Play across Cultures

On Fridays, we ride the elevator up to our favourite restaurant. As we walk up the path that leads to the outdoor tables, the kitchen begins preparing Stella's food. They know she'll order a margarita pizza and a glass of fresh milk. She's two, and two-year-olds are predictable.

We sit down at the table, greeted by our favourite server. And then the games begin. 

"Is that Baby Honey, Stella? That's my baby. Okay? Give her to me. I'm going to take her home, okay?"

"That's MY milk, Stella. You give me the milk. It's mine, right?"

"Can I have your pizza? Please? Why not? I'm hungry!! I didn't eat lunch. I eat your pizza, okay??!"

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I came across a beautiful collection of images by Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti (sorry, I can't remember who lead me to them; somehow via Facebook, I think.) Galimberti traveled around the world and taking images of children with their most prized possessions. In the process, she documented a universal truth of the childhood experience: Play. "No matter at their age, they are pretty all much the same; they just want to play,” says Galimberti.

But Galimberti did find a difference in how children played. Kids from rich countries were more possessive of their toys. Kids from poorer countries were more quick to share. 

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I've been thinking about play and cultural context since we arrived here in Indonesia and the games of "that's mine!" started. Always lead by an adult somehow revolving around the idea that the adult would pretend to "take" Stella's toy, these games are vastly different from the sorts that we in North America initiate with our kids.

Play teaches kids all sorts of things. We play peek-a-boo with babies and teach them about object permanence. North American kids play house and learn about social and cultural norms. They play snakes and ladders and learn about following rules, how to win and loose with grace. 

So I wonder what's behind this "that's mine" game in Indonesia. Does it help kids learn about community and relinquishing objects that are needed for the group? Does it teach kids lessons about power and control? Maybe about generosity and giving? 

I'm not too sure. 

I also think about Japan, and how play differed there. When we left, Stella was still too young to be really getting into imaginative play, but I did notice glimpses of small differences with the kids in my general periphery. There was lots of parallel play between big kids, each sitting next to each other playing a video game. And quiet, tender play between mother and child as the mother patiently folded origami for her girl. 

In both cultures I noticed much less of the roughhouse-run-around-screaming-like-a-deranged-monster-and-pretending-to-tickle that I'm cast as "Canadian" play but might just be the kind of play that I prefer. Is that how most North Americans play with their kids? I don't know. I'm kind of totally out of touch with the minutia of North American parenting. 

Anyway, I have no real point here. But I suggest you go look at that photography project.

Also, what have you noticed about the culture, kids, and play?

 

 

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