Sheltering in Place
Welcome to the new normal, at least for now. In this time of forced seclusion due to COVID19, nuclear families are spending more time together than ever before. Parents are juggling so much – keeping their family safe from infection, their own work, profound stress if they aren’t working, their children’s schooling, their worries about vulnerable and elderly family members, and everyone’s myriad of coping mechanisms – some functional, some less so. We are all doing the best that we can, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel like we are doing a great job. But, hopefully, we have compassion for ourselves and one another, and we forgive ourselves when we lose it. Then we regather, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
There may be some silver lining for many families though. Perhaps there are moments of unexpected joy and closeness. Maybe we are putting down our devices and grabbing moments to play games, read aloud, enjoy nature, watch movies, cook together, or just to snuggle. In this vein, I want to share some of my all time favorite family activities over my next several blogs , They were designed for child life specialists to do with hospitalized children and families, but they are perfect for family fun at home. They are all affordable, need minimal supplies, are simple and guaranteed to spark fun and connection. The one I will focus on today is called Play Maps.
In an article in the Child Life Bulletin (CLC, Winter 2014), Play Maps and Life Lines: New and Borrowed Techniques for Crossing Cultural and Generational Divides (Vilas, 2014), I explored expressive arts activities that bring families together.
When we think of family closeness, perhaps play is not the first modality that comes to mind. However, play is a universal language. All adults played at some point in their childhoods. With this in mind, play maps are a great way to revisit our childhood play memories and celebrate those of our children and parents. It is a wonderful activity to do in person, as well as a multi-generational activity to do via video chat with your parents and kids together. The technique is borrowed from other disciplines (McLaughlin, 2010; Gregg, 2002) and I tweaked the activity to fit the needs of child life specialists working with children facing issues of loss and illness. The goal of the technique is to connect families with inner resources of coping and hope through heightened awareness of past joys and obstacles. An equally important goal is empowering connection, understanding, and empathy between family members through conversation about similarities and differences in memories of play and life experiences.
The play map is an expressive art activity designed to connect children and adults with pleasurable memories of play. It reminds the child of past joys as well, helping them imagine present and future times of happiness. When done in tandem with a caregiver, it builds shared appreciation between adult and child. If your child is too young to draw representational art, or has a physical disability that prohibits them from drawing, they can still act as an art director and tell you what to draw.
• Crayons/Markers/Water color pencils/Paint
Setting the Stage
Gather your materials, and set up a comfortable and inviting space to draw. A kitchen or dining room table work well, but you can also gather in whatever living space is most comfortable. You might want to set the mood by having some music in the background. If you are able to connect in your parent(s) via a video chat or phone call, by all means bring them into your shared space to participate.
Ask your child(ren) to draw a map of a place where they like to play, showing the place, toys, types of play and people involved. They can draw a place representing outdoors or inside, or one of each. It can be an arial view, a floor plan, or any view that they choose. There is no right or wrong way to make a play map. Perhaps show them a simple sample of a map that you draw on the spot, because that will show them that it doesn’t have to be fancy and doesn’t require any special artistic ability.
While they are drawing, you do the same, thinking about childhood memories of places you played, people you played with, and the type of play you most enjoyed.
Show and Tell
When you are all done, compare your maps and share memories and details about games, rules, toys & playmates. You might want to videotape each person’s share out. I treasure this video of my mom reminiscing about ice skating on Penny’s pond.
How are your maps different and how are they the same? What did you learn about one another that you didn’t know before?
I wish you enjoyable conversations and discoveries about one another. Please share any feedback about your experience in the comment section of my blog, or email me at email@example.com. I would love to see your play maps!
Thank you to Ngawang, Brianna, Joyce, Kim, and Elyse for allowing me to include your play maps.