comfortable, will search out contact and interaction with anyone …and everyone. We were recently in Colmar, France for the Easter vacation. Travelling with kids it’s their happiness that has to be a priority, more or less. As my wise father’s mantra goes ‘if the kids are happy, I’m happy’.

Part of that happiness was choosing where we booked our accommodation. We have learnt from our mistakes. The place we found in Colmar was a block of small holiday apartments that has an indoor swimming pool, a deal breaker. No matter the weather, we can be in the pool with the kids – kids happy, we’re happy.  On one occasion a few other families were enjoying, what I suspect was the same philosophy as ours. My eldest is five and lucky enough to be growing up bilingual (learning a third in Kindergarten) although all the other children in the swimming pool spoke French, which he doesn’t.

He eventually got himself into a game of catch with a girl probably three years older than himself. After fifteen minutes the ball was no more even a subject and the two of them were simply playing – but with clear communication. They had figured out structures, invented on the spot, about how they could construct rules of play and let the other know what the expectations were.

For a start I just found it cute then I really started to reflect on what they were doing. How open and accommodating to the situation they were, and through play managed to not only enjoy each other’s company but converse. The approach had me amazed at the complexity of the result. AND then to think about how we communicate with others who speak a foreign language. Ok, of course often our needs are for want of specific information – but how willing are we to let ourselves dive into a ritual of play to learn and converse with a foreign language speaker? And what results if one allowed themselves time to engage in that play?

In this case, an attention to body language and need of communication through which a common understanding was built. Playing simple games such as throwing a ball and coordinating jumping into the water simultaneously, they shared a resulting goal orientation and then forms of how to ‘talk to each other’ were established, and built on. In 40 minutes. 5 year olds.

This stretches far beyond barriers of language, leaving time and freedom for children to do what they do best can have incredible results. The various effects include peer-learning, new vocabulary, nuances and uses of language (both verbal and non-verbal), compromising, winning, losing, strategy creating, problem solving, discovery of life passions, stress release …dare the list go on? And on?

The pressures we put on fulfilling a task or ticking off knowledge acquired can adversely affect what we are really trying to achieve, which should be engaging and meaningful, and play can be that vehicle – at any age.

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