In 1973 Michael Ende wrote the book "Momo" - it is about a girl with the ability to tell stories, to capture the imagination and for play - it is also about someone who can REALLY listen... a child that creates an almost time-free zone through play and listening. The grey men are time stealers... they make everyone work hard in order to "save time" to do the things they like later... of course later never comes. Momo becomes their enemy... she cannot be convinced to save time by playing with toys that are not open ended, and her playful power is so strong that she inspires all of those around her...
In the book she goes out of time for a while to learn with Professor Hora how the grey men can be defeated; but during this time the grey men succeed in controlling the children... the hardest part of society to control as they were not so easily convinced to save time like adults...
The children are put into depots... because it was too dangerous to have them on the streets, they needed to be educated for the future, accidents involving children cost so much money which could be used for other things, and because the adults were so busy trying to save time that they no longer had time for the children...
"None of Momo's friends escaped the new regulation. They were split up according to the districts that they came from and consigned to various child depots. Once there, they were naturally forbidden to play games of their own devising. All games were selected for them by supervisors and had to have some useful, educational purpose. The children learned these new games but unlearned something else in the process: they forgot how to be happy, how to take pleasure in little things, and last, but not least, how to dream.
Weeks passed, and the children began to look like the time-savers in miniature. Sullen, bored and resentful, they did as they were told. Even when left to their own devices, they no longer knew what to do with themselves. All they could still do was make a noise, but it was an angry, ill-tempered noise, not the happy hullabaloo of former times."
I find it interesting that in 1973 Michael Ende (author of Never-ending Story) saw how adults would so completely control children's lives... I have seen how the free play... free from adults (but not devoid of adult care) from my own childhood seems a rare things in most parts of the western world. I saw glimpses of it in Palestine, but it was not free for both genders.
By sharing this excerpt I am not in any way saying the early childhood education centres are something bad and should be avoided at all costs.. what my intention is that we who work in these centres and home-settings are aware of the need for play in its many glorious forms. That we need a healthy play diet.
I have been writing about this all morning as part of the play chapter for my book, and it made me think of Momo, which made me want to share it.
For me play needs to be safe, but that does not mean it should not be without risk, but play should be a space where children feel safe enough to express themselves, to explore their emotions, test out their skills, make mistakes, adventure with their imaginations etc etc. There also needs to be freedom, and openness to try out the things that we as adults feel uncomfortable with... like using sticks as guns... so that the children can make sense of the world together with others, and not feel confused in isolation.
Pedagogical play, I feel, is part of the play diet... but the space to experience this free play with a non-judgemental openness is being offered less and less, as children are being institutionalised younger and younger with the express need that they should be trained to be good citizens.
And it is not as if I want bad citizens... its just I have more faith in play and children.
excerpt from: Michael Ende (1984) "Momo", page 168.