Games are good for teaching a lesson or learning a skill. Isn’t play just play? Kids are kids everywhere, but the way kids play is not the same around the world. Pernille and I have the privilege of spending time on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s at “Samaritana” where 40 kids live and are cared for by Miss Aina. It is quite fitting that her name means “life” in Malagasy. We are responsible for “creative activities”.
I have had an opportunity to challenge my creativity – with varying degrees of success. Don’t have music to accompany dancing? No problem, a water-jug drum works. Need a ball to pass? No problem, sticks, stuffed animals, or tied up bags work. In more ways than one I got to challenge my creativity, such as when at least 20 sets of eyes watch me as I explain a game I just made up few seconds ago – using whatever body-language and Malagasy I can.
Back in November I had some thoughts on play as we started going to “Samaritana”. Play is play, but I can’t help but think: Are we introducing something different to their play? Are the vazahas really so interesting that all the kids want to do is mirror their movements instead of making their own movements or finding their own space to dance in? Are we bringing with us a cultural perspective on games and leadership? Are we bringing with us a more rigid way of playing that doesn’t work as well here?
Some of the games we have introduced include “going out”, but for the most part we skip this. Some of the kids are quite young, and besides, maybe “going out” games are more common for highly individualistic societies such as Norway and the United States?
The times I have tried to start dance circles it has often ended up with follow-the-vazaha (rather than follow-the-leader-in-the-moment) or one person at a time showing off their skills in the middle. I had envisioned something different, but I am learning to just have fun with the process and with what happens naturally. Several times I have tried to encourage each kid to make their own movements/dance freely. More often than not, they have ended up mirroring me. I wonder, the kids may gravitate toward mirroring because they are young, but it also seems to be how they are taught at school and the culture they are socialized into? I find myself wanting to see them think for themselves in movement (you know, become more individualistic/creative), but today for example I decided to stick with a strength they have – mirroring – and then see what happens.
We have also tried several team competitions. My perfectionist mind says: They are cutting the line, they are doing it wrong, they are stepping out of line which makes it messy. My Hald mind says: Maybe Norwegians have a rigid way of looking at things? For example, there is a right and wrong way to play a certain game. My teaching mind says: If I had the language, I could use the game and the things that happened during it as teachable moments.
Kids are kids, and play is play, but it is also a learned skill - especially if it involves many people or rules or vazahas who teach games that are different. Oh, and it can be therapeutic – have you played recently? I look forward to playing again on Saturday.