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Boring, draughty: this lockdown is a flashback to the 50s | Coronavirus



In the spring, the question when you met an acquaintance was: “How are you finding lockdown?” Or, for the more formal encounter: “How is lockdown treating you?” No one asks that any more. It may have something to do with the answers, which were only ever smugness or lies, although you could say the same about: “How are you?”

However, I said it on a reflex the other day, and my neighbour replied cheerfully: “My life feels exactly the same.” I took his point. A lot of social life is speculative. We think we will have people over, but don’t get round to it. We appreciate the proximity to the V&A, while rarely availing ourselves of its services. The thing I mind about inessential shops being closed is not the lack of stuff, but how life is for the people who worked in them.

Yet my life is not the same. The streets are pretty full, but feel different. Every day is like Sunday, but I don’t mean a modern Sunday, which is very similar to Saturday. I mean an 80s, Morrissey Sunday.

Actually, what it is really like is the 50s: you can do the boring stuff. You can go about your business. You can get on a bus. There isn’t a war on. But nothing is open. Wherever is open, it is a bit draughtier than you would prefer. Maybe in a fortnight, you will be able to go for a port and lemon, but right now, there is just going out into the city’s early dark and coming home again.

I know this because I have read The End of the Affair and The L-Shaped Room (sure, published in 1960, don’t @me), not because I was there. Unlike, plainly, my neighbour. He did not mean: “My life feels the same as 2019.” He meant: “My life feels the same as when I was 21, and the world was my oyster, and the low availability of unusual luxury items was as nothing, set against the sheer human vigour coursing through my veins.” I said: “No wonder you’re in such a good mood – it’s because you’re so old”, and walked away, glad to have at least sown some confusion.

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The not-so-secret illicit affairs of the royal family




A royal wedding is a sensation. However, a royal scandal is surely what makes the headlines. Besides fame and fortune, the British Royal Family have been associated with discomforting divorces and illicit affairs that have lead to various controversies.

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‘All children seek joy and opportunities to experiment’: the universal language of play | Child’s play and learning




She is climbing an old oak tree with her siblings

All kinds of play create connections in the brain that aid the child’s development.
Composite: Getty Images/Guardian Labs

We’ve all seen pictures and footage of children playing in the most unlikely situations. Using an old rope to skip on the dusty ground of a refugee camp, racing tyres at the base of a rubbish dump or floating paper boats in monsoon flood water. Children play across cultures and classes. They play despite wars, disasters and pandemics. They play because it is a developmental imperative. In fact, play is so essential to a child’s growth that the UN has enshrined it as a fundamental right.

“A young child is born with a brain full of neurons,” explains Bo Stjerne Thomsen, chair of Learning Through Play at the LEGO Foundation. “They are born to learn and develop, but they need experiences to do this; they need to touch, to feel, to try things out, because every time they have a positive and stimulating experience, it connects the networks in the brain and supports their development and learning.”

Play is what gives children these experiences. Whether it is physical play such as climbing a tree, or object play such as building a tower; be it symbolic play such as drawing, or pretend play such as dressing up, or whether it’s games that have rules and constraints: whatever the type of play a child is engaged in, important connections are being made in the brain that aid the social, emotional, creative, cognitive and physical growth of the child.

“You see the same characteristics across all cultures and all socioeconomic groups,” says Thomsen. “Children seek joy, positive experiences, opportunities to experiment, to test and try out things, to be active and not passive, and to really have agency and choice.”

When children play they develop their executive functions, those high-level cognitive processes that enable them to initiate, plan and follow through tasks, sustain attention, monitor performance, inhibit impulses and have goal-directed persistence. These skills are essential for learning and everyday life.

“I was worried about my children playing for months on end during lockdown instead of learning in a formal environment,” says Lindsey Conen, a mother of two primary-aged children in east London. “However, I’ve found that since they have returned to school they seem so much more engaged and willing to learn than they were before, so something has been going on for them in all that play.”

Children making a tower of wooden blocks

Every time a tower topples and a child picks up the pieces to start again, they are becoming more resilient and learning skills that will make them a better team player. Composite: Getty Images/Guardian Labs

Thomsen believes that Conen’s anecdotal experience of school learning being improved by a prolonged period of guided play may well be backed up by future research into the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. “It has definitely been proven that play improves executive functions,” he says. “If you build a model, you are selecting and sorting pieces, putting them together, figuring out if it is stable, remembering what each piece does; when you do this you learn to guide your attention and build self-regulation and self-control and that is a good predictor of whether you will learn in school.”

Educational psychologist Melernie Meheux agrees. “Play is important for many aspects of brain development,” she says. “But learning to self-regulate, to inhibit inappropriate behaviour and control emotion is one of the most important for succeeding in a formal learning environment.”

Every time a tower topples and a child picks up the pieces to start again, they are becoming more resilient and learning skills that will make them a better team player, a better collaborator.

“I certainly saw my two become better at dealing with their emotions during their time away from school,” says Conen. “The more they played together, the better they became at resolving their conflicts.”

Meheux explains that when children play they repeatedly rehearse and experience a range of emotions, including disappointment, frustration, determination, confidence and achievement, and can learn to regulate these feelings. “Through free play children develop lifelong skills like flexibility, sustained social relationships and resilience,” she says.

As children grow and develop, what they demand from play changes. Infants require responsive, stimulating interactions with caregivers and lots of opportunity to learn about their environment through tactile encounters. Between the ages of six and nine, children incline more to pretend play with lots of dress-up and roleplay, which encourages them to learn about other ways of seeing the world; then as they move towards the teenage years, symbolic play and more complex games with rules come to the fore.

When they get into their teens play begins to look a little different. “In the older age group play becomes more about smaller projects, problem- and practice-based learning,” says Thomsen. “So you might support them to do the evening meal, but change two ingredients in the recipe so they can take ownership. Or ask them to plan an entire day of a holiday, researching where to go and what to do.”

And play isn’t just for children, it is important for the parent or caregiver to get involved, too. “By playing with your child you are strengthening your bond, sharing quality time, and providing essential vocabulary and language models,” says Meheux. “Remember what play felt like. How important it was to you when you were a child. Share some laughter and allow the positive chemicals to boost your own mood as well as your child’s. Adults need to be playful, just as much as children do. Especially at times like this.”

Find out more about learning through play at:

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Marble runs and building bridges: five creative, educational play ideas for kids | Child’s play and learning




Drawing with brush little kid. Horizontal indoors shot

Joining a child in play helps them develop their creativity.
Composite: Stocksy/Guardian Labs

Whether it’s a toddler making a trail of handprints across a piece of paper, or a seven-year-old repurposing a cardboard tube to make a marble run, play empowers children to become creative. When children create, they experience the joy of interacting with the world and of changing it and being changed by it.

“Born into an age of rapid innovation, our children need a creative mindset more than ever,” says Garrett Jaeger, a developmental psychologist and research specialist at the LEGO Foundation, an organisation that advocates for learning through play. “Play-based learning is the best way to help children develop these skills and set them on the path to becoming future innovators and flexible thinkers.”

Add a responsive caregiver into the mix and the creativity of the child can be taken to the next level. “We need to let the child lead, so they can take ownership,” says Jaeger. “But we can enhance their experience by adding constraints and challenging them to select high-quality ideas.”

Parenting expert and GP Clare Bailey says playing alongside your child is also vital to improving their social and emotional development. “Play is the golden key to building a better relationship with your child. They will feel closer to you, and will be more likely to cooperate and do what you ask. Even 10 minutes of play together a day makes a difference.” Joining a child in play not only helps them develop their creativity, but it teaches them about sharing, negotiating, cooperating, and being kind and humorous.

Creativity can be fostered by all sorts of games and activities, not just the obviously creative ones, such as painting and drawing.

“We wanted to help parents find new ways of engaging creatively with their children and so have developed a ‘playlist’ of activities that caregivers can choose from when they are stuck for ideas,” says Jaeger. “Very few of these activities actually involve LEGO bricks, we have tried to use things that are readily available not just in Boston, but in Bangladesh.”

Using household objects, such as toilet rolls, paper plates and old cloth, allows children to reimagine what objects are. “So the next time they see that paper plate they are going to be dreaming about what it might become. That is the kernel of creativity we want to plant.”

Here are five activities from the playlist for you to try at home.

Build a bridge
Build a bridge using LEGO or DUPLO bricks and make sure a minifigure can walk over it and a toy boat can go under it.

“Don’t be afraid of rules with creativity. There is a lot of power in just putting a few constraints on a task and watching children push up against them and even try to break those rules,” explains Jaeger, who says children instinctively know that a bridge has to start on one piece of land and end on another. If the bridge collapses they learn one of the fundamental rules of creativity: if things go wrong, you can choose to start over.

“When they start to walk that little man over it, the creation becomes meaningful for them because they have begun to play with it,” he says.

Take a piece of plain paper and fold it into three sections. The first participant draws a head on the top section and then marks the neckline on the middle section. The second participant draws the torso and marks the leg lines on the final section and the third participant (or back to the first, if just two players) draws in the legs.

This is an old creativity activity known as “exquisite corpse” or “exquisite cadaver”, and it can also be done with text. There is room for elaboration by drawing imaginary beasts, or changing the number of folds. This sparks the imagination and provides a lesson about a different way of collaborating. Also, the results are often hilarious. “I spent a whole afternoon during lockdown doing this with my two children aged three and five,” says Nicola Moss, from Stroud. “We stuck all the crazy drawings up on the wall and then began to tell each other stories about them.”

Flip the blanket
Can you flip a blanket over with people standing, lying or sitting on it?

This may not seem like a creative activity, as it feels more like a game of Twister with people getting tangled up and often falling over. However, the game helps you to see a flat piece of material in a different way. It changes your perspective. It is a game that exercises physical and mental flexibility.

Make a parachute that gets a LEGO minifigure or small toy safely to the ground.

This is a physics experiment made fun. Working with a paper plate or a piece of tissue paper and some string, work out how many points of contact you need to have with your string, and how short or long those points need to be so the character doesn’t tip. The fact it is, a parachute engages the imagination and children begin to tell stories with it.

Young boy playing with marbles on living room floor

Marbles on their own are less fun – add cardboard tubes or guttering to make a track. Composite: Getty Images/Guardian Labs

Marbles on the run
Can you build a racetrack and let your marbles run?

“This encourages children to reimagine materials in their home, [such as] old cardboard tubes, or bits of guttering,” says Jaeger. “It’s a favourite of ours at the LEGO Foundation. You can look at what others have created with the hashtag #chainreaction, some are really phenomenal.”

Having fun with your child will not only increase your bond and boost their creative thinking, you may actually find you have fewer interruptions. “Once a child knows that you will join them when you can, they are more likely to be accommodating to your schedule,” says Bailey. Meaning you may just have enough time to work on your own creative contribution to society.

Find out more about learning through play at:

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