When I was a kid, one of my favourite set of toys was a collection of bouncy balls. Yes. There was great satisfaction on the repeated bounce and catch sounds and sensations. And it was totally awesome watching and learning about the different ways they would bounce by how you threw them, what the surface was, how dense they were….
My real play, though, created this huge imaginary world where the bouncy balls had names, roles, relationships, deep personalities, and ever-changing problems to overcome. It was a complicated world that I could happily play in for hours. I am sure there was a relationship that paralleled Rachel and Ross. I know it was a tragedy felt by all when the one brittle ball lost a chunk of himself. (His name was Bubba and he was never the same again).
Looking back on it brings a smile to my face. I can still see myself fully engaged in immense, visual, exciting play. Feeling as disappointed when a storyline ended as when one finishes an enthralling book. But, I had a huge wealth of plots and ideas to choose from. I had been reading since 3, after all, and had been enjoying my older sister’s teen novels and tv dramas for years.
However… Now that I’m an adult and surrounded by these ideas of “functional play”, I wonder what I looked like to an outsider. Sitting in my room alone for hours. Lining up bouncy balls, making them take turns rolling down ramps one at a time, reorganizing them in different locations constantly. It doesn’t look “fun” or “creative” or “normal” or…. “functional” from a neurotypical viewpoint.
Balls are for bouncing.
Balls are not for rescuing their long lost childhood friend from the lair of an evil sorcerer to only discover that the way they touch your hand sends sparks through your body and soul. No. That’s boring, repetitive, unimaginative non-play…..
Get down-right down- on the floor.
Watch your child play. What are they doing? How are their eyes, their face reacting? Could there be more happening than you are even aware of?
Gently try to join in by mimicking their style. Don’t change the play. Don’t make it ‘right’. Try to see it through their child eyes instead.
Be content to just observe if they do not want you interacting. That’s a great way to build trust and safety.