Narrative on Play

The following excerpt is from “A Handbook for Teachers” from Open Door School in 1984-1985 and was written Holly Nevill.

The following sequence of events illustrates the importance of play in helping children deal with real-life problems.

A tornado had touched down about 200 miles from Charlotte. The effects on the city were high winds and rain. On a Friday, during group time, the teacher started to tell a story about how the members of the Unitarian Church, in which Open Door School is housed, had kept an all-night vigil the night before to monitor a faulty sump pump.

The minute she started into her story, mentioning the windy and rainy night, all the children had stories to share about where they were when the storm hit and how it affected them. There was much discussion and sharing. The teacher finished her story, and the children went home.

The following Monday, a group of children were building in blocks. The teacher bent down to admire the buildings and asked the children to tell her about them. One large building had an enclosed area next to it filled with blocks lined up in rows. The teacher asked about the enclosure and was told that the rows of blocks were extra wood for a new roof in case the old roof blew off.

The statement was factual. Nothing was said about storms or tornados. The children explained that all the adults were in one building and the children in another. There was some discussion among the children as to whether this was a wise setup. They seemed to like the independence of the children living by themselves but thought there ought to be at least one adult for protection.

On Tuesday, several children were again building in the block center. Several large structures had been made and knocked down. One child lay on the floor and covered himself with blocks and a blanket from housekeeping. He lay very still as the other children stood around in silence. Slowly, he “un-earthed” one arm. The surrounding children remained frozen in silence. The teacher was reminded of the tornado scenes being flashed on the news constantly: of the rubble left from destroyed buildings and the search for the bodies of victims that lay underneath. In the next minute, the stillness and atmosphere of horror were broken by the children starting up a game of peek-a-boo. The boy under the blocks and blanket jumped up, smiling. His relieved spectators all laughed, and play resumed as usual.

On Wednesday, the children were playing in the housekeeping area. This time, a full-fledged play tornado swept through the room. Almost every child in the class was involved in some way. Several children shouted, “It’s a tornado! It’s coming! Run and hide!” The children crouched together in the housekeeping area. Two children began to tie the furniture down with ropes so it wouldn’t fly away. One child even threw himself on the babies (dolls) to save them.

This play continued for about twenty minutes. Then it was over. The imagined tornado was done, as was their need to deal with this subject. No tornado play took place again.