Time on the road goes faster than in other places, and our stories are running a little bit behind, but here they are for you now.
We were in Singapore for only 6 days, delivering one full-day workshop and 4 pop-ups. The first 3 were in partnership with Playeum, and the last with South Central Community Centre, all arranged skillfully by our Singaporean friend, Sirene with help from Days of Play‘s Louise.
Playeum is a newly opened children’s museum in the converted Gillam Barracks, a quiet area with trees and art galleries. Inside, children can send their lego vehicles hurtling down a ramp, explore changing art exhibits and build imaginative constructions in a maker space. We were stationed out front, with a selection of loose parts and all set to play with the school groups scheduled to visit. It was a younger crowd than we usually see, but they played just the same. Suzanna welcomed the groups as they arrived, kneeling down to tell the children that they were free to play here and then looking up sternly to remind the adults to take a step back.
We set out cardboard boxes with lengths of fabric to suggest forts, which the children then totally ignored. It happens! Instead, the children blew puffs of air down a hosepipe. They heaved tires into the air and giggled as they rolled away. By far the most popular things were a red plastic chain that rattled and writhed on the ground, and an improvised water play area.
There, the children dipped small buckets and splashed their hands. It was refreshing on that hot, sticky day. We’d also brought empty containers from those fancy coffee machines, and one child came up and asked “is this a tiny bucket?” We nodded and he ran back to the others. Using the same ‘tiny buckets’, two small girls had a miniature water fight, taking turns to pour teaspoons of water onto each other’s perfect pigtails. In a perfect semi-circle of observation and photography, the adults watched and laughed.
There’s something amazing about working for children in such a young country. During the full-day workshop, we met some passionate educators, curious to learn more about play. As always, we incorporated time for them to play as well. Pretty soon, one woman was swathed in gauzy layers, sitting cross-legged and making predictions as her giggling friends brought offering dishes of cotton balls and bottle caps. Looking past them and through the window, I saw a tire roll downhill and a few moments later three teachers go racing after it. Others gathered armfuls of cardboard and laid it down a slope behind the building, taking turns to slide down.
Afterwards, in groups and privately to us in pairs, they shared how powerful this experience had been. Some played like this as children, but others never had. It felt beautiful, said one. It felt free.
Our last session was at the South Central Community Centre, where we saw some of the workshop participants in their professional setting. They were so proud to show off their gorgeous facilities, and we were so impressed by what we saw! As a token of our appreciation, we had bought some lengths of fabric to hang as swings. The same red plastic chain proved popular again, but this time for teenagers eager to test their high jumping skills!
Those few days in Singapore showed us a country poised to learn more about play, and ready to help children get the chances they need for self-directed fun every day. It’s clear that they have a battle ahead, as there are extraordinary academic pressures on children and limits on outdoor space. Some of the individuals we met are also facing up to their own unmet needs, but finding the process of supporting play incredibly and immediately rewarding. Helping them get started was incredibly moving, as one participant took us to the side afterwards and said “thank you for bringing joy to our community”.