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Playing through a Pandemic

Last spring, when our community saw tornadoes, we saw children playing out that theme inside our sandbox, creating their version of swirling chaos and squashing constructed homes before starting over to do it again.

Recently, as our University of Illinois basketball team was on a roll, we saw children playing out that theme by having multiple basketball games happening at once that included more kids suddenly interested in trying basketball.

When parents divorce or get a new job, when new pets come home or there's a death in a family, when there's a new dance trend sweeping the nation or a pandemic status virus...we see children playing out those themes through self- directed play. We have this sweet and special space where we work hard to make sure children feel safe to process the things happening in their lives through play-- the language all children speak.

This past week or two has been no different with COVID-19 becoming more known to them all. We've heard jokes like an assessment of the paint-tinted green mud pit full to capacity after a wet spring: "Oh, the mud pit DEFINITELY has Coronavirus!"

As we called rare group meetings to discuss changes to our flow and how this would affect a couple things in after school, we were met with a mix of responses and reactions:

One of our kiddos, a young, sweet, logical and often scientific child loudly proclaimed "This is a very deadly virus. The most deadly in the world." at which point I gently intervened to remind everyone that we are safe and we are hand washing to stay safe.

Another kind and concerned 2nd grader with a furrowed brow and an anxious tone interjected "Are we all going to get sick? Are people going to die?" to which I responded that it is not a guarantee that we will all get sick and that if we wash our hands we will be doing our part to stay safe.

One of our youngest kiddos of Adventure Play After School, a preschooler waited patiently to finally stand up and say "What even IS a virus?" and later "I don't really need to wash my hands because I don't have a virus."

The kids listened and agreed to comply with the new plans of how we would take care of ourselves and each other even though it would certainly interrupt play with no exceptions. They understood that we don't put restrictions on their time here unless absolutely necessary, which means that our request was more likely to be honored.

And then the jokes started. Anytime someone coughed or sneezed or yawned or stared off into space... "You've got Coronavirus!" which led to a restart of a "keep away" or "monkey in the middle" type of game that has been dominating our space lately anyway (as a spin off of basketball.)

For all time past, present and future, children have and will continue to work out the concepts swirling around their world through play. COVID-19 is no different. Even in the face of social distancing, school closures, fear and worry.... Play remains. Play is everything for children and by intentionally creating places for self- directed play in times like this, you're creating a safe place to process all their feelings surrounding this pandemic. #PlayNoMatterWhat

Follow along with us, our friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play and more colleagues around the country by following the hashtag #PlayNoMatterWhat

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