|Technical notes: Special Considerations for Programming in Unstable Situations (UNICEF, 2000, 490 p.)|
Across cultures, childrens play involves the same themes - nurturing, family relationships and roles of people. Children seek to understand reality through play -there are no expected outcomes and children are free from failure. Through play, children are free to explore, invent and test possibilities. Children develop physical, social and mathematical knowledge in play. They find out how things work. In play, children experiment with numbers and construct ideas about the relationships between objects. Children at play are constantly at work - adding new observations, asking and responding to questions, and making choices. The insight gained provides children with problem-solving tools. Thus, play, in and of itself, is self-healing.
Children are able to deal with complex psychological difficulties through play. They seek to integrate the experience of pain, fear and loss. They wrestle with concepts of good and evil and express ideas for which they have no meaning. Children who live in dangerous environments play the dangerous environment. Children can take control of an event by playing different roles and altering the outcome. In symbolic play, children bridge the gap between reality and fantasy.
Children in situations of armed conflict have a special need for the freedom and emotional release inherent in play. Child-care settings can offer a rich physical environment that encourages individual as well as group play. Mobile play units or settings for children should contain building blocks, a water table and a dramatic play area. Time should be scheduled for drawing, storytelling, writing, games and music. The atmosphere needs to convey acceptance and respect for the childrens play. Play represents childrens innermost thoughts and feelings, and caregivers must be willing to accept all of them.
By providing the opportunity for play and art, caregivers can help children who live in dangerous environments address their complex feelings and concerns. The freedom of expression inherent in childrens playful activity and in their art needs the adults approval, permission, assurance, and support. Caregivers also need guidance, support and supervision to develop these important skills.
Drawing and painting
Like play, childrens drawing and painting is a spontaneous and deeply rooted activity. Drawings represent the childs mental pictures and perceptions of the world. When given the opportunity, children all over the world enjoy drawing. When paper and crayons are not available, children use their fingers or a stick to scribble in the earth or snow.
Along with drawings of real events, children draw fantasies. When Palestinian children who have known no other environment than a barren refugee camp in the West Bank drew pictures, they added the flowers and butterflies they rarely encountered. For young children, the line between fantasy and reality is flexible. That flexibility may enable children to use play for emotional release, but it may also cloud their perception of environmental risk.
Adults understand that there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet at night, but children do not. Keeping real and imagined fears in perspective is a difficult task for young children. In their drawings, children give the adult a door to open. The door leads to conversations about experiences. Through these conversations, the adult can help the children find meaning that enables them to cope.
Although drawing and painting are beneficial for children of all ages, they are particularly useful for child whose language skills cannot convey the subtleties and intensities of their feelings. Children can obtain tremendous relief from drawing their fears and wishes. Childrens drawings can be used to elicit feelings and concerns on a one-to-one basis as well as in group settings.
Writing and storytelling
For most children, healing childhood stress and trauma depends on the strength of the adult-child relationships. Adults must be prepared to listen to children tell their stories on their own terms. The acceptance of the childs reality is the starting point for the process of healing. It is the permissiveness to be themselves, the understanding, the acceptance, the recognition of feeling, the clarification of what they think and feel that helps children retain their self-respect, and the possibilities of growth and change are forthcoming as they all develop insight (Axlin, 1969).
A variety of writing and storytelling techniques can increase childrens opportunities to develop language and expressive skills. One method relies on verbal rather than visual images and allows a childs imagination to create scenes of punishment and reward, anger and love. The storytelling format may use props such as family dolls, and sentence-completion exercises which provide children with an outlet for expressing in story form their responses to violence and armed conflict. Some additional activities include the following.
This techniques can be used with individual children or in a group. The caregiver collects objects and places them in a bag. A child is asked to remove an object from the bag and tell a story about it. The facilitator can encourage children to discuss a particular topic by choosing the objects. The objective is to facilitate childrens expression of their inner feelings and concerns, and to explore the affective nature of events that occur in their lives (Gardener, 1975)
In this game, a care giver makes a squiggle mark on a piece of paper and gives it to a child. The child is asked to make a picture from the squiggle. Upon completion, the teacher asks the child to tell a story about the drawing. From the childs story, the teacher learns the theme of the childs thought and can identify the effect attached to the story. Using the childs lead, the teacher asks the child to draw a squiggle, which the teacher completes. In creating a story, the teacher can offer alternative outcomes to the childs story in an effort to help the child understand his feelings.
In the hands of a creative and responsive adult, puppet play offers an ideal arena for playing out difficult themes and issues. Puppets provide children with an outlet for feelings of helplessness while at the same time providing the possibility of problem solving.
The young child who fears danger may try to master this fear through doll play that enacts scenes of comforting and nurturing. The child identifies with the doll that is comforted, thus simultaneously permitting expressions of the fear and its resolution. Doll play frequently takes the form of the child simultaneously identifying with both baby and nurturer.
The possibilities of doing and undoing implicit in the medium of clay make it useful for symbolic acting out of aggressive impulses and identification with the aggressor. It offers the child a fantasy means of controlling the outcome.
The competitive aspects of many board games lends special significance to their use with children responding to the stress of war. While winning and losing is always an issue for children, the role of winner takes on special significance during times of conflict when children have a heightened sense of right and wrong, winner and loser.