Play as a tool for social intervention

15 January, 2016

Yesterday I have been invited to the Faculty of Education to speak with students of social pedagogy class about my two years’ experience in South-East Turkey, working with underprivileged children of Kurdish origins. The EU project I managed as a key expert and deputy team leader was delivered from summer 2013 to summer 2015. Our aim was to enhance social inclusion through sport and to deliver related educational activities.

Preparing for the lecture – I have to admit – I had mixed emotions while remembering the days. It was a period of reconciliation after decades of fighting. We successfully delivered all the required results, and even surpassed the planned number of children, trainers, and parents included. In total there were more than 13.000 actively involved in our workshops. The emerging feedback from schools and local communities was very promising. But now again there is armed struggle going on. The hope that was given to all participants has vanished in a second. Sadly, it is beyond our powers. But it was worth doing it. We supported them in the attempt to build a society that supports the individual to flourish in peaceful and safe environment. In those two years of truce we taught them social skills of non-violent communication, cooperation and solidarity. We showed them how to support children with autism and down with sports and physical activities. We gave them confidence that they are ready. And luckily, they will manage in the next attempt.

One of the core messages I tried to leave with students was to understand the mechanisms of such interventions. They can be successful only in safe and peaceful environment. Otherwise the priorities of people lie somewhere else. When people are under real stress the organism directs all the capacities to maintain the inner balance for the purpose of mere survival. In such moments or prolonged time, the consciousness is narrowed to survival instinct only. Large amounts of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are excreted in order to prepare for action. Blood flows are directed towards large muscles of the body, and we are ready (1) to fight or (2) flight. If the stress is really big or comes so unexpectedly that we couldn’t get into fight or flight mode, then we (3) freeze. At that moment the trauma is imprinted into our body, and remains there until recovery. And last, if the stress is really too big to handle, we collapse, we (4) faint. These are 4 types of bio-behavioural responses to stressful environment – remember it as 4F embodied survival kit. And these mechanisms are to a large degree defined in early years of our lives. So when dealing with children or people in general, it is good to understand the basic reactions they will go for when under stress.

Contrary to these narrow survival oriented solutions, there is play attitude. We are speaking of play mode of being, where an organism can freely and authentically develop inner potentials. Curiosity, learning, iterating practices to develop mastery and excellence, seeking for best solution, being creative, joyful and having fun can all be at disposal if we are in safe and trustable environment. The hormonal response in playful mode is completely different. Hormones of »happiness« like dopamine and serotonin are excreted. New neurons are being created, and the damage caused by stress is restored. All tissues of the body are being flushed and refreshed by the juice of pure life energy when we are deeply absorbed by the play mode. The warm eye contacts and engaged facial expressions – usually smiles – are good criteria to judge if we managed to place our play intervention well. No other biofeedback technology is needed.

That in short was my message to students who will join the volunteers supporting the refugees and migrants at the camps in Slovenia. I hope they understand the nature of social intervention through sport and play a bit better now. And I really do hope, though it’s very hard to see the light, that this kind of humanitarian interventions will soon become a history of manhood, and that we can deliver the Playness culture to every child on Earth.

Actually, why the hack don’t we invite aliens to play with us in this magical playground called Earth? Imagine intergalactic Playness 😉


by Milan Hosta, PhD

Physical Inactivity CrisisThe values of Playness pedagogy in kindergartens and schools

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