The Protection of Play

At Maggie’s nursery school (and I have no idea if this is a nation-wide document or just her school) they have something called an “individualized learning plan” for students who have specific developmental areas on which we want to focus. For Maggie, this means the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and the idea of give-take/turn-taking/other social activities. Her occupational therapist and speech therapist are advocates of play therapy and natural learning environments, and have sent packets of ideas and info to us and the school to implement. This is beneficial, because while she sees the actual therapists rarely, we can ensure that every activity we gently direct her toward has meaningful purpose in her development.

In layman’s terms? Maggie’s ILP is basically this: be a kid, and be a kid as hard as you can.

There’s a climbing tree at school, and a few other tall climbing structures. Climb that tree. There are board games to play and scenarios to play pretend with other children. Play those games. Play pretend. Fine motor enhanced by jigsaw puzzles, stamping, and learning independent care in the practical Montessori environment? Do those puzzles. Make any art you can. Learn to clean and tidy.

Except now, that’s all in a learning plan. It’s a binding document with set goals. Do you know how cool this is? There is, in writing, a statement that says she HAS to climb and have fun and that everything, everything that is fun about being a kid is now a mandated part of her education.

In this age of standardized testing, homework in kindergarten, climbing obesity rates, children becoming literally addicted to screen devices, I find myself so grateful. Grateful for this amazing nursery school, through which she can attend Reception Year, grateful for the funding they’ve found for a one-on-one aide to make sure she meets all her daily goals–climbing the tree! Playing games! Creating and pretending!–while under loving care. Reading, writing, arithmetic…those are all essential, but can come later.

I’m grateful that with her diagnosis, this plan has come together, and I’m grateful, increasingly, for the diagnosis that made it possible. I’m grateful for autism, because here in this space, before the demands of primary school and the increasingly complex social network there, she is protected. Her childhood, and the good things about being a child, are preserved.

Right now, she is protected from the world by play. And we could not be happier about it.

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5 thoughts on “The Protection of Play

  1. I’m so happy you get that!!! Play, beautiful, wonderful play! Read that book over and over again too!!!! As many times as she wants!!! She might surprise you one day and she’ll read it to you.

  2. Good for Maggie!

    A certain pediatrician I know is a big fan of play-based preschool. She keeps trying to convince her patients’ highly-motivated Silicon Valley parents that the 3R’s will come in due time, so take the opportunity of early childhood to play, to develop, to imagine, to socialize. Besides, she likes to point out, if they learn all the kinder skills before they start school, that first year is going to be really boring…not a good way to begin an academic career.

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  5. Thankfully in this day and age, ILP’s and on the other side of the pond IEP’s have become more the rule than the exception, and for this I’m terribly grateful. Back when I was a child, and for those who have not yet been diagnosed it’s a forced march to failure or success. Diagnosis regrettably, and as you spoke of in you other post, labeling of people has become part of this forced march. My girlfriend’s daughter, like me, slipped through the cracks, and eventually right out of the school system because she didn’t have a label or a diagnosis. Thankfully her Mum was clued into her gifts, and like you loved her child fully and did, and is doing, everything she can to help make her daughter’s life better.

    So Erin decided she’d go for a diploma and then on to University. Brava! Made it through her first semester, but identified over that time, the places where she has challenges and went to the office of disability services to work on positive changes. She grew up knowing she was on the spectrum, loved and accepted, and the school looked at her and said “I’m sorry, without an official diagnosis of some sort, we can’t even speak to you. At all.

    I was already in the process of finding resources that deal with adult females on the spectrum because I wanted confirmation, and we’d thought this might happen. Thankfully, getting diagnosed for both of us (we went together with back to back appointments) and getting Erin a letter happened much more readily than everything I’d heard. So she’s in her second semester now, with a diagnosis and a plan, and this is a good thing. Wish they’d had those when I was a wee lass, that would have been brilliant I imagine. You rock!

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