Learning Through Play

It is one of my abiding sadnesses that Sam, through no fault of his own, does not go out to play with friends. At the moment he is, like I was at a similar age, listening to terrible music far too loudly and not feeling the lack. At the beginning of the holidays he is likely to be happy in his own company, mooching around the house, generally doing what he feels like; it is next week that I will find a young person telling me that he is bored, seeking something else to do and the company of his friends.

I don’t know if it’s something specific to Down’s syndrome, but I am wary of letting him out to play on his own. I recently had a conversation with the person who is handling his Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – now that he is 16, he is entering into another era of state involvement – and we talked about how, if he was out and about on his own, how easily it could happen that he might get lost, his limited understanding of danger, both in the environment and in terms of the trust he places in other people. Maybe other parents of disabled children feel the same way, I don’t know.

I can’t help but feel that he is missing out. When he and his younger siblings were little we used to do that thing that stay-at-home mums do in order to keep themselves from going round the twist, and meet up, as a big group, all together.  It was fascinating to watch the children playing. First, they would play side by side, and then slowly, they became more aware of each other, probably because they both wanted to play with the same car/train/dolly/teddy/other object of desire, until before we knew where we were they were playing with each other, chattering away and well on the way to becoming friends.

Now, partly because he attends a special school and therefore none of his friends live around the corner, partly because of the advent of the mobile phone (he doesn’t have one and I have no idea how to find out someone’s number unless they give it to you themselves), and partly down to my own sense of caution, I find myself at a bit of a loss as to how to help him gain the invaluable learning experience of unsupervised play with his peers.

Because, you know, it would be foolish to assume that there is no value to children’s play; that they should be always organised, never left to get on with it, in their own way and at their own pace. Oh, I’m not saying that it should take place in classrooms – although this doesn’t mean that the classroom should not be a playful place, one full of fun, and the joy of learning interesting things (and yes, I do accept that not every child will find the same thing interesting, although, if I am their teacher, I will do my best to persuade them of the wisdom of my way of thinking) –  but that children’s play, especially the unstructured sort where they learn to regulate their own behaviour, to manage their relationships, is an essential, an unmissable, part of growing up.

Maybe we are all afraid. Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe the world we live in is full of danger. Of cars. Of strangers. There is the ever present threat of failure, or of falling behind, and it affects us all. Maybe I’ve got a better reason than most to be fearful, but it strikes me, as I watch my children negotiate with each other, as I watch their kindness to the boy next door, as my role as arbiter and sorter out of fights is steadily lessened, that, if we are not careful, our fear will make us into fools.



4 thoughts on “Learning Through Play

  1. THe thought strikes me – are there any places where he could go, activities he could do, that would form compromises for his desire to play and your desire to keep him safe? Group activities or the like?
    You’ve probably already thought of it, but anyway.

      1. I’m neuro-atypical myself. My childhood wasn’t full of playdates. I was pretty happy just being nice to people, latching on to newbies in vain hope that they’d become my friends. Occasionally I’d find one. Otherwise I entertained myself through writing stories and reading. Plenty. In later years of high school I started finding my tribe. Now in uni I feel like I’ve definitely found it, thanks to joining the uni choir – a main interest of mine is singing and from that I’ve found friends.

  2. You have so hit the nail on the head Nancy. Our son, also called Sam, does not have Downs, but has a condition that has given him developmental delay and poor communication skills. However, he is also very self-aware and therefore feels lonely and isolated. Sam is now 18, but he is obviously not behaving like an adult. He will tell you he has friends, but these are his classmates, which he will be leaving at the end of this year. He does not socialise out of school with them because our Sam also goes to a special school that is not local to us. He says he has friends on social media; people he has never met, which causes us concern. There is such a void for young people like ours once they become more independent. We want to allow Sam to experience life outside his mum and dad’s social scene, but there does not appear to be anything for him to move on to that will fulfill his desire to socialise with others whilst being safe. We have only wanted three things for Sam, to be Happy, Healthy and Safe. We have managed the first two fine, but the third is frighteningly out of our control

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