Nurturing toys, playful selves

Jamuna Inamdar

During a workshop I attended a few years ago, I learnt that sometimes it is good to “play” with issues rather than “work” on them. This thought stayed with me for a long time. I have remembered it time and again in my work with children. It has helped me constantly discover “toys” – methods and means of interacting and engaging. I remembered it when I spent time with the little soldiers who lived on platforms and streets and worked to earn a living while bravely protecting their childhood. I also remember it now when I am working with children who belong to the safety of a residential school, which strives in every way to be their home away from home. It is truly worthwhile to play with issues rather than to work on them.

However, what might be required from us, the caregivers or teachers in order to facilitate this process within ourselves and in the children? In all the different settings that I have worked with children in, one thing has always been the same – the role that was entrusted to me invariably blossomed into something multi-faceted and continued to expand all the time. And that is the joy of working with children. I am primarily a facilitator, also a teacher, a playmate, partner in mischief, counsellor, story-teller, caregiver and I have to be much more I am not able to give a title to. But no matter what the role is, as an adult who works with children, what is most required of me is that I nurture my own inner child, be able to engage in play and have fun and accept my vulnerabilities and strengths.

In my workshops with children, very often the theme is to encourage them to acknowledge and celebrate their rich and ever-present inner resources, challenge stereotypes, chip away at attitudes that are unhelpful, along with moving towards a fuller expression of their true selves. To make the above possible, my participants and I explore various means and methods of both expression and introspection, such as using colours, drawing and sketching on not-just paper but on walls, floors and trees, creating collages, role-playing, writing, listening to rhythms, body movement and somatic experiencing. These we regard as our “toys” and we play with many relevant and crucial aspects of living and functioning through them.

There are a lot of things, and a different one for each one of us, that help us nurture ourselves. Something I have found very helpful and exciting of late that nourishes my spirit and allows me to be present in my work with children is entering the world of children’s literature. I have found a beautiful combination in many children’s books, and it is the combination of them being so simple and yet addressing the complex, profound and yet so enjoyable and delightful and at the same time practically useful. We all are busy adults but children’s books take so little time to read while leaving us with so much. I love this way of loving and nourishing the child inside me.

And what is more I have found for myself an entirely new ground on which I can connect with children. Each time I have walked into the library and chosen a book for myself from the very shelf the children have chosen theirs, I have seen a look of surprise on their faces and also a belief that what they are holding in their hands contains stories and wisdom for all ages! I have seen them start to take their reading seriously as they look forward to asking me how the book I am reading is making me feel and vice versa. And while this is happening, I am realizing that as adults we have complicated our lives beyond what is necessary and glancing at these simple and wise children’s books might just help us be the wise and mature adults we wish to be.

The author facilitates workshops and no matter what its theme, participants in her workshops write, paint, talk, listen, dance and play through them. She can be reached at

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