Life has a way of tying the shoelaces of our ideas. Or is it just me? It trips grand notions of how things should be with messy little knots of how things are. But sometimes, just sometimes, life agrees with us. And so it was for Nature Play last weekend.
Sunday March 20 was the second of our Harmony Week events on the banks of Matilda Bay, supported by the Department of Local Government and Communities. It helped that the weather was perfect - one of those early Autumn days when the morning is cool and still, and the sun has that golden warmth that makes you want to drink it.
Dolphins cruised past, just metres from the shore, as our first families arrived and the maali (black swans) were doing their regal best to be near without the appearance of interest.
But it wasn’t the weather, or the apparent fondness of nature for our cause, that made the day. There were two things that stood out for me. One was a raft. And the other was a certain kind of smile that had a place on nearly every adult face.
Let me tell you about the raft.
We had let everyone know that there would be cubby building to be done at our event. And we, duly, laid out wood, cardboard, sticky tape, hessian and bit of black plastic. Ingredients for buildings, and stories, from the humble to the epic.
But two kids made a leap. It was the kind of leap we often speak of when we are asked to explain why nature play is good for kids. We tell people that unstructured play is the perfect recipe for active, imaginative and social play.
We say that digital entertainments are to real play what colouring-in is to art. We say that when kids get to invent the game that they are afforded the chance to make stuff ups, and to make stuff up. And both are essential to kids development, their happiness and their creative instincts.
We say that. And we believe it. But the 45 minutes of cubby building proved it.
There were some amazing cubbies. Citadels and teepees and warrens turned above ground, windows, doors, tunnels, flags, castles and lean-tos. But two kids made a leap. They saw wood and they saw a river and they made a raft. They sawed wood to size, they lashed thin to thick with sticky tape, they made a sail out of black plastic and they launched out where the dolphins live.
Cubby building had become boat building. And the game was changed. It was a truly beautiful moment.
And the other things was the smiles. Not polite ‘isn’t everything lovely’ kind of smiles; these were different. These were smiles that echoed with memory and with a sense that something true and important was happening.
Parents from Hungary, Hong Kong, Poland, Singapore, Kenya, Brunei, Germany, Ireland, Thailand, India and Australian-born of Aboriginal, Burmese, Polish and Chinese descent were all experiencing the same thing. That wonderful awareness that their kids were actively and creatively enthralled. They were part of something limitless, something exciting, and that it was all courtesy of a bundle of sticks and few cardboard boxes.
Parents looked at each other with smiles that said, “I remember, this is what it is all about”. And their kids didn’t have to say anything because they were way too busy engaging in the international language of play.